Mr. President, please give me time served

“Additional Information in Support of Chelsea Manning’s Application for Clemency”

Chelsea Elizabeth Manning — File Photo — August 14, 2016 (CC-BY-SA)
I take full and complete responsibility for my decision to disclose these materials to the public. I have never made any excuses for what I did. I pleaded guilty without the protection of a plea agreement because I believed the military justice system would understand my motivation for the disclosure and sentence me fairly. I was wrong.
The military judge sentenced me to thirty-five years confinement — far more than I could have ever imagined possible, as there was no historical precedent for such an extreme sentence under similar facts…
I have since been placed in solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for an attempted suicide despite a growing effort — led by the President of the United States — to stop the use of solitary confinement for any purpose.
These experiences have broken me and made me feel less than human…
I have served a sufficiently long sentence. I am not asking for a pardon of my conviction. I understand that the various collateral consequences of the court-martial conviction will stay on my record forever. The sole relief am asking for is to be released from military prison after serving six years of confinement as a person who did not intend to harm the interests of the United States or harm any service members.
I am merely asking for a first chance to live my life outside the USDB as the person I was born to be.

Three years ago I requested a pardon related to my conviction for disclosing classified and other sensitive information to the media out of concern for my country, the innocent civilians whose lives were lost as a result of war, and in support of two values that our country holds dear — transparency and public accountability. As I reflect on the prior clemency petition I fear my request was misunderstood.

As I explained to the military judge who presided over my trial, and as I have reiterated in numerous public statements since these offenses occurred, I take full and complete responsibility for my decision to disclose these materials to the public. I have never made any excuses for what I did. I pleaded guilty without the protection of a plea agreement because I believed the military justice system would understand my motivation for the disclosure and sentence me fairly. I was wrong.

The military judge sentenced me to thirty-five years confinement — far more than I could have ever imagined possible, as there was no historical precedent for such an extreme sentence under similar facts. My supporters and legal counsel encouraged me to submit a clemency petition because they believed the conviction itself coupled with the unprecedented sentence was unreasonable, outrageous and out of line with what I had done. In a state of shock, I sought a pardon.

Sitting here today I understand why the petition was not acted on. It was too soon, and the requested relief was too much. I should have waited. I needed time to absorb the conviction, and to reflect on my actions. I also needed time to grow and mature as a person.

I have been confined for over six years — longer than any person accused of similar crimes ever has. I have spent countless hours revisiting those events, pretending as though I did not disclose those materials and therefore was free. This is in part because of the mistreatment I have been subjected to while confined.

The Army kept me in solitary confinement for nearly a year before formal charges were brought against me. It was a humiliating and degrading experience — one that altered my mind, body and spirit. I have since been placed in solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for an attempted suicide despite a growing effort- led by the President of the United States — to stop the use of solitary confinement for any purpose.

These experiences have broken me and made me feel less than human. I have been fighting for years to be treated respectfully and with dignity; a battle I fear is lost. I do not understand why. This administration has transformed the military through the reversal of”Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the inclusion of transgender men and women in the armed forces. I wonder what I could have been, had these policies been implemented before I joined the Army. Would I have joined? Would I still be serving on active duty? I cannot say for sure.

But what I do know is that I am a far different person than I was in 2010. I am not Bradley Manning. I really never was. I am Chelsea Manning, a proud woman who is transgender and who, through this application, is, respectfully requesting a first chance at life. I wish I were strong and mature enough to realize this back then. This journey has been difficult. You see, I have struggled with my gender identity throughout my entire life. I have — for many years — been overcome with intense feelings of loss, frustration, loneliness, and discomfort with my body and role in society. When I was younger, I did not understand. But from an early age I had a vague sense that I was somehow “different.” Growing up in the small town of Crescent, Oklahoma, I was often picked on and made fun of at home, at school, and on the school bus for my effeminate mannerisms and speech. I was called “girly-boy,” “faggy,” “bent,” and “crooked” by other kids in town.

The adults had veiled phrases that I did not understand at the time, such as being “light in the loafers,” or “special.” It was clear that I was different, especially from what my boy peers expected, and even from what parents and teachers expected.

By middle school, I desperately wanted to fit in. I volunteered for virtually everything that was considered traditionally masculine at school and by my friends. I spent a lot of time focused on fitting in, and presenting myself as a real “boy,” and then a real”dude.” Through all of this, I learned how to suppress a lot of my more feminine features from my personality. I focused on academics, especially the social sciences, history, science, mathematics, and — later-computer science.

After my parents divorced when I was 11 or 12, I moved in with my mother to the United Kingdom. While there, my sense of alienation during my teenage years was further exacerbated. Every single day, I was an American in a British school- and, more than that — I was a “feminine” American guy.

However, during these years, I had a secret. I was cross-dressing on an almost weekly basis at times. After “indulging” myself with looking feminine in the mirror, I would feel ashamed. I would get angry at myself. Then I would purge all of the cosmetics, clothing, and accessories. I would throw them away into a random dumpster in my neighborhood. I would swear to myself that I would never do it again, only to return to it a few weeks later.

