Category Archives: Audio

Brewster Kahle: Plea Bargaining and Torture

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Brewster Kahle at the Internet Archive’s Aaron Swartz Day Celebration, San Francisco, California, November 8, 2014

Audio Clip:

Link to video of Brewster’s talk (Direct link to Brewster’s talk from within the complete video of all speakers from the event.)

The transcript below has been edited slightly for readability.

Complete transcription:

Welcome to the Internet Archive. I’m Brewster Kahle, Founder and Digital Librarian here, and welcome to our home.

For those that haven’t been here before… The little blinking lights on the 5 petabytes of servers that are in the back, are actually serving millions of people a day, and being kind of a digital library. The little sculptures around are people who have worked at the Internet Archive, including one of Aaron Swartz up toward the front. In the front because he was the architect and lead builder of, which is an Internet Archive site. And also worked on putting Pacer into the Internet Archive (RECAP), Google Books public domain books, and other projects that we’ve worked on over the years. So with this, we’d like to say, “Happy Birthday Aaron, we miss you.”

I’m going to talk about a cheery subject: Plea Bargaining and Torture. When I was trying to think through the approach that was used to bring down Aaron Swartz and to try to make a symbol out of him, I typed these words into my favorite search engine (“Plea Bargaining and Torture) and back came a paper on the subject, that I am going to summarize and also elaborate on.

I found this wonderful paper, by a Yale Law Professor, in 1978, comparing European Torture Law and current Plea Bargaining. This might sound a little bit far fetched, but stick with me for a minute.

European Torture Law, I had no idea, was actually a regulated, implemented, part of their court system. It started in 1215, when they stopped going and saying “you’re guilty because God said so.” They had to come up with something else. So they basically had to come up with something that was *that sure.* And they said you either had to have two eyewitnesses, or, you had to confess. And this was actually an unworkable system. And instead of changing that, they tried to force confessions, and they had a whole system for how to do it. They had basically how much regulation, how much leg clamping you had. How many minutes of this, for different crimes.

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So you can see in this diagram, and you can see this guy getting tortured here, but he is surrounded by court clerks. So, it’s not this, sort of, the Spanish Inquisition, as Monty Python would have it. This was actually a smart people state-sponsored system that was trying to fix a bug in their court system, in that it was too hard to convict people. So they tortured them into confessions.

Sound familiar?

So, in the United States, now, we have between 90 and 99 percent. It depends whether you are in Federal or State court, or which county you’re in. 97% of all convictions at the Federal level are done with plea bargaining.

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So you have basically no chance of having a jury before your peers. This is basically a threat system. They actually did studies in Florida where they jacked up the sentences, and the number of people that plea bargained went up. It’s a system to handle convictions outside of the Court System. Outside of the Jury System. Unfortunately, our Constitution actually has something to say about this that’s in pretty direct contradiction:

“The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury;…”
– Article III.2 U.S. Constitution (

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But as another thinker on this has said, basically Plea Bargains have made jury trials obsolete.

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When Aaron Swartz was threatened with 35 years, it’s got to have hit a young, idealistic person pretty hard. 35 years for downloading books too fast from the library? This doesn’t make any sense. Yet that’s a pretty big threat, and may have had something to do with it. When this sort of played out, after his death, I just found that these quotations notable enough that I’m going to sort of, bore you, with putting them up.

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So he was faced with 35 years, thanks to Carmen Ortiz. Wonderful. And the Justice Department had never intended for this. No more than a three, four, or potentially five-month range,” said the top attorney in the United States. And we shouldn’t really judge what the prosecutors were doing, based on what they threatened him (with), just by what they were going to do if he pled guilty.

So I think we’ve got a real problem with this. So what’s to do?

Well, I say we should make some noise about it. I think some of the reasons that we don’t make noise about it is it doesn’t happen to our friends. This sort of thing happens to a lot of “other people.” But, in this case, it did happen to our friend, and I think that it’s important for us to respond to it.

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I think John Oliver has been on a roll, in terms of some of these unbelievable sorts of diatribes of going and actually doing research and bringing it in front of people in an interesting way. I’d also like to pitch: “is there a documentarian in the house, say?” That we should go, and really go and put this type of behavior in front of more people.

There are others that are trying by not pleading, but it has its downsides. Basically, gum up the courts. At least for me, I take off my… I don’t go through the surveillance device in the airports, and yes it gums them up a little bit, and I feel like that’s my part to help. Would I actually, if it came right down to it, not plead? To help move this forward? I don’t know. By enlarge, we’ve got ridiculous catch-all laws, and we’ve got sentences that are just outrageous, and these have just got to come under control, as well as let’s actually hire some judges.

The Kitchen Sisters Profile Aaron Swartz Day Co-Founder Lisa Rein as “The Keeper of the Day”

Aaron Swartz Day as told by Lisa Rein

Aaron Swartz Day co-founder Lisa Rein talks about about her work with the annual hackathon. Founded in 2013 after the death of activist and programming wunderkind Aaron Swartz, the event draws attention to Aaron’s story in hopes of protecting others from similar circumstances and offers a yearly showcase of the many projects initiated by Aaron as well as new projects inspired directly by him and his work.

Lisa also talks about her background as archivist for Chelsea Manning: “When I learned more about Chelsea, without getting into whether you agree with what she did or what she didn’t do, she definitely followed her heart and wanted to improve the world and that’s an Aaron Swartz Day thing.”

The original tracks by Lisa used in this piece include: Hiding, Slipping Away, and It’s Alright.

