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Chelsea Manning speaks of solitary confinement during New Year’s Day poetry event

William Hutchinson/ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence officer sentenced to military prison for one of the biggest classified material leaks in U.S. history, spoke out during a New Year’s Day performance at a poetry event in New York City about the year she spent in solitary confinement.

The 36-year-old anti-secrecy activist and whistleblower spoke Monday night at the Poetry Project’s 50th Annual New Year’s Day Marathon at New York City’s St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery, telling a standing-room-only crowd that her time in prison taught her “there’s a lot of power in silence.”

Manning began her performance by standing silently at a podium for three minutes before addressing the crowd.

“So, that was a few minutes of silence,” Manning then said. “I became very used to this experience that you just had, which is sitting there in silence for several minutes. I did that for almost a year.”

Manning, who came out as transgender in 2013, was imprisoned for seven years at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being convicted in 2013 by a military tribunal under the Espionage and Computer Fraud and Abuse Acts. She also pleaded guilty to some of the charges stemming from the leak.

Manning was imprisoned from 2010 to 2017, when then-President Barack Obama, with just three days remaining in his second White House term, commuted the more than three-decade sentence she received.

Manning said Monday night that the silence she endured during solitary confinement has also benefited her since her release from prison.

“I think there’s a lot of power in silence. I think that there’s a lot of power in self-reflection, introspection,” Manning said. “And I wanted to share a little of that that I had because it’s very meaningful to me.”

She said she has spent the last year going through a “time of healing for myself, for my own experience of being in solitary confinement for a year.”

“I’ve been very active and engaging in a lot of different things,” said Manning, who published a memoir titled README.txt in 2022. “But I’ve been finding that sometimes, I need to take the time to once again find that moment of introspection and self-reflection, despite the fact that I’d love to say so much, I have so much to say. But sometimes we just have to look inside ourselves and I hope that you all can appreciate that as well.”

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges stemming from the unauthorized release of approximately 750,000 classified government documents to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

Among the materials Manning leaked was information that 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.

In a 2017 interview with ABC News following her release from prison, Manning said she leaked the documents because she wanted to prompt a public domestic debate over the role of the military and U.S. foreign policy. She said she didn’t think leaking the documents would threaten national security.

When asked why she didn’t share her concerns up through the chain of command, Manning responded, “the channels are there, but they don’t work.”

Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the charges stemming from the leak, and a military tribunal convicted Manning on other charges, including espionage, theft and fraud. The tribunal, however, found Manning not guilty of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a life sentence.

Upon commuting Manning’s sentence in 2017, President Obama released a statement saying, in part, “I feel very comfortable that justice has been served and that a message has still been sent that when it comes to our national security.”

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