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Chelsea Manning Breaks Silence in First Interview Since Her Release

She spent seven years in prison for leaking classified documents.

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Chelsea Manning, the transgender U.S. army solider who became a controversial figure after leaking classified documents, broke her silence after her release from prison during an exclusive interview with Nightline. 

Manning served in prison for seven years at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being convicted and sentenced to 35 years  in prison for releasing over 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks. Only a small amount of those documents were needed to lead to her conviction after much of the top secret material was also published by The New York TimesThe Guardian, and  Der Spiegel.

Manning was a 22-year-old Army private at the time of the leak, when she disclosed included low level battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, evidence of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo prison camp detainee profiles and U.S. diplomatic correspondence.

Manning has been called a hero by some and a traitor by others, but when Juju Chang, co-anchor of Nightline, asked her how she sees herself, Manning answered, “I’m just me.” Manning also said she has accepted responsibility for her actions.

“Anything I’ve done, it’s me. There’s no one else,” she said. “No one told me to do this. Nobody directed me to do this. This is me. It’s on me.”

She claims she leaked the documents because she wanted to spark public debate. Manning said she did not think leaking them would threaten national security. She did not raise her concerns up through the chain of command because in her words, “the channels are there, but they don’t work.”

Manning pleaded guilty to some charges and was acquitted of the most serious charge brought against her: Aiding the enemy. Days after she was sentenced, Manning came out as transgender. The military would not provide her with any treatment, which she claimed resulted in her escalating distress.

Her ACLU lawyer, Chase Strangio, filed a lawsuit on her behalf in September 2014. According to Strangio, and as reported by ABC News, Manning became “the first military prisoner to receive health care related to gender transition and was part of a shift in practice that lead to the elimination of the ban on open trans service in the military.”

Manning was released from prison on May 17. Former President Barack Obama commuted her sentence to time served three days before he left office.

Read full story at ABC News