Produced by Michal Wisniowski and The Kitchen Sisters

Lisa Rein, Co-Founder, Aaron Swartz Day. Chelsea Manning’s Archivist, Dr. Timothy Leary’s Digital Librarian (Photo: Kevin Footer – Art Design/Concept: Kenneth Bryan Smith)

Chelsea Looks Back At Her Teenage Years

Chelsea Manning will be speaking at the Fifth Annual Aaron Swartz Day Evening Event – Saturday, November 4, 2017 – 7:30 pm – TICKETS (Just going to the hackathon? It’s free.)

Chelsea E. Manning at the New York City Pride Parade, June 24, 2017

From October 8, 2017, in New York City (at the New Yorker Festival):

I grew up in central Oklahoma. A small town, Crescent, Oklahoma. And my parents were both voting Republicans and I wasn’t aware there was an alternative. Everybody held those views. And I didn’t really understand them.

I’m trans and I felt different than everybody else. I knew I was different. I didn’t have words to like, describe that. All of my friends. All of my family. All of my teachers. They all knew it as well. It felt like there was something about me that was different. It caused friction. And it caused difficulty for me.

My mother is British, and when my mother and my father split up, my mother decided to move back to the UK, and so I went and I spent four years there. I went to school there, ya know, it was different. I was a kid from the mid west. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t know. It was just a completely different world for me.

My father exposed me to computers at a young age. I learned how to program by the time I was about 8 or 9, although I didn’t fully understand probably till I was about 10. And my parents, we always had a computer in the house. And we always had internet access. So, it was a “normal” thing for me. Even though, at the time, in the early to mid 90s, it wasn’t a normal thing. And there were a lot of communities on the Internet in this time. And so, I was exploring. I was exploring who I was. I was exploring different ways of presenting myself.

I spent more time text messaging and instant messaging my friends than actually spending time with them. The term is IRL (In Real Life), but, ya know, we weren’t spending a whole lot of time IRL. My mother didn’t know how to write checks, so I used the internet to learn how. It ended up being a symbiotic relationship, but also my mother had a drinking problem, and as I got older, I realized how bad it was. And I love my mother. It just, I realized this is not the environment I needed to be in at the time. So I decided to move after my mom, she had a medical problem happen. And it was a scare for me, because I realized, if something happened to my mother, I didn’t have a back up plan. I didn’t have anywhere else to go.

So, I moved back. We didn’t get along. To say the least. I was 17, and I moved back to the states, and it was just very difficult because she (her father’s wife) didn’t like me, and so she was creating all these rules that were impossible to follow. Like, “you can’t leave your bedroom after 8pm.”

So she called the police on me one night, after an argument. It was over a sandwich, because I wanted to have a sandwich. It was 8:30 at night. So, I went out of the room, and I used *her* kitchen, after like 8 o’clock or whatever, to like make a sandwich. It was a swiss cheese and baloney sandwich. And I would cut it with a knife, so I had a knife in my hand. I wasn’t wielding it or anything like that. She had ran off and like, called the police on me. And I’m just like ok that’s weird. And so the Oklahoma Police Department knocked on the door. I’m like “hello,” and they’re like “we’re here for a domestic incident.” And I was like “Okay. She’s in there.” And so, like, the police officer understood what was going on. He basically said “you shouldn’t go back there.”

I borrowed my dad’s truck. I ended up driving to Chicago and living on the streets of Chicago for a summer in Chicago, and here I am living out of a pickup truck, and dealing with that.

My aunt did some detective work, and she asked around all the people that I used to hang out with. She told me that she called about 50 or 60 people, until she finally found somebody that had my cell phone number. So, I get a call from my aunt, and she’s like “come to my house,” and I did. I drove a night and a day, all the way to Maryland. And I lived with her for a year. It was so wonderful for her to be there for me at a time like this, and I realize now, that she really saved my life in many ways, and I didn’t realize it, I didn’t understand it at the time, cause I was so used to being in crisis mode that even whenever I was there, I was like “this is temporary.” So I was scared.

I was trying to re-establish a relationship with my father, and so I’m calling him, and he kept on saying “You need structure. You need the military. I was in the Navy for four years: You should go into the Navy or the Air Force.” And, at that time, the Iraq war was going on. So I saw the images on TV every day of chaos and violence in Bagdad, and I really wanted to do something. And I joined the Army because, ya know, it was Bagdad, where the fight was, and I wanted to help with that. I thought, “if I become an intelligence analyst, I can use my skills or learn something, and make a difference, and maybe stop this. — Chelsea E. Manning, October 8, 2017.

Excerpt from the WNYC The New Yorker Radio Hour (Starts at 3 minutes 19 seconds in.):

Transcript: Amnesty International’s “In Their Own Words” podcast with Chelsea Manning

Special Thanks to Amnesty International UK, who graciously provided me with a production script while preparing this verbatim transcript.

chelsea_large croppedAmnesty International UK – In Their Own Words: Chelsea Manning

Host Anna Bacciarelli:  Okay so, today’s episode is a bit different. You’re about to hear the story of the world’s most notorious whistleblowers, from her perspective. But you won’t hear her voice. You can’t. This woman isn’t allowed to talk to us because right now she’s in a high security military prison. She serving 35 years for the biggest leak of military information in U.S. history. She’s just 28 years old, but she’s already endured months in military confinement, and is due to spend her adult life, in prison. Her name is Chelsea Manning.

Let’s rewind to 2009 for a second. Chelsea, or as she was then known, Private Bradley Manning, was serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq as a military analyst. Disturbed by some of the actions of U.S. forces and their allies, Chelsea made a decision that would have huge consequences. It would see her imprisoned, isolated, and sacrificing decades of her future. She blew the whistle.

Today, Chelsea will tell you about who she is as a person, what she’s been through, and what her life is like now.