By the time I finished school, I accepted that I had an attraction to guys and identified as an openly gay kid. Unfortunately, even after coming out, I still felt unsettled. I started experimenting with looking more androgynous, trying to push the boundaries of what I could get away with through fashion. I dyed my hair black and let it grow longer. I started wearing eyeliner in public. Despite crossing these boundaries, though, I was still trying to fit in as a male.

After I moved back to the United States, I was living with my father and his new wife. While experimenting, friction developed between me — an increasingly flamboyant and showy young adult — and my father’s wife. She was not accepting of me.

We had many arguments and fights. Eventually, I was kicked out of the house. I became homeless.

I lived a somewhat nomadic life for the next several months. I roamed through the mid-west. This included Tulsa, Oklahoma; Joplin, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; Springfield, Illinois; Rockford, Illinois; and finally Chicago, Illinois. These times were rough. There were many nights that I was afraid of getting robbed of what little I had, or raped, or even worse.

Thankfully, after a few stressful months of surviving on the streets, my paternal aunt in Maryland found me. She called dozens of people, eventually tracking down someone who had my cell phone number that I was using in Chicago. She offered to let me live with her. I accepted her generous offer. But, I did not have enough money to travel. She wired me just enough money to drive to Maryland. She saved me.

After settling in Maryland, I started going to a local community college and working odd — hours jobs in food and sales. I was a barista, a clothing store associate, and a full time student — all at the same time. I worked or studied over 100 hours each week. I tried very hard to get ahead, but I soon burned out.

While going through another phase of experimentation, I started seeing a psychologist to discuss my gender identity. I knew what “transgender” meant, but I had incorrect assumptions about trans women. Terrified, even after seeing her for a few sessions, I avoided the topic entirely. I kept suppressing my restlessness.

By this time, I was seriously contemplating the possibility of a gender transition. I had the rough idea of a plan. I mulled over the idea of living full-time as a woman and starting hormones. I had only a few hundred dollars in my pocket, and virtually no resources readily available to me. After years of harassment growing up, I was socially conditioned to avoid even talking to a psychologist. I knew I needed help. I was afraid to get it. I also worried it might not be available to me. I was terrified. I was afraid I would lose the support of my aunt. I did not recognize unconditional love when it was right in front of me. This was the summer of the “surge” in Iraq. Major developments in the conflict received blanket coverage on my aunt’s television every night. I began to wonder about joining the military. When things were looking bleak, I thought, “maybe I can help out.”

One day, with a little nudging from my father over the phone, who served in the U.S. Navy many years before, I walked into a joint military recruiting center in Rockville, Maryland.

During the recruitment process, I chose the military job of “all-source intelligence analyst” for the U.S. Army. I chose this field because of my interest in international politics, foreign policy, counterterrorism tactics, and counterinsurgency strategy. I was also trying to avoid being pigeonholed into an information technology job, largely a support role. I wanted to be more involved in the actual operations of the conflict. I officially enlisted in the U.S. Army in secret. I did not tell anyone in my family until after I had enlisted. Over a long, emotional dinner, I told my aunt. She was devastated, but she accepted my decision. After in-processing at Fort Meade, Maryland, I reported for basic combat training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

I was woefully unprepared for the military. I was neither physically nor mentally prepared for the training. I developed a neurological issue in my right arm and left foot. I was placed into a medical hold status for several weeks. This extended my basic training by a couple of months. At one point, I was offered the option of being discharged but I balked at this option. I instead waited because I wanted to continue my training, which I eventually returned to and finished.

My intelligence training was at the military intelligence school in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. My interests in geopolitics and statistical mathematics, as well as my familiarity with databases and computer networks, suited the job. I quickly adapted and learned the trade with enthusiasm. After finishing my training, I moved to Fort Drum, New York, for my first active duty assignment.

Even during the basic training process, my military peers knew about my vulnerability. In close quarters, they tried to find out which buttons to push. I often ignored the rumors, the taunts, and the loaded comments. The institution as a whole didn’t help.

This was the era of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and policy. It seemed that even title 10 of the U.S. Code was teasing me. I lived through it all. I did not complain. I rarely fought back. The few times I did fight back, I ended up being the bad guy. Some pointed the finger and said “angry,” “crazy,” “unstable.” The truth is that I was hurt. I did not yet realize just how much, though. I just knew I had to “suck it up” and “drive on.”

I hoped that the military would somehow “cure” me, or “fix” me. Instead, my feelings did not go away. They became much more intense, and much more difficult to act on. I just placed myself into an even more difficult situation. Now I was being cut off from the few resources and treatments that I was merely embarrassed about seeking previously. Now, it had the potential to ruin my career; to ruin my life. I desperately wanted to succeed. I wanted to do great things. I wanted to finish my time in the military with dignity and respect. But, I just did not fit in anywhere. I was not very great at being a male. I failed to meet the expectations of a male. This came at an enormous cost to my emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.

