On May 17, International Day Against LGBTophobia, good news came from the United States: Chelsea Manning was finally released from prison after seven years for releasing – via WikiLeaks – information of public interest about the impact of war on innocent civilians.
Among the vast material released by Manning, a former American soldier who has been in Iraq as an intelligence analyst, is the video Collateral Murder. It is a shootout of American soldiers aboard an airplane firing at unarmed civilians, killing at least 12 people – including two Reuters journalists – and injuring two children.
It is believed that her leaks were some of the motivations not only of the end of the war in Iraq by 2011 but also served as fuel for the revolutions in the Arab world.
Arrested at age 22, young Chelsea has spent almost 25% of her life in this condition. Before being judged, she was in solitary confinement for 11 months and was forced to be naked, without her glasses, humiliated and deprived of sleep. Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, described the treatment given to her on that occasion as cruel, inhuman and degrading.
Her trial, conducted in 2013, was carefully constructed to minimize her chances of victory. In fact, she was sentenced by a martial court to 35 years in prison. During the trial, 24 witnesses deposed in closed session, allowing the judge to justify his decision claiming that he had secret evidence.
Chelsea, who is a trans woman, was forced to serve her sentence in a male prison. Last year she tried to commit suicide twice and went on a hunger strike to denounce the disciplinary measures to which she was subjected.
In January, her penalty was commuted by Barack Obama in one of his last acts as president after a huge popular pressure. Several protests in the United States and a petition with more than 115,000 signatures required Obama to commute her sentence, whom he had stated, before the trial, that had violated the law.
In a note released last week, Chelsea states that “for the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person I am and I can finally be in the outer world. Freedom used to be something I dreamed about, but it did not allow me to fully imagine. Now, freedom is something I will re-experience with friends and loved ones after nearly seven years of bars and cement, periods of solitary confinement, and my restricted health and autonomy, including through routine forced haircuts. ”
Her departure from the Fort Leavenworth Prison is a victory of our struggle and is a reason for young people all around the world – those who fight wars, imperialism, LGBTophobia and all the injustices – to celebrate.