You’re listening to “In Their Own Words,” a podcast series from Amnesty International that aims to get behind the headlines and hear from iconic human rights activists first hand. Since Chelsea’s in military prison, barred from recording with us, actress Michelle Hendley is lending Chelsea her voice for this episode.

I consider my home to be in the D.C. suburbs of Maryland—that’s Potomac, Rockville, Bethesda, and Silver Spring. But, Crescent, Oklahoma is the town that I lived in when I was very young.

Crescent is a very small town—probably hovering either just above or below a thousand people for the last thirty or so years. Right down the middle of it, there is about a mile or so long Main Street with a few old original Victorian era buildings – either occupied by businesses or abandoned—on either side of it. The rest of the town is—and has been for as long as I can remember—mostly just streets with small houses or trailers. There are also a lot of churches—and I do mean a lot—I wouldn’t dare try and give you an estimate as to the number.

The people of Crescent are often very friendly. Most of the people that lived there when I was growing up had been there for most of their lives. I would say that it was not uncommon for there to be kids – and sometimes even adults—who had never left the state of Oklahoma. It’s really just another one of those stereotypical “everybody knows everybody else”—kind of towns that crisscross the whole mid-western portion of the United States—the portions that people—like myself, sometimes—call the “flyover” territory between the coasts.

My life was pretty rough. We lived in a small two-story house about three or so miles northwest of the center of Crescent. For about half of my time there, I lived with both my parents and my sister. After my sister graduated school in the mid-90s, she moved out—coming back occasionally to live for short periods of time. My father traveled a lot— mostly business trips for the international company he worked for. So, for a lot of my childhood—I spent time either with my sister or my mother. Unfortunately, both my parents drank heavily—and they could both get erratic and abusive. My sister helped me with that a lot though. She was a great role model for me at a difficult time.

I didn’t have a lot of options and opportunities for interaction with people growing up—so I naturally gravitated to computers because they were available to me when my mother was drunk, or my father was away, or when my sister wasn’t at the house. I think my father allowed me on the computers as a replacement for him. So, I used them as a kind of babysitter and parent—something to do without another person available.

By 1997—when I was nine and ten years old—I was exploring the internet a lot more, and began to hard code my own websites and put up useless information and facts on them. This was around about the time that I started using IRC chat rooms and began to communicate with other people on the Internet for the first time as well—I was driven by a combination of curiosity and loneliness more than anything else.

I remember not having anyone available to help me with my feelings. Like, when I was about eight, I confessed to a school counselor that I didn’t know why I wanted to play with the girls, or play games like hopscotch or… whatever. I felt lonely and strange and I needed support. But, she didn’t know what to do or say other than something along the lines of “boys are different than girls” and “girls do these things while boys do these other things.” It was like there was nothing in-between.

I didn’t understand what was going on at all. I didn’t have words to describe it. I just remember crying a lot and feeling weird. I felt like a freak.

Other kids would pick up on things that I didn’t quite understand. They would tease me a lot. “Hey, girly boy.” “You’re so faggy.” “You talk like a girl.” “You walk like a little girl.” “You cry a lot.” “You’re so gay.” It was a constant reminder of how different I was, and how little I understood the way people perceived me.

I spent a lot of time trying to get into my sister’s room. There was an arms race with locks. First she installed a hook and latch to keep me from opening the door. But, I would just get a stick to lift it up. She raised it, so I just got a bigger stick. Then she put on a simple lock—so I learned how to pick it. Then I remember dad put an actual door lock on—and I struggled for weeks to pick that lock. Eventually, though I figured out how to get in.

There wasn’t a whole lot to it, really. I would just play with her old toys—like Barbie dolls from the 1980s, and played with her clothing and stuff. I remember how neat and tidy she kept the room, and I wanted to be able to decorate my own room like she did. It was a very typical setup for a teenager in the early 1990s. She had a Rubik’s cube and a lava lamp and black and white polka dot sheets. I played in her acid-washed jeans and leather jacket.

By the time I was about fifteen I was in a spiral of denial. I was struggling a lot. So, I would choose to ignore it. But, I couldn’t ignore it. I would spend weeks ignoring these feelings—and then splurge on them. I lived in Southwest Wales in the U.K. back then, and I would buy makeup and girl’s clothes at a thrift store—sneaking around like a kid trying to buy cigarettes or alcohol underage. I would wear the stuff for a bit and then throw it into a trash bag and throw it in a dumpster down the street in the orange glow of the street lights on misty nights. Then I would repeat the cycle a few weeks later.

My inner thoughts were just unhealthy—internalized repeats of the taunts and bad advice from earlier in my life. You’re a freak. Nobody loves you. You’re such a girly weirdo. Man up. These were tough times for me, certainly.

I started talking to my friends before I moved to Wales from Oklahoma. I was mostly just asking questions like—is it normal for me to feel like I am a girl, or that I feel attracted to guys? Does anyone else feel compelled to wear girls’ clothing on occasions? But, it would end in disaster for me. People would be shocked by the questions—and I would suffer the consequences of my honesty in the rumors and slander that I would hear in school in the days following. I would deny everything and go into hiding for a couple of weeks until everybody forgot.

So, it turns out that these reactions would keep me in the closet for a very long time—especially for people who were the closest to me. But, when I was more anonymous—online, or far away from home in a city or while traveling on the train or a bus—then, I felt more comfortable to be honest, and to explore my identity.

I could be anyone I wanted to be online. The rules of the world didn’t seem to apply. In that era you identified yourself as a handle and your “ASL” – age, sex, and location. You didn’t have to be honest. I could be 16, female, and from Houston, Texas—or I could be 24, male, and from London, England. It required a lot of imagination—and a discipline for creating consistency if you were trying to be convincing to an online crowd. I was more myself than I could ever be “IRL”—in real life—as it was described online.

