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Chelsea Manning Opens Up in First Interview Since Release From Prison

Chelsea Manning

“I was given a chance and that’s all I wanted.” 

Five months after being granted clemency by a departing President Obama, Chelsea Manning is finally talking about her time spent in prison and her motivation to leak government information.

In an interview with ABC News' Juju Chang, Manning immediately dispelled the polarizing labels around her actions before, during, and after her prison sentence. Seen by many as a traitor for passing more than 700,000 government documents along to WikiLeaks, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison on charges of aiding the enemy and espionage among others. But during her time in prison she became a figurehead and hero in the trans community, coming out as transgender and fighting for hormone therapy after two suicide attempts and months in solitary confinement.

"Who is Chelsea Manning?" Change asked. "I'm just me," Manning said. "It's as simple as that."

Related | Chelsea Manning Shares First Portrait as a Free Woman

Manning understands the gravity of what she did, but isn't apologetic. Spurred on by a video showing American soldiers carrying out an aerial attack that ended up killing civilians and others like it, Manning said that eventually she stopped seeing numbers and information when reports came in and started seeing people. "I've accepted responsibility," she said. "No one told me to do this, no one directed me to do this. This is me. This is on me."

Related | Chelsea Manning Pens Open Letter to Fellow Inmates: 'You Will Never Be Forgotten'

Though she didn't come out until after she was sentenced to prison, part of Obama's grant of clemency is seated in what Manning had to endure during her incarceration. "Why was it so important for you to fight for hormone treatment while you were behind bars," asked Chang.

"It's literally what keeps me alive and keeps me from feeling like I'm in the wrong body," said Manning. "I used to get these horrible feelings like I just wanted to rip my body apart."

When asked by Chang what she would say to Obama if she had the chance, Manning choked up. "Thank you," she said. "I was given a chance and that's all I wanted. This is my chance." Watch, below.

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Dennis Hinzmann