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Courtesy ABC

Chelsea Manning opens up in first TV interview since release

‘I’ve been given a chance. That’s all I asked for… this is my chance’

In her first TV interview since her release, Chelsea Manning has spoken to ABC News’ Juju Chang. Manning talks about exactly why she leaked confidential military documents, her fight for transgender rights and her identity.

Chelsea Manning is undoubtedly a figure of controversy – spending years in prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas based on charges of Espionage, Computer Fraud and Abuse Acts. As a U.S. Army soldier, tried in a military tribunal after releasing more than 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks, some of which were published by major news sources such as the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, serving a fifth of her charge after her sentence was commuted by Obama in the last few days of his presidency.

Branded by many as a traitor for aiding the leak of the atrocities happening at the hands of the U.S. government, Manning understands the need to take responsibility for her actions as she tells ABC in the exclusive interview, conceding “it’s on me.” And when she explains why she might have done what she did, she explains the stressful and often disturbing nature of her analyst role in the army – summing up the information she had to process as “just death, destruction, mayhem… I stopped seeing just statistics and information, and I started seeing people”.

At the same time, Manning is held up by many as a hero. What she exposed – the deaths of innocents, people unlawfully detained offshore, the gory mess of U.S. international warfare – sparked a conversation. Although her actions threatened national security, she admits to ABC that was never her intention and in many ways, it’s a conversation that needed to be ignited. But the blood on the hands of the government wasn’t the only discourse Manning brought to the forefront.

At the time of her conviction, Chelsea was 22 years old, a U.S. Army private and known by the world as Bradley. But, a few days after her sentencing, Chelsea Manning came out as transgender. From that point on, Manning was no longer just a symbol of the fight for better governments, but also of the conversation about gender dysphoria and the response within the military to trans people. She attributes a large part of her overall distress at the time of her actions to her battle with the military for hormone treatment. After filing a lawsuit in 2014, she became the “first military prisoner to receive health care related to gender transition” and contributed massively to the dismissal of the ban in the military of ‘open trans service’, according to her ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio. The very same treatment that she now emphasises “literally keeps [her] alive.”

On the military, Manning clarifies that there are no hard feelings – she will always have the utmost respect for the work they do to serve the public and protect our country. And on her life back on the outside, Chelsea describes it to ABC as a “culture shock” but remains humble and grounded: “I’ve been given a chance. That’s all I asked for… this is my chance.”

The exclusive TV interview will air next week on ABC across the news, streaming platforms and “Declassifies: The Chelsea Manning Story”. Watch a clip below: