By Newroz Saribas
Veterans for Peace Seattle chapter 92 held a celebratory event on May 17 in honor of Chelsea Manning’s release.
Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, in 2013 was sentenced to 35 years in prison for handing over classified and sensitive military material to Wikileaks.
The VFP organization consists of individuals who were soldiers in various wars and had a change of heart. They wanted to work towards peace and not war. Among the many goals the group has, they fight towards exposing the cost of war and encouraging the government not to go abroad.
Dan Gilman, President of Seattle VFP for four years, has been a part of the organization for 12 years. He was drafted as a medic in the Vietnam War. He said that once he heard the news that Manning’s sentence would be commuted, he jumped for joy and danced around his living room.
The party was held at New Freeway Hall in Seattle and included other activist groups.
“Whistleblowing is something that should be heroic,” said Gilman. “They should be seen as true American heroes for spreading the truth to those who don’t have access.”
According to Huffington Post, Manning leaked over 700,000 documents from her small station in Iraq where she worked as an intelligence analyst from 2009 to 2010.
Some of the leaked material included war logs, and a video exhibiting an Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad. The files she leaked had no effect on U.S. military operations, just gave American citizens a view into what’s really going on abroad, said Mike Dedrick, a board member of VFP.
Gina Petry, an organizer for Radical Women, attended the celebration to support the kind of leadership that Manning had displayed, she said.
People who expose secrets should be awarded not punished, said Petry.
Manning was under the impression the leaks would change the way the world viewed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, said his legal team.
VFP 92 has supported Manning from the beginning, including marching in local gay pride parades for the past six years. In the beginning their signs said “free Bradley Manning.”
“The only thing her gender change effected was that we needed to update our signs,” said Gilman.
Manning’s case reached former President Barack Obama after a wave of public support.
“It wasn’t because of Obama’s goodwill, Manning was freed because of the constant support our organizations have given,” said Doug Barnes, an activist for peace and social justice.
In a petition asking for a commuted sentence, Manning made a statement declaring that she was wrong, but takes full responsibility for her actions. She asked if her 35-year sentence could be commuted and the little over six years she has already served be enough. She also stated that she did not intend to bring harm to citizens, that her actions were set in good intentions.
“Chelsea advocates for all of us and she’s very courageous. In the U.S. military and around transgender rights, brave on both fronts,” said Barnes.
“I have to repeat what others have said, this couldn’t have happened without outside support,” said Dedrick.
Manning came out as Chelsea in a letter after her conviction in 2013.
“I want everyone to know the real me,” she said. “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female.”
— Chelsea Manning (@xychelsea) May 18, 2017
“She really led in that whole fight, in demanding rights in prison,” said Barnes in his speech at the party. “What she did was open spill gates.”
Manning began a hunger strike to protest her unjust treatment at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She wanted treatment for her gender dysphoria. About a week later she was given gender-affirming surgical treatment in prison.
According to USA Today, Manning will remain a soldier. She won’t be paid but will be eligible for health care and other benefits while her conviction remains under appeal.
“People need to see that when we come together,” said Gilman, “we can make a change.”