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Transgender U. S. Army Private First Class Chelsea Manning has appealed her 2013 conviction for leaking documents to the website Wikileaks while she was serving as an intelligence analyst. Manning, who is currently serving a 35 year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, was convicted of six violations of the Espionage Act and 14 other offences following the leak of videos and documents from the State Department.
In the appeal, Manning’s lawyers refer to her sentence as ‘grossly unfair’, arguing that providing the documents to Wikileaks did not cause direct harm to the military. Prosecutors claimed during Manning’s trial that the lives of soldiers and U.S. security overall were jeopardised by the revelations.
Previously, Manning pleaded guilty to lesser offences which would have resulted in up to 20 years in jail. The government instead chose to pursue more serious charges, resulting in the 35 year sentence. The appeal requests a reduced sentence or reversal of the charges, noting: ‘No whistle blower in American history has been sentenced this harshly.’
Manning’s request for a reversal of charges argues that she was subjected to illegal pre-trial punishment during her nine months in Quantico, Virginia. Colonel Denise Lind had previously subtracted 112 days from Manning’s sentence after finding these claims to be valid.
A spokeswoman from the Pentagon, Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Johnson, declined to comment on the process of the appeal, stating in an email: ‘As legal action is ongoing, we continue to maintain careful respect for the military-judicial process, the rights of the accused, and ensuring the case’s fairness and impartiality.’
Manning’s appeal also claims that her identity as a transgender woman and the general treatment of LGBT+ people in the United States military played a role in both her actions and the severe nature of her sentencing: ‘A transgender woman, PFC Manning joined the military at a time when the public and the military were still largely unaware of what it means to be transgender (this is still true today). By her own admission, PFC Manning joined the military to “fix” what was “wrong with her.” Because PFC Manning could not live openly as a transgender woman, however, her mental and emotional condition deteriorated, manifesting itself into depression, anxiety and other personality disorders.
‘These conditions affected PFC Manning’s ability to cope with stress. Her stress was made worse by the mistreatment she received from fellow Soldiers who thought she was gay. This led to isolation, which further compounded her mental and emotional distress.
‘The government’s litigation strategy was to ignore all of this, and to instead make an example of her.’
On Friday, Manning posted a picture of her 209-page appeal on her twitter feed with the comment, ‘My fight is far from over. I am only just getting started.’
Manning came out as transgender in 2013, and successfully fought for access to hormone therapy in 2015.