I trained and prepared for nearly a year for a deployment to one of the combat theaters of the era. First, we were told it was Afghanistan. Suddenly, there was a change in orders for Iraq. This pivot required a rapid shift in our training and preparations. Throughout these preparations, I had a boyfriend. I essentially lived two separate lives. They did not schedule very well together. There were many moments when I had to leave him on sudden notice from Ithaca, New York, and later Boston, Massachusetts.

On a Global Reaction Force and Homeland Security mission I was supposed to be “on call” at all times. So, I had to juggle to keep my secret. My colleagues were curious.

They noticed things. They wanted to know where I was going; who I was seeing. I had to stall. I couldn’t lie — but I couldn’t exactly tell the truth either. It was a difficult balance to keep.

Since that time, though, the world has changed. More people know about trans people. We are more visible and open and active in the world. It was far too early for the world to understand who I am. Now, I feel left out. I feel alone. I feel lost. I wish I had received a fair shot at a better life. I wish I could take part in the changes that are happening now.

Shortly after arriving at the Theater Field Confinement Facility at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, I had trouble. At this point in my life, I knew who I was and that I needed medical and mental health assistance. Yet I was told, this was unavailable. Instead, they worked off the incorrect assumption that I was “gay,” and not transgender. This had the immediate consequence of being moved into solitary confinement in a metal cage, inside a tent.

I was completely cut off from the world. I was unsure what was going on, not even major events, like the status of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or the World Cup were available to me. I also had no idea what I was facing, or whether anyone knew I was there. I was terrified that I was going to be treated as a male forever. I feared that I could have disappeared.

The Navy personnel that ran the facility did not help matters. Some of them made fun of me. Some of them said nasty things that aren’t worth repeating. Others tried to convince me that I was going to be shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, or inside the brig of a U.S. Navy cruiser.

I left Kuwait for the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. I spent the entire time at the now shut down brig. For over nine months, I was subjected to harsh total surveillance and control, and lived in solitary confinement. Two U.S. Marines watched me from behind a one-way window at all times.

Instead of clothing, I was given a “suicide proof’ smock and blanket, which were incredibly uncomfortable. I had no personal items in my cell. If I wanted to use toilet paper, I had to ask for it from one of the Marines — then I had to return it when I was finished. I had no soap. I had limited access to toothpaste and a toothbrush — my teeth have been permanently damaged by this time period. And I had limited access to legal documents, books, or any other printed material.

I repeatedly asked for help for my gender dysphoria. This was one of the issues that caused me to spiral out of control in Kuwait. Instead, I believe they used my diagnosis as a weapon against me. I feel that they used it as a tool to justify their harsh treatment.

Eventually I was transferred from Quantico to the Joint Regional Correctional Facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There, I was no longer subjected to any conditions remotely like those of Quantico.

After my final sentencing at my court-martial, I publicly came out as a transgender woman, and started using my new name, which I legally changed a few months later. I also again requested treatment for my gender dysphoria.

Initially, the Department of the Army fought my request, but after filing a lawsuit with the assistance of the ACLU, the military prison began providing me with some access to treatment — specifically partial access to a “real-life experience” and hormone replacement therapy.

At first I was only given access to female undergarments. This was an awful and embarrassing experience for me. It felt like the prison wanted to have this hidden away. I began to spiral into anxiety shortly afterward. Then I was provided access to cosmetics.

This was the first visible improvement of my status at the prison. Though it was a little awkward having short hair, I felt a lot better, but I still needed more. A few months later, I was provided access to hormone therapy in the form of estrogen and testosterone blockers. Having access to hormones was a profound and fundamental change in my life.

I finally started to feel like myself.

However, one of the primary issues surrounding my treatment is that I am required to keep my hair at the male standard. Hair is the most important signifier of femininity in American society, and it is especially important to me as a person confined in an all-male environment, so not being given access to this, while receiving other treatment, has been a never-ending nightmare. This has extended the lawsuit by years now.

The USDB has made some vague assurances that I will continue to be given treatment, but I still do not know what this means and it almost certainly will not include the ability to grow my hair to female standards.

The bottom-line is this: I need help and I am still not getting it. I am living through a cycle of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, loss, and depression. I cannot focus. I cannot sleep. I attempted to take my own life. When the USDB placed me in solitary confinement as punishment for the attempted suicide, I tried it again because the feeling of hopelessness was so immense. This has served as a reminder to me that any lack of treatment can kill me, so I must keep fighting a battle that I wish every day would just end.

I have served a sufficiently long sentence. I am not asking for a pardon of my conviction. I understand that the various collateral consequences of the court-martial conviction will stay on my record forever. The sole relief I am asking for is to be released from military prison after serving six years of confinement as a person who did not intend to harm the interests of the United States or harm any service members.

I am merely asking for a first chance to live my life outside the USDB as the person I was born to be.

Thank you for your consideration of my petition.

This statement was excerpted from the complete clemency application.

Please sign the petition asking President Obama to give Chelsea #timeserved.