I was running away from the world that I lived in and experienced every day. I often felt like a stranger, or like an observer in my daily life. Sitting in my room, at night, illuminated by the light of the monitor in the dark I felt like I could type my innermost thoughts and feelings to people that I didn’t know, in a completely made up universe. It was a universe where you could be anyone that you ever wanted to be. It was both a fascinating and liberating experience for me growing up.

Although there wasn’t a huge trans community presence on the internet yet—during the early 2000s searching the term “transgender” would still get you a lot of pornography sites—but there was a thriving gay community which I was able to identify with and feel at home talking to. I made a lot of friends online. These were people who I knew very intimately even without knowing their names or what they looked like. The early internet was a very powerful anonymizer.

The first time I passed as a woman in public was while I was on leave from my deployment to Iraq, in 2010. I was dressed in a casual gray business suit jacket and skirt with a white blouse, black tights and a faded purple coat—it was really cold outside – and business shoes. I just kind of wandered about in public. I went to coffee shops and book stores and just tried to blend in as a bored woman looking for something interesting to do.

And, I was amazed at how much it worked, and how human and normal that it felt for me. I didn’t have the confidence before, and never would have done such a thing before I deployed to the combat zone of Iraq. But, I felt that it went pretty amazing. I was very disappointed to have to leave.

After leaving the U.K. in 2005, I moved in with my father and his new wife at the time. I was starting to explore my sexuality like a normal teenager should. But, his wife really didn’t like me and we had many disputes, and she didn’t like the fact that I even existed. After she called the police on me, I left the house and didn’t really have anywhere to go. So, I borrowed my father’s small red pickup truck and wandered around the Midwest for a few months and settled in Chicago for the summer.

It was a very annoying experience for me. I had no resources available to me. Volunteer homeless shelters were very anti-gay and anti-trans and required you to attend prayer ceremonies so I avoided those. I ended up sleeping in the truck a lot.

Every other night I would wake up with a flashlight in my face. I would squint at a police officer or a sheriff’s deputy with the red and blue flashing lights of a police car behind them.

Sometimes they would start yelling at me, pulling me out of the car. They would yell things like “Don’t move freak!” or “Give me a reason to shoot you, scumbag!” I would sometimes sit in handcuffs behind me on the curb of a street, or the dewy grass of a drainage ditch and get questioned on whether I had any warrants out for my arrest, or if I had drugs, or if I was soliciting for prostitution, or—whatever… I was just a street kid to them. But, after every time of harassment – whether minutes or hours – they would let me go. I expected to go to jail for something eventually, but I didn’t. Unfortunately, it’s a typical experience for many queer and trans youth even today.

I was really starting to struggle with my gender identity in the spring of 2007—and I even started seeing a therapist to talk about it, but I never had the courage to talk to her about my struggle. I was very lonely and afraid.

The war in Iraq was entering the troop “surge” that summer, and it was on television every night. I started to wonder about whether or not I could make a difference if the war kept spiraling out of control. I felt like my country needed me, and so I started asking my father about how to enlist in the military. He recommended I talk to a Navy or Air Force recruiter—but I wasn’t interested in joining either the Navy or the Air Force.

But, when I came home from work at night and watched the evening news, I saw all of these soldiers running around Baghdad and Basra, Iraq, and I felt that more ground forces were what the military really needed. I also felt that maybe the Army would “man” me up, so to speak, by instilling certain expectations on me so that I would be more masculine. So, I started talking to an Army recruiter and signed up. After saying some quick and emotional goodbyes to my family, I officially enlisted in the Army on the first day of October 2007, and reported to basic training the next morning.

I hoped that I could help to bring as many of the soldiers that were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan home, and to protect the civilians that were stuck living in these countries at the time. I felt that maybe if I did my job really well, I could really maximize our ability to know and understand insurgencies and conducting counterinsurgency strategies to speed things up. I was pretty hopeful that we could still make a difference there.

During the first week of training, one of the drill sergeants who inventoried my personal belongings made comments about my phone. It was a bold, fuchsia tone of hot pink that I loved. It never occurred to me not to bring it with me. It was pretty humiliating for me among the other recruits for a couple of days before training went on as normal.

My role as an all-source intelligence analyst was to take all of the various types of information—what might sometimes get called “raw intelligence”—that get gathered from different sources—or “disciplines”—such as interrogation reports, or observation reports, or intercepted communications, or satellite imagery, and to look at each different type and combine them together to produce reports or— all too often – slide shows.

While I was deployed I worked between 12 to 14 hours a day every day of the week—without any full days off. I also worked the night shift most of the time I was in Iraq, this was when most of the logistics, training and combat operations would happen, so it would be busy with a lot of pressure on us throughout the shift. There would often be forty to a hundred e-mails for me to go through each night—very intense and high stakes.

My time off was short, but I would often have trouble sleeping—especially with the sun beaming outside and the constant roar of generators and people passing by my trailer. I often spent a lot of my time online with my laptop—when I could get a decent internet connection, of course. I also listened to a lot of music. I didn’t talk to very many people after a while. I was really starting to struggle with the weight of people dying around me every day, and trying to fit into this projected persona of being a “man.” I was very anxious and often depressed.

I was inundated with all these numbers and reports and coordinates and names and pictures! It became overwhelming after a while. At some point, the work that I did stopped feeling like an abstract and intellectual chore, and began to become very real. These were real people living in real places. When we made mistakes planning operations, innocent people died. When we failed to see the small scale and the big picture as being connected, then our operations wouldn’t flow very well and innocent people would get caught up in detention for weeks or years because of a minor mistake that we made.

