Chelsea Manning, who was handed down the longest ever sentence for a U.S. whistleblower, is free now. Her sentence was commuted by former President Obama, and four months later, she is out of military prison. According to documents from the State Department released through a Freedom of Information Act Request, Manning ultimately did little harm despite her harsh sentence.
According to Buzzfeed, a 107-page Defense Department report found that the information Manning leaked was “largely insignificant and did not cause any real harm to U.S. interests.” The data dump itself was 740,000 pages, and analysis of half of it found that Manning didn’t compromise much by releasing it. However, Manning did perhaps fulfill part of her original mission, presented by her lawyer in closing arguments three years ago as intent “to spark reforms, to spark change, to make a difference.”
That is, she might not have gravely compromised U.S. intelligence, but she did affect media perception and awareness of military activity in the Middle East. The Times reports that one of the most significant revelations to come out of the 740,000 pages of leaked documents is that there were civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan the government hadn’t previously publicly acknowledged. The report that was leaked is a full six years old, and this news is now hardly fresh. Back in 2013, the New York Times reported that the files exposed abuse of detainees as well as civilian casualties.
Then and now, it seems Manning’s crimes were less a matter of compromising delicate intelligence networks and more a matter of embarrassing the United States on the world stage. Her harsh sentence reflected less the severity of the information dropped and more the old adage of killing the messenger. Indeed, Manning’s conviction and sentencing seem almost quaint in the current era of non-stop leaks from the White House, ominous comments from the Deputy Attorney General on anonymous statements to the media, and even the President himself being knocked by foreign leaders for potentially ship-sinking loose lips.