Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning has compared lockdown to coming out of solitary confinement and warned that “some people never recover” from the latter.
Ms Manning spent seven years in a military prison after leaking thousands of classified government documents to WikiLeaks before Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017.
The now 33-year-old was recalled to jail in 2019 for refusing to testify against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and was released in March last year, when the global pandemic was beginning to cause widespread lockdowns.
Speaking on Monday with the Bad Faith Podcast hosted by former Bernie Sanders’ press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, and Virgil Texas, Ms Manning, who spent 11 months in solitary confinement, said she had been “blown away’ by how much lockdown has psychologically affected her friends and family and how she had spotted a lot of similarities.
She said: “I think that us coming out of quarantine. I’m so starkly reminded of watching people who spent significant times, six or eight months, in maximum security coming back in a general population.
“So, people who are in solitary confinement or like heavily restricted, and people who are in those conditions, it takes time for them to come back to be social again. And I’m just blown away by the responses I’ve had with friends and family and seeing them go through the same process. And it’s really stark. I’m like, oh wow, like, people need time to recover and to heal and to figure out how to be social and to be interactive and human again.”
She added: “Whereas, like, me, I’ve gone through this process a couple times. So for once I actually have the mechanisms to help me get through this. I spent 11 months continuously in solitary confinement and the first time ever I was terrified of leaving my cell and I actually asked the guard, I was just like: ‘Am I allowed to go leave and like use the shower and go watch the TV there?’ And they’re like: ‘Yeah.’”
Ms Manning added that she believed the long-term effects would be felt “for years” and that not everyone would recover.
“People are going to take years to recover from this,” she said. “I’ve also seen people who never fully recovered. Like they just went in and came out totally different people.”
In 2013, Ms Manning was charged with several offences following a leak of military and diplomatic documents, including videos of bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison after her conviction.
As a low-level intelligence analyst in the army with access to a classified computer system, Ms Manning retrieved thousands of documents spanning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, exposing abuses of detainees and attacks – including the “Collateral Murder” video in which two journalists are killed by a helicopter strike – in addition to sensitive conversations among intelligence officials.
Her role in “Cablegate” revealed thousands of diplomatic cables across several decades.