United States Army Specialist turned leaker of military secrets Chelsea Manning is running for Senate challenging incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin.
It is an understatement to say that Manning has had a taxing time in the public spotlight.
While in the army, Manning attempted to leak classified documents to The Washington Post and other news outlets. However, the newspaper was not interested and on Feb. 3, 2010, Manning leaked the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs to WikiLeaks, an international group that publishes classified information. This collection of documents revealed that the United States lied about the number of civilians it had killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documents also reveal that the U.S. military failed to investigate hundreds of reports of rape and murder committed by soldiers overseas. The documents went on to expose a myriad of other war crimes.
She also leaked the Collateral Murder video which showed a U.S. military jet killing 12 civilians, including journalists. Most significantly, Manning leaked the Granai Airstrike video in which the U.S. murdered around 140 Afghan civilians.
Manning went on to leak files on Guantanamo Bay — the prison in Cuba where the U.S. extrajudicially holds suspected terrorists — which revealed the United States government believed that many of the prisoners were innocent. The document also stated that the U.S. gains confessions from these prisoners through the use of torture.
It is not surprising that the U.S. has done these things, just read the Pentagon Papers or the COINTELPRO documents to see examples of past criminal actions. The U.S. has run a criminal empire for well over one hundred years that ramped up after World War II.
The Iraq and Afghanistan atrocities are just an extension of the grand American tradition of breaking international law and murdering civilians.
In return for exposing information that informed Americans about the criminal actions of their government, Manning was called a traitor and arrested in 2010. The government then tortured her for a large part of her pretrial detention that lasted for three years, from 2010 to 2013.
While in pre-trial detention in Virginia, Manning was not allowed a pillow or a sheet. She was effectively kept in solitary confinement and held in a six-foot by 12-foot windowless cell for 23 hours a day for 11 months. Conditions later worsened when she was forced to stay in her cell 24 hours a day in only her boxers and flip-flops for about two and a half months.
These actions were clear violations of the sixth and eighth amendments to the Constitution, promising a “quick and speedy trial” as well as no “cruel and unusual punishments.”
After public outcry, including condemnation from the United Nations and Amnesty International, Manning was transferred to a medium-security prison. She was tried in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison (subtracting time served) and was incarcerated until former President Obama commuted her sentence in 2016. While in prison, Manning changed came out as transgender, changing her name from Bradley to Chelsea. She received hormone therapy and underwent gender transition surgery while completing her term.
Even though Manning was transgender, she was not allowed transfer to a women’s prison. According to the Independent, “after being arrested in 2010, she filed a transgender rights case in prison and attempted suicide twice last year, according to her lawyers.”
After Manning’s release, she has become much more involved in political activism. Now she is running for Senate against moderate incumbent Democrat Ben Cardin. Manning’s campaign centers on criminal justice reform, an end to U.S. wars, free college tuition, government transparency and universal healthcare. Based on her positions, she intends to run to the left of Cardin, hoping to draw in progressive Democrats.
Manning’s insurgent campaign against Cardin will not be easy. As an establishment Democrat, Cardin will have no problem raising money and is expected to be comfortably re-elected.
According to The Center for Responsive Politics, Cardin has raised over $4 million from 2013-17 and has about $2.5 million on hand. Half a million dollars came from the healthcare and insurance industries.
Cardin, however, is not Manning’s only obstacle to election. On Jan. 20, Manning attended a Night for Freedom party hosted by racists and conspiracy theorists. She claims that she was acting as a double agent to learn their strategies and upcoming events. Contradictory pictures came from the party; one depicted her laughing with far-right internet personalities while another showed her with her thumb down.
Whatever her intention was in attending this event it probably did not help her chances of election. She eventually apologized for attending the event, and on Twitter said “I never meant to hurt my supporters. No amount of information on the alt-right is worth losing the trust of my supporters.”
Manning clearly is not a member of the alt-right or a racist, but it was terrible optics for her to attend a Night for Freedom, and it was unfortunate that she legitimized the guests by attending the event.
However, even taking Manning’s strange interactions with alt-right figures into account, she is better than the alternative. Ben Cardin, in his almost single-minded focus on potential Russian collusion, seems to have forgotten that average Americans care more about putting food on the table and healthcare then running in circles about Russia.
Cardin says that “healthcare is a human right” on his website, yet is still “reviewing” universal health care proposals. What is taking so long? According to the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of Democrats flat out say that there should be a universal healthcare system run by the government and 83 percent of Democrats believe that it is the government’s “responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage.”
It seems like Democratic voters have already made up their mind, so why hasn’t Cardin? Manning supports universal healthcare and will help end U.S. involvement overseas. As of this moment, she is the better candidate.