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Chelsea Manning Supporters Demand Army End Punishment For Surviving Suicide Attempt

Supporters of United States military whistleblower Chelsea Manning and one of her defense attorneys demanded the Secretary of Army drop administrative charges brought against her. The charges stem from a suicide attempt while in prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, RootsAction, and Care2 circulated a petition and obtained over 115,000 signatures, which were delivered to the Secretary of Army this morning. They contend the Army is essentially punishing her for surviving her suicide attempt.

In addition to demanding administrative charges be dropped, the grassroots organizations urged the Army to provide Manning with adequate mental health treatment. The military currently refuses to allow Manning to grow her hair out, even though she is a transgender prisoner.

Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney who represents Manning in her lawsuit against the Defense Department for failing to treat her gender dysphoria, said by bringing administrative charges against Manning the “government is doing everything to make her physical and mental health condition worsen.”

Manning could potentially find herself in solitary confinement indefinitely if she is found guilty of the administrative charges. She may also lose access to the phone and law library, which are “things that connect her to her supporters,” according to Strangio.

“This is a scandal, as I say, that must be corrected,” Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg declared. He urged the military to reverse course quickly.

Ellsberg suggested the military was “losing no opportunity to make an example of her.” It seemed designed to “cause her to break down.”

“I was stunned” to hear Manning attempted suicide, Ellsberg shared. However, he acknowledged it showed she was human. “She’s not after all superhuman.”

Yet, to Ellsberg, it was understandable that Manning was driven to commit suicide. She is a woman in an all-male prison for 30 or more years. She already suffered ten and a half months or so in solitary confinement, which is now seen as “cruel and unusual punishment and designed to make people go mad.”

Strangio contended there was a “certain degree of arbitrariness” to the process of bringing charges against her. It is unclear what will happen next, but it will more than likely follow a pattern similar to what Manning faced last year, when she was punished for having LGBTQ literature and expired toothpaste.

The Army will provide a more detailed charge sheet. A hearing will be scheduled, where Manning will appear. She will not be permitted to have legal counsel with her. There she will learn what specific consequences she will face. But she will not be court-martialed.

It is serious because the Army could extend the time before she is eligible for parole. Plus, Strangio added, the way the administrative charges are defined can “make almost anything an infraction.”

Manning’s administrative charges include resisting the force cell team, the prohibited use of property, and conduct that threatens the good order and discipline of the prison.

The most stunning aspect of the charges is that Manning is accused of resisting removal from her cell when she was unconscious. There is no way she could have put up a fight against a cell extraction team.

Manning’s defense does not know how previous suicide attempts have been handled by the prison, however, during her time in prison, Manning has been subjected to extraordinary surveillance and harassment. There is a history of systemic mistreatment and abuse that stretches back to the Marine brig at Quantico, where she was held in conditions of solitary confinement for a period of time. So, the “aggressive pursuit” of administrative charges feels unique to her, Strangio said.

While Manning cannot address the specific nature of the administrative charges brought against her, she has expressed gratitude to her supporters.

“I have been feeling a little better. Certainly better than the week before last, when I was first served with these charges,” Manning shared. “Your outpouring of support has been incredible. You have made a real difference in my feelings about myself and my situation.”

“One thing I’ve had to learn to remember is that there are thousands of people all over the world thinking about me every day. Knowing that does help me get through my day. It helps me to get up in the morning, and it helps me have the strength [to] go through this routine that has become my life,” Manning added.

Yet, currently, the mental health treatment available at Leavenworth is inconsistent, according to Strangio. There is an ongoing concern, “particularly in light of external forces,” like the charges, that she will continue to endure destabilizing effects on her mental health.

“Chelsea Manning is a human being, who deserves to be treated with basic dignity and respect,” stated Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. “The U.S. government’s treatment of her will be remembered as one of the most shameful abuses of power in our nation’s history. Everyone who cares about human rights should be speaking out against this cruelty and injustice right now.”

Manning was convicted of offenses a little over three years ago. The charges stemmed from her decision to provide WikiLeaks with over a half million U.S. government documents and a video of an Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, widely known as the “Collateral Murder” video. She exposed war crimes, diplomatic misconduct, and other instances of wrongdoing and questionable acts by U.S. officials. She is serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth.

Secretary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton Participate in the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. Photo by US Department of State on Flickr.
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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."