On Sunday, speaking at a conference in Nantucket, Chelsea Manning said that she is not an “American traitor” and did the right thing after leaking more than 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2013.
When asked by a reporter whether or not she is an American traitor, Manning said: “No, I’m not.”
“I believe I did the best I could in my circumstances to make an ethical decision,” Manning said at the conference, the Associated Press exclusively reported.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison in August 2013 after leaking more than 700,000 classified or sensitive military and diplomatic documents. Manning came out as transgender while in prison and was released this past May after having her sentence commuted by former President Barack Obama.
Last week, Manning had her visiting fellow invitation from Harvard University rescinded after facing intense backlash from influential figures and fellows at the university.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo withdrew last-minute from an appearance at the Kennedy School over Harvard’s announcement that Manning was to be a visiting fellow. Pompeo said in a letter that Manning is an “American traitor.”
Former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell withdrew himself from his position at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, saying that he didn’t want to be a part of an organization “that honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information.”
Manning said that Harvard’s decision to rescind the invitation means that the institution is becoming a “police state.”
“I’m not ashamed of being disinvited,” Manning said. “I view that just as much of an honored distinction as the fellowship itself.”
Eugene Jarecki, an award-winning documentary director, asked Manning on Sunday if it “reflects something about the state of our time” that she has been called a traitor.
Manning said her choice to speak publicly to “change the tone of the conversation” was a risk. She said it did not improve and “things have gotten worse.”
“I’m walking out of prison and I see, literally, a dystopian novel unfolding before my eyes,” Manning said, according to the Associated Press. “That’s how I feel when I walk in the American streets today.”
Manning said there is hope for the future if people take action.
“Here are things we as people can always do,” Manning said. “Whenever society and the institutions are failing, we can always take our own individual actions against the institutions of power.”
Manning said that privacy in society is “dead” and that “we should forgive everybody at some point.”
“Everybody keeps telling me, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t say this. Maybe you shouldn’t do this event. Maybe you shouldn’t talk. Maybe you shouldn’t do this,'” Manning said. “And I’m just like, OK, the fact that you’re telling me I shouldn’t do this is the reason why I should. And I think that’s what we can all do.”