It often became a burden for me when we made mistakes or overlooked things like the Iraqi government detaining people under false pretenses, and torturing their citizens because they wanted to make an example. A part of me still takes their suffering personally.

Audio: Voice of Amy Goodman on ‘Democracy Now’ from an April 6th 2010 news bulletin:

“The US Military has confirmed the authenticity of newly released video showing US forces indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians.

On Monday the website posted footage taken from a US military helicopter in July 2007 as it killed 12 people and wounded 2 children. The voices on the tape appear to believe their targets are carrying weapons, but the footage unmistakably shows some of the victims holding camera equipment. The dead included two employees of the Reuters news agency.

The pentagon has never publicly released the footage and has previously cleared those involved of wrong-doing. WikiLeaks says it managed to de-encrypt the tape after receiving it from a confidential source inside the military who wanted the story to be known.”

The consequences did feel very vague at the time. A discharge from the military sounded bad. A couple of years in prison sounded like a lifetime to me then. I expected the worst possible outcomes, but I didn’t have a strong or concrete sense of what that might have entailed.

In the abstract, I expected to be demonized and scrutinized. I expected to have every moment of my life examined for every single possible screw up that I’ve ever made, for every flaw and blemish that I have, and to have them be used against me in the court of public opinion. I was especially afraid that my gender identity would be used against me and other people who suffered like I did. Looking back, I think that my fears were based in reality.

Host Anna Bacciarelli: Chelsea was arrested by the US Army’s Criminal investigation team on May 27th 2010. Four days later, she was transferred to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, where she would spend the next two months in solitary confinement.

I didn’t have any clue how I would be treated. At first everything seemed pretty normal. I was living with other people in a tent for a couple of days. It wasn’t until I was placed in maximum custody in what was basically this large metal cage within a tent that things really got bad. I expected to be treated like any other military prisoner or detainee would be—with dignity and respect, I had no reason to expect otherwise until I was transferred to the cage.

It was very hot, and it was dark in the tent. I remember you couldn’t tell if it was day or night outside. The facility operated 24/7 so only the meals would give you a hint as to what time it was. Eventually, it all became a blur. It’s difficult to for me to explain in any detail.

My memory of that time is very foggy. It’s all blended together as a really personal mess.

Being alone in that tent for hours on end without having any access to the outside world, I was left without any Idea of what was going on anywhere. I barely knew what month it was, or how long I had been there. I hadn’t started talking regularly to an attorney yet, and I didn’t even know what I was being charged with, exactly, either.

After a few weeks of living in this mental blur—I began to become entirely dependent on the staff that came to watch me and deliver food to me. They were my only connection to the outside world. But, they were not very talkative or reliable – at least in retrospect. My mind was very malleable and I was susceptible to believing all kinds of things because I didn’t have any other information. So—if a guard told me that I was going to be transferred to a ship off the coast of the horn of Africa, it made sense to me and I totally believed it was possible. I had no idea if the rest of the world knew where I was, or where I was going. Anything could have happened.

When I arrived at Marine Corps Base Quantico I was basically subjected to the same conditions that I was in Kuwait—except it was a permanent, air-conditioned building in Virginia. After being there for a couple of days I was allowed to have visitors which was very helpful to catching up on what had happened in the two or three months prior.

I lived in a small 8 by 6 feet Cell—roughly 2.5 by 2 meters. I was in a cell-block with a bunch of other cells that were all empty. I was not allowed to talk to anyone else – even though there wasn’t anybody near me. There were at least two Marines that watched me from behind a one-way reflective glass window at all times. I could see myself in the reflection of the window all day long. It was like a mirror right outside my cell.

I was not allowed to have anything in my cell that I wasn’t actually using. I would turn in most of my clothes at night. If I wanted to use the toilet, I had to ask for toilet paper, and I would have to return it when I was done. It was the same with toothbrushes, books, and sometimes even my glasses. I was not allowed to lie down or sleep during the duty day from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. I was only allowed to sit up straight on my bed and literally stare at the wall for hours on end. I was sometimes allowed to watch television during the evening, but I had no control over what was on. Even then, Marines would monitor what I was watching, and would change the channel when anything like news or current events shows would come on.

The entire experience was such a surreal nightmare—it just seemed comical to me. I mean, it was just an incredibly crazy experience. It just seems that you have to have a sense of humor in these kinds of situations, or else you won’t be able to cope with painful or emotionally complicated situations.

I viewed the junior enlisted Marines who watched me and escorted me to the shower and to the recreation pen every day as just being young people who were doing their job. Most of the younger ones were very recently out of high school—some with as little as 3 to 6 months in the Marine Corps. I didn’t really interact with anyone else, so I never really developed an impression of the more senior people Involved.

The conditions in my cell were far beyond what is normally associated with solitary confinement. I needed permission to do anything in my cell. I was not allowed to move around the cell to exercise. I was not allowed to sit down with my back against the wall. I had no possessions inside the cell except when I was actually using something. I mean, I had a guard watch me brush my teeth every morning. The rules just seemed crazy.

Host Anna Bacciarelli: After more than three years of confinement, on the 21 August 2013, Private Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for passing classified documents to WikiLeaks during 2009 and 2010. During her trial, she was banned from presenting her evidence or the motives behind her actions, including her claim that she was acting in the public interest in exposing military abuses.

We asked Chelsea what happened in the moments after the verdict.

My legal team were pretty upset. We were escorted into a tiny side room immediately after the hearing closed. There were six of us in this small room with white walls and no furniture, with two of the armed security guards at the door waiting until the courtroom was cleared. There was this ominous silence except for a sniffle from one of the lawyers who started to cry. It seemed that everyone in the room was afraid to speak, so I just started speaking. I began telling them that they did a great job and worked very, very hard to get to this point—and that I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them.

