One of the most famous whistleblowers in the world — or irresponsible leaker and traitor, if you prefer the U.S. government's portrayal — is having a birthday behind bars today. Wednesday is former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning's birthday. She's now 27 years old, imprisoned and serving a 35-year sentence after her conviction on espionage charges back in 2013. And now, Chelsea Manning is receiving happy birthday wishes from around the world, a host of famous figures as varied as ex-NSA leaker Edward Snowden to REM frontman Michael Stipe.
Manning was convicted as a result of the theft and distribution of tens of thousands of classified diplomatic cables, as well as logs from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, resulting in (among other things) the exposure of video of the military's killing of a group of civilians, including two Reuters journalists. The video, titled "Collateral Murder" by Wikileaks, has garnered nearly 15 million views on YouTube since being uploaded in 2010.
Manning has a ways to go before she could even hope for parole from her sentence — she won't be eligible until 2022 at the earliest, and suffice to say she's an unpopular enough figure in intelligence and institutional circles that such an early release feels like a long shot. But maybe the well-wishes and cards, collected by The Guardian and boasting names including Vivian Westwood, Molly Crabapple, Lupe Fiasco, and Michael Stripe will help buoy her spirits a bit. Whether conveyed through a warming image, or like Snowden's well-wishes, simply through words alone, some of this is pretty powerful.
Cartoonist Joe Sacco pitched in with a strange, touching tribute, saying that "Every time I see the geese go by, I will think of you."
Sacco's reference to Manning's gender is one of the other notable aspects of her personal history, which continues to make her a target both of bigoted slurs, and an icon for an underrepresented community — Manning is a trans woman, and has been locked in a legal struggle to receive hormone therapy since her detention. Notably, in spite of the collapse of the military's discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy back in 2011, trans people are still barred from serving in the U.S. armed forces.
In addition to the high-profile birthday wishes culled by The Guardian (which you can read in full here) and demonstrations and shows of support like the one pictured above, Manning's been lauded by Amnesty International, which has long been one of her major supporters.
I'm not blind to the fact that Manning is a very divisive figure. Probably moreso within the U.S. than outside of it, but by no means do I expect everyone to be so keen to send her a birthday greeting. That said, I also know a great deal of people view her as a hero, of a self-sacrificial mold which even Edward Snowden, who's been in hiding in Russia to avoid prosecution since 2013, does not match.
So, if you do want to wish her well for her birthday, or even just generally, you can do so by following the information below.