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US Army Punishes Chelsea Manning for Expired Toothpaste & LGBTQ Literature

After a four-hour disciplinary board hearing, the United States Army has punished Chelsea Manning for possessing books and magazines having to do with LGBTQ and political issues. The Army has also punished her for having an expired tube of toothpaste and for brushing food off the table and refusing to talk to a guard after she was accused of misconduct.

For these actions, the Army imposed 21 days of recreational restrictions. She will not be allowed to go the gym, library or outdoors. And, more significantly, these “charges” will be part of her permanent record.

Manning declared after the hearing, “Now these convictions will follow me [through] to any parole/clemency hearing forever.” She said she had expected to be moved to minimum custody in February, but now it could be years before that happens.

The Army had threatened Manning with solitary confinement. Fortunately, she did not receive that punishment.

“When I spoke to Chelsea earlier today she wanted to convey the message to supporters that she is so thankful for the thousands of people from around the world who let the government know that we are watching and scrutinizing what happens to her behind prison walls,” Chase Strangio, her ACLU attorney, declared. “It was no doubt this support that kept her out of solitary confinement.”

Her ACLU attorney condemned the fact that Manning faced the disciplinary board hearing alone—after being denied access to the prison’s legal library—and was also prohibited from having legal counsel.

“[Chelsea] will now be punished for daring to share her voice, [which] sets a concerning precedent for the remaining decades of her incarceration,” Strangio added. “Not only does this punishment mean the immediate loss of library and recreation for Chelsea, but she also will carry these infractions through her parole and clemency process and will be held longer in the more restrictive custody where she is now incarcerated.”

“No one should have to face the lingering threat of solitary confinement for reading and writing about the conditions we encounter in the world. Chelsea’s voice is critical to our public discourse about government accountability and trans justice and we can only preserve it if we stay vigilant in our advocacy on her behalf.”

Over one hundred thousand people signed a petition, which was delivered by Fight for the Future, RootsAction.org, Demand Progress, and CodePink to the Army the same day of the hearing.

“It’s absurd that Chelsea was found guilty, and that she has to endure any additional punishment beyond being wrongly imprisoned, but now the U.S. government knows that the world is watching their treatment of Chelsea closely,” Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, stated.

The ACLU created a graphic, which includes each item confiscated by the Army. This is what Manning was punished for having in her cell:

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That anyone in any prison would be punished for LGBTQ magazines, including a Vanity Fair magazine with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, a copy of Cosmopolitan in which she was interviewed, and a book about transgender issues is ridiculous. This is especially appalling when considering how the Pentagon grabs headlines for moving toward more inclusion of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and even transgender people.

Even more ludicrous is the fact that she was punished for having books like I Am Malala, Law’s Empire and Justice for Hedgehogs. U.S. officials could not possibly do enough public events with Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. The other two books are works of philosophy available in college and university libraries throughout the country.

And, aside from the tragedy and farce of punishing someone for an expired tube of anticavity toothpaste, it is shameful that Manning is being punished for having an executive summary of the Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA torture.

Not a single person involved in authorizing policies of torture has gone to prison or faced criminal prosecution. Yet, someone like Chelsea Manning, who possessed a report which U.S. agencies themselves refused to read, is going to have a “charge” that will follow her forever because she dared to show interest and care about what brutality the CIA committed against detainees.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."