“Why did I publicly announce ‘I am Chelsea Manning, I am female.’ the day after the sentence?” Well—for one—that’s who I am. It made sense to me to tell people who I am as soon as I was given the opportunity to do so, which was the day after the trial finished. I had been holding back on my announcement only because of the trial. I wanted to do it sooner, but the lawyers advised against it.

I felt honored to have a platform like national television available to me to make such an announcement. I felt proud of myself, for making the decision to be honest about who I am with everyone I know. I also felt excited, because I was getting nothing but an outpouring of support from the people who care about me.

Fort Leavenworth is a very large but not a very densely populated military base in the rolling hills along the Kansas banks of the Missouri River. It’s known for two things: the command and staff school that teaches military officers from all over the world; and, the military prison.

My initial impressions were based on the old “castle” prison building that has been closed down for several years now. I was expecting something from the movies. The reality is a lot simpler.

On my first night here, I was pretty much like “Okay, here I am.” I laid looking up in the dark of my cell and I stared at this dim buzzing night light on that ceiling, and I decided to just blend in and work toward settling in here.

Every single morning when I wake up, I walk over to the stainless steel toilet/sink in my cell and look into the eyes of the woman in the reflection in the mirror and say “okay, you can deal with this” to her. That’s the moment each morning that I motivate myself for the day—and only that day. I think it’s very important to break big long things like years down into discrete and manageable units that can easily be conquered.

In here, I’m just like anybody else. There’s nothing special about me in comparison to anyone else who lives here. I get treated like anyone else, and I only expect that I get treated like anyone else.

I wake up at around 4:30 a.m. each work day, or about 5:30 on weekends and holidays.

When I’m working, I drink coffee and eat breakfast at the prison cafeteria—when I’m not working, I avoid coffee and take a nap after breakfast —ha-ha. Work begins at about 7 a.m. and lasts until about 4 p.m., with about an hour and a half break for lunch in between.

When I get back to my cell in the evening, I go through the letters, cards, newspapers, and magazines from the day. I sometimes sort my laundry, get ready to either work out (with an emphasis on flexibility and cardio), or go to the Library to exchange books or type up letters or legal documents. I also make the most of my phone calls in the evening. I take a shower after working out, and go to bed—usually after reading a book or a magazine for an hour or so.

I work in a small woodwork team and we make a lot of high quality items. When we are lucky, we might make heirloom furniture for special orders—coffee-tables, beds, dressers, and cabinets. But we make a lot of standard stock items for bulk orders—usually odds and ends like award plaques, picture frames, picture boards, and triangular flag cases for folded U.S. flags. It’s a very fun job. Each team makes these items from start to finish—from rough lumber to the final finished product—so it feels like we’re making something out of nothing on our own. It’s not an assembly line.

It’s the dead heat of summer right now, so I can see the sky outside my window. It often swings wildly from an incredible clear azure hue of blue, to the ominous rolling of puffy white thunderstorm clouds from the distance, to the dark gray swirl of an intense Midwestern storm with flashes of bright white and blue lightning. There are fields of grass outside and between the fence that are very green and healthy—with a large variety of birds and little critters like squirrels and bugs running amok in them. I can also see the vast, rolling hills and thick patches of hardwood trees typical of northeastern Kansas and western Missouri.

In winter, everything turns a deep golden brown—the trees, the grass, the dirt, basically everything. As it begins to look really bland, nature throws in a light snow storm to the mix, and everything gets blanketed with a bright and very pure white! It’s never dull outside my window.

But sure, there are less exciting things like buildings and razor wire—but my mind doesn’t register them anymore.

I love doing cardio and flexibility exercises—and in spring, early summer, and early autumn I get to go outside and run. Right now, it’s the dead heat of summer and it’s just too hot and humid to run all that much—but as soon as it starts to cool off, I’ll get back into the rhythm.

I requested for medical treatment in August 2013—but I didn’t start treatment until February 2015. In December of 2014, I started wearing cosmetics—but that was really just a Band-Aid.

It’s a very strange reality that taking hormones has made clear to me. I can feel emotions much more immediately and deeply. Before, I used to just put my feelings in this little box in my head and say—I’ll deal with you later. But now, when I’m feeling sad, I cry. When I’m feeling angry, I need to take a step away and cool down for a minute. When I’m feeling happy, I laugh and get excited—and when I’m feeling lonely, I reach out to someone that I care about. Life is a much richer and fuller experience for me as a person.

Physically, my skin is softer and I guess that it’s a lot more sensitive because I can feel things that I never noticed before—like the way that the texture of fabrics might run against my skin, or the air circulating through my clothing, or the smooth and intense cold of a door handle. These feelings are very real to me—and I wouldn’t want to get rid of them.

I’m committed to learning as much as I can. I have a lot of little goals and objectives that I set for myself every day and every week, like writing this essay for a college course, or reading about this particular topic, or focusing on learning a particular style or technique of doing something. But, as a whole they all coalesce into the goal of enriching my knowledge, understanding, and connection with the world and people around me.

I have always enjoyed music. I love all different kinds of music – but I have a particular taste for what a lot people call “E.D.M.” or “electronic dance music.” But more fundamentally, I love any music that has a good beat – it’s just I prefer the creativity that digital and electronic music can offer us. I think it’s a fantastic medium to work with and listen to!

I get the most hope from the letters and cards that I receive from all kinds of unique people. I get letters from queer and trans kids a lot—which I think is amazing just because it’s a long forgotten medium to write a letter. When I first entered into confinement, I didn’t know where to write the return address or the sending address or where to put a stamp—so I can only imagine how important it must be for a kid to learn how to do something so unusual and unfamiliar in this digital era. It means a lot for me to get letters from these kids who feel so connected with me – they inspire me to keep going, and give me the most amount of hope.

