Chelsea Manning said she leaked hundreds of thousands of classified military documents – a move that would eventually lead her to serve the longest prison sentence of any leaker in U.S. history – because she wanted to spark a public debate about our country’s military actions overseas.
“My intention was to draw attention to this … and do the right thing,” Manning told ABC News’ Juju Chang in an exclusive interview for a special edition of “Nightline.” “And I struggled with that, but the intention was very much like, ‘This is about improving the country. This is about improving our standing in the world, this is about improving everything.’ And maybe this can start a debate on that.”
In the summer of 2013, Manning was convicted by a military tribunal under the Espionage and Computer Fraud and Abuse Acts and sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing nearly three quarters of a million documents to WikiLeaks. Manning at that time was a 22-year-old United States Army private named Bradley Manning.
“I was driven to stay in the military and to do my job, to do the best possible job I could. And then I found that everything was far more complicated and far messier than I ever imagined,” Manning said. “I was always willing to accept responsibility for those decisions … my intentions were pure and clean.”
At her court martial, Manning had pleaded guilty to some of charges, without the protection of a plea agreement. She was convicted of 17 of the 22 charges against her but acquitted of “aiding the enemy.” The latter charge is akin to treason and punishable by death or life without parole.
When asked if she regretted leaking classified information, Manning said, “I don’t want to retroactively impose things on me.
“All I can say is that, you know, I accept a responsibility,” she continued. “I went through a decision-making process that I don’t think I would have done anything differently if I went through and played…