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‘I Need Help’: Chelsea Manning Launches Hunger Strike

Chelsea Manning, who is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth, has launched a hunger strike that she says will last until military personnel and others in the United States government stop bullying her and give her the help she needs.

In a statement from the Chelsea Manning Support Network, Manning shares, “As of 12:01 am Central Daylight Time on September 9, 2016, and until I am given minimum standards of dignity, respect, and humanity, I shall—refuse to voluntarily cut or shorten my hair in any way; consume any food or drink voluntarily, except for water and currently prescribed medications; and comply with all rules, regulations, laws, and orders that are not related to the two things I have mentioned.”

Manning makes it clear this is a “peaceful and nonviolent” act and any “physical harm” that may occur will likely be “at the hands of military or civilian staff,” which “will be unnecessary and vindictive.”

“I will not physically resist or in any way harm another person. I have also submitted a ‘do not resuscitate’ letter that is effective immediately. This shall include any attempts to forcibly cut or shorten my hair or to forcibly feed me by any medical or pseudo-medical means,” Manning adds.

She pledges to engage in a hunger strike until she is treated like a human being again and expects it to “last for a long time.” It is quite possible the strike will end in “permanent incapacitation or death,” and she claims she is prepared mentally and emotionally for what may happen.

Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney who represents Manning in her lawsuit against the Defense Department for failing to treat her gender dysphoria, said he learned last night that Manning planned to engage in a hunger strike in protest of her “ongoing denial” of “medically necessary health care and the relentless scrutiny and abuses she has experienced in the years since her arrest.”

“I am deeply saddened and very concerned for Chelsea’s well-being,” Strangio stated. “The government has long been aware of her medical needs and continues to ignore them.”

“When we filed our initial case against the Department of Defense in September of 2014 over Chelsea’s treatment related to her gender dysphoria, we made very clear that the lack of treatment put her at very serious risk of harm,” Strangio added. “They have known this for years. We are still in litigation over her treatment and are optimistic that justice will ultimately prevail, but the government need not wait to be ordered to do the right thing and we hope they act promptly to treat Chelsea consistent with their constitutional obligations.”

Manning was convicted of several offenses a little more than 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, now 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.

In August, the U.S. Army brought administrative charges against Manning for attempting suicide in July. She was charged with resisting the force cell team, the prohibited use of property, and conduct that threatens the good order and discipline of the prison. The resisting charge was brought against her, even though she was unconscious when she was removed from her cell.

As the result of a court challenge, she pushed the military to allow her to receive hormone therapy for her gender dysphoria. She started therapy in February 2015, but mental health treatment has been wholly inadequate. And, despite the fact that her doctors believe she should grow her hair out and follow female grooming standards, she is still prohibited from growing out her hair inside Leavenworth.

“I need help. I needed help earlier this year. I was driven to suicide by the lack of care for my gender dysphoria that I have been desperate for. I didn’t get any. I still haven’t gotten any,” Manning said in her statement.

“I have asked for help time and time again for six years and through five separate confinement locations. My request has only been ignored, delayed, mocked, given trinkets and lip service by the prison, the military, and this administration.”

Manning even mentioned how her father treated her, sharing that her father would beat her “repeatedly for simply not being masculine enough” when she was a child. If she cried, he would say, “Suck it up.” This just worsened the pain.

Hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions circulated by Fight For the Future, Demand Progress, RootsAction, and Care2 in early August. Those petitions were delivered to the Secretary of the Army’s office and demanded administrative charges be dropped.

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, a long-time supporter, has called the charges against Manning a scandal and urged the military to reverse course. He believes the Army is wasting “no opportunity to make an example of her” and contends they are deliberately trying to break her down.

Since her suicide attempt, Manning has published intensely personal writings expressing gratitude to her supporters and sharing some of her innermost thoughts as a transgender woman in a military prison.

On August 19, The Guardian published a column, where she described the first time she passed as a woman in public.

“Being myself for a whole day taught me a few lessons: trying to meet the expectations that I believed were placed on me by society was unsustainable. I was miscast in the play of life, and it was urgent that I admit that sooner rather than later. Joy, confidence, and security can’t begin until we are able to just be ourselves.”

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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."