I’ve actually imagined a few times what it would be like if I could travel back in time and speak to myself as a teenager. I know what she was feeling deep down inside. I know all the fears that she had, and all the vulnerabilities she was hiding. I would want to grab her by the hand and tell her that everything is going to be okay. I would tell her that there is nothing wrong with you, and that you are more loved and appreciated than you realize. I would tell her that she can be a happier and healthier person if she stays true to herself, like I have finally been able to figure out. I wouldn’t push her too far, I can’t even tell myself who she is—but I’d try to start that conversation, and guide her in the right direction. These were just the things that I so badly needed to hear from someone when I was younger—that we are all human, and can be loved and valued unconditionally.

Host Anna Bacciarelli: That was actress Michelle Hendley voicing the words of Chelsea Manning, for Amnesty’s “In Their Own Words.” Chelsea is still in Fort Leavenworth military prison, Kansas. It will be 2045 before she’s released, if she serves her full sentence. Amnesty is calling for Chelsea to be freed now. She was overcharged as a warning to others, while the abuses she reported have never been investigated.

In 2015, after she took the Army to court, Chelsea won the right to become the first military prisoner to access hormone treatment to transition in prison. But, she still can’t grow her hair, and is forced to adhere to military grooming standards for males. So, that’s her current battle.

Meanwhile, the US Army is looking at reassessing how trans people in the forces are treated. In no small part, thanks to Chelsea. So does she looking forward to, after she served her sentence?

I feel like I’ve been stored away for all this time without a voice or the ability to show my love and support to the folks who need it. I feel like there’s so much of a contribution to society that I could be making. I spend every day looking forward to the hope that one day I can give that a go.

Host: I’m Anna Bacciarelli. You’ve been listening to “In Their Own Words,” a podcast series from Amnesty International. Thanks to Michelle Hendley for reading, and of course, to Chelsea Manning, for sharing her story.

Please remember to subscribe to hear more stories from human rights activists around the world. Until next time.

Kevin Poulsen at Aaron Swartz Day 2014 – Details On Poulsen v. DHS

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Download a Hi-res (.mov) file of Kevin’s Talk

Kevin Poulsen filed a lawsuit over access to the Federal law enforcement documents about Aaron Swartz.  MIT intervened in the case as an interested third party – and was awarded the privilege of further redacting the documents before they were made public.

Bottom Line: MIT’s intervention has caused these documents to be released at a much slower rate, so they could redact information about their involvement with the government against Aaron.

The files are all here now at

Here is a complete transcription of last year’s presentation by Kevin Poulsen on this topic. (Let’s band together to put pressure on the U.S. Government to release these files now. :-)

(In case you are just learning about this, I am also including a complete list of references on this topic at the bottom of this post.)

Complete transcription:

My name’s Kevin Poulsen. I’m a contributing editor at Wired magazine, and I’m the one that recruited Aaron to do the project that is now “SecureDrop.” While my presentation is getting set up I’ll say that what the Freedom of the Press Foundation and everybody who’s contributed to that project at the hackathons has made of that greatly exceeds I think, any expectations that Aaron had for that when he was working on it. It’s an astonishing, astonishing achievement, and one that’s become far more important than it was even when we started.

I’ve been asked to talk about my Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, and where we stand with the files.

For those just tuning in: After Aaron passed, I, as well as a lot of other journalists and bloggers and independent investigators, very quickly filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Secret Service, and we all received the same letter (page 3), where the agency summarily denied the request on the grounds that it pertained to an ongoing law enforcement investigation, which was ludicrous under the circumstances.

I filed an appeal. (page 1) The department ignored the appeal, and then, I, with the help of David Sobel, and attorney with EFF and one of the greatest FOIA litigators in the country, we sued DHS and, very quickly, got a court order obliging them to start producing document. (Applause.)

At that point, MIT and JSTOR moved to intervene in the case. They were concerned that, despite the government’s great skill at redacting documents, that some information might slip through that would identify MIT or JSTOR personnel who contributed to the investigation, and they might face some sort of retaliation. Probably from Anonymous.

We reached an agreement with them, where they’re allowed to preview each collection of documents before it’s released to me and suggest redactions of their own. There was some concern at the time that they would abuse that to redact more than just identifying information. So far, it looks like the redactions have just been a word here or there, and email addresses and that sort of thing.

What we’ve gotten so far is 2,889 pages, 177 photos and 11 videos, including the video of Aaron being booked at the Cambridge Police Department.

In the last batch. This will be of interest to maybe two or three of you, that really closely follow this. In the last batch, we actually got the Python script that Aaron wrote to extract the documents from JSTOR. This is actually the thing that I’m asked about the most is “when is going to be released?”

Aaron Swartz' script
Aaron Swartz’ script

Script Transcribed on GitHub

In the last two batches, we’ve seen for the first time some large blocks of material being redacted, and they’re being redacted under FOIA Exemption B5, “Pre-decision Deliberative Processes.” So, if the government is working on something, and they haven’t made a decision, and they’re exchanging memos and back and forth discussing what to do, that’s when that would apply. Or a draft of a treaty. That sort of thing.

