Transgender U.S. Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, who leaked 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks, is speaking out in her first interview since being freed from a seven-year prison sentence last month.
On May 17, Manning, born Bradley Manning, left Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas after serving the longest sentence of any leaker in U.S. history. Now, she’s opening up about why she shared the controversial documents.
“I have a responsibility to the public … we all have a responsibility,” Manning tells ABC News’ Juju Chang in an upcoming Nightline special. “Anything I’ve done, it’s me. There’s no one else. No one told me to do this. Nobody directed me to do this. This is me. It’s on me.”
Manning was just 22 when she shared U.S. diplomatic correspondence, evidence of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, low-level battlefield reports from the countries and Guantanamo prison camp detainee profiles with several media outlets.
“We’re getting all this information from all these different sources and it’s just death, destruction, mayhem,” the former Army private, now 29, tells ABC. “We’re filtering it all through facts, statistics, reports, dates, times, locations, and eventually, you just stop. I stopped seeing just statistics and information, and I started seeing people.”
During her time in prison, Manning began her gender transition, becoming the first military prisoner to receive care related to gender transition, Manning’s ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio told ABC.
Manning tells Chang that fighting for her hormone treatment behind bars was important to her because it “keeps me from feeling like I’m in the wrong body.”
“I used to get these horrible feelings like I just wanted to rip my body apart and I don’t want to have to go through that experience again,” she said. “It’s really, really awful.”
Manning was found guilty of leaking the classified information in 2013 and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. However, one of Barack Obama‘s last acts as president was to commute the woman’s sentence.
“I’ve been given a chance,” Manning said of Obama’s decision. “That’s all I asked for was a chance. That’s it, and now this is my chance.”