And for the first time we’re seeing a notation indicating that an outside agency, not the Secret Service, and not DHS, has made those redactions, and it’s the Executive Office of the U.S. Attorney. And all of these redactions appear to be emails either from or two Stephen Heymann, the prosecutor on the case. So, it’s hard to tell what’s being redacted by definition. It’s not there. But, as it turns out, MIT and JSTOR also released documents, in the wake of the controversy over all of this, and some of them were messages that were redacted from the government’s release. So, we actually can see what’s underneath them. And it’s nothing that you would call a smoking gun. It’s more like, very puzzling why they would want to redact this. So this, message to MIT, from Steve Heymann, or (correction) to JSTOR, from the prosecutor, is asking about the naming of the PDF files that were downloaded. It baffles me as to why they would consider this sensitive.

This one, huge block of redacted text, here, is the reply from JSTOR. You’d imagine this is going to be the Pentagon Papers or something. And no, it’s a detailed examination of the numbering system that JSTOR uses for numbering their documents. Keep in mind this was released by JSTOR voluntarily and redacted by the U.S. Government for reasons of their own. And then this one, again, an entire block. It turns out to be the stuff that the prosecutor is asking MIT to bring to an interview. So this, I think, bears some further scrutiny. I just discovered the unredacted versions of these in the JSTOR documents yesterday, so I haven’t had a chance to talk to David Sobel about it yet. But to me, it looks a little questionable.

If you want to see the documents for yourself. This week, I’ve compiled them all into a single place: You’ll also find the FBI and US Marshall’s files on Aaron there, and a compilation of all the files that have been released by MIT and JSTOR to date, as well as all the videos and the photographs that I just described.

More Articles and Resources about Kevin’s FOIA case and MIT’s intervening:


2. WIRED’s Kevin Poulsen on managing investigations, Aaron Swartz and why leaks are the new FOIA –, by George LeVines – August 2, 2013

3. First 100 Pages of Aaron Swartz’s Secret Service File Released
Kevin Poulsen    Security Date of Publication: 08.12.13.

4.  Secret Service Report Noted Aaron Swartz’s ‘Depression Problems’, Kevin Poulsen, Wired, 11.07.13

5.  MIT blocking release of Aaron Swartz’s Secret Service files BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow, Jul 18, 2013

6. Judge orders Secret Service to release Aaron Swartz’s files
Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow  Jul 9, 2013

7. MIT asks to intervene in Swartz FOIA suit
July 19, 2013 by Ed Felten

8. Aaron Swartz FOIA video playlist

9.  MIT intervenes in FOIA release of Aaron Swartz documents, seeks ‘pre-release review’  By Nathan Ingraham, The Verge, July 18, 2013

10.  The MIT surveillance video used against Aaron Swartz is now public By Dell Cameron, Dec 4, 2013


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Discussing Aaron’s Suicide: Q and A at Aaron Swartz Day 2014

Trevor Timm, John Perry Barlow, Brian Knappenberger, and Lisa Rein, during the Q & A panel, after a special screening of “The Internet’s Own Boy” in the Internet Archive’s Great Room, at Aaron Swartz Day, November 8, 2014.

Audio clip:

Link to full Aaron Swartz Day 2014 Video.
The transcript below has been edited slightly for readability.

Lisa: Brian, when you were making this movie, and you had lots and lots of footage, how did you go about deciding which story you were actually gonna tell? One of the things that people who are not familiar with the story sometimes say to me, when they see your film for the first time, is that they are curious about the way that you handled the suicide at the end.

For me, it made sense, because, one thing that I think a lot of us could agree on, when we talked about it, after he died, was that it *didn’t* really make sense. He had had bouts with depression, from time to time, like a lot of people, but it wasn’t really anything that anyone was expecting, or that anyone could go “oh, we knew that was gonna happen,” or, “we were afraid that was going to happen” — that sort of thing.

I liked the way you sort of got that across in the film. How did you decide how you were gonna treat that issue? It was very sad at the end, but you definitely decided not to dwell on it.

Brian: Yeah. I mean, so much was written about Aaron, right after he died. And some of it, at least, had to do with depression or speculating on the role that it might of played in his death. So, I certainly, read everything. I mean, before we even started filming – when I was still in the early stages, I tried to read everybody’s take on it. A lot of people were doing first hand accounts and stuff, but the New Yorker did a piece that was almost exclusively focused on that issue.  And so I decided to take it, and basically just ask the people who were closest to him and try to understand what role it played.

The conclusion I came to is that, Taren, who lived with him during the last years of his life, she doesn’t believe that he suffered from that. Or, that he may have had something like that in his early 20s, but not when she lived with him. His brothers and other people close to him describe a kind of sensitivity, of carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders; the need to want to fix everything, almost. And so I just kind of weighted, based on what I found. I think that’s the short answer.

I think some of that was letting the government off the hook, in some ways. That’s just the conclusion that I came to. That assigning too much to “depression,” was a way of sort of distracting from this two year legal nightmare that would have certainly put anybody in a difficult position.

Lisa: Right. As if it was something where, he could have had a bad day, and done anyway, and not something that he was driven to from the situation. I guess that’s what bothered me too, when people talked about the depression, and they left out the whole part about the relentless, daily persecution by this case on his life.

Brian: Yeah, I mean, people go through worse and don’t take their own life, obviously. So, it was just something that I thought a lot about. I basically proceeded by talking to people who were close to him and trying to understand who he was, and what role that played, and I think I got some pretty candid, and pretty honest answers about that.

John Perry: I don’t have reason to say this, but I’m gonna say it anyway. It occurs to me, even though I know that Aaron Swartz would’ve been a truly extraordinary force in the world, had he lived. I’m not certain that he would’ve been the extraordinary force in the world that he became by dying when he did, and I’m not certain that he didn’t know that. It’s not out of the question in my mind that he made a strategic and very hard decision to allow himself to be a martyr to this cause at this particular point.

Lisa: I thought of that too, except that one would say that making a pragmatic decision about the timing of taking your life isn’t necessarily a sane decision to make.

john perry