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Documents From Chelsea Manning Show How Army Is Punishing Her For Suicide Attempt

Chelsea Manning has released documents through the grassroots advocacy organization, Fight For the Future, which offer a glimpse into how the United States Army is punishing Manning for attempting suicide in July.

On September 22, Manning will go before a three-person disciplinary board. The board will review evidence related to three administrative charges she faces and determine her punishment. It could involve indefinite solitary confinement, loss of access to the phone and law library, or an extension of the time before she is eligible for parole.

One form indicates Manning has a “right to consult with an attorney” over the phone at her “own expense,” but she is not allowed to have her attorney with her at the hearing. She may “present during all open sessions” of the disciplinary board, make statements and present documentary evidence, call witnesses to present relevant testimony, and question “adverse witnesses” through the board’s president.

The Army acknowledges in its disciplinary board notification document, “Inmate Manning did not resist the Force Cell Move Team.” Yet, according to the Army, the rule is when such team is activated, an inmate has committed an administrative offense. She is charged because the team had to respond to her attempted suicide.

The formal charge sheet indicates the Army charged her with interfering with the “good order and discipline” of the Fort Leavenworth facility, where she is imprisoned, because they had to put the facility in some sort of a lockdown.

Fight For the Future responded, “Somehow she is being charged with threatening the ‘safety’ of the facility. As if her actions, alone in her cell to herself, could put the prison facility at risk.”

The forms also reveal that the “prohibited property” was a book found in her cell after suicide attempt, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces Of Anonymous, by Gabriella Coleman. The Army claims it was “not marked with a name nor registration number for identity” so it had to be “confiscated as prohibited property.”

A little over a year ago, Manning was punished because she had LGBTQ literature and other books in her cell that were considered “prohibited property.” In fact, one of the books she had at the time was this book by Coleman.

There is nothing in the forms to indicate how a prison with layers of bureaucracy and strict regulations missed a book and allowed it to wind up in her cell again. Fight For the Future also maintains the rules say nothing about needing to label inside covers of books.

The book, and books previously confiscated, were “general research reference materials” that Manning used for “article writing,” and none of them were ever returned to her.

In September 2015, she faced the possibility of solitary confinement, but the Army did not put her in isolation. They instead punished her with 21 days of “recreational restrictions.” She was not allowed to go to the gym, library, or outdoors. Administrative “charges” she received for what the Army considered misconduct became a part of her permanent record.

Manning shared in a letter, “I felt very hurt—a lot more than I expected. To make matters worse, my main outlet for emotional support and comfort when I’m feeling depressed, anxious, lonely, or hurt is music. I don’t have access to anything that stores music whatsoever, but I do have a radio—and that was taken away on the same day.”

She now finds herself in a similar situation, and the process of preparing for this board has reportedly been “very emotional and traumatizing.”

Manning wrote in a column for The Guardian, “Last week, I was escorted to view the evidence before the board. There are now nearly 100 pages. I do not have easy access. I do not have a copy. I could only see it for an hour. Looking through the evidence and taking notes in a hurried manner was very stressful.”

“In the evidence, I saw a photograph of myself shortly after my suicide attempt,” Manning described. “Seeing this photograph has haunted me for the past week. It has disturbed me. It sends a chill down my spine. This hurt me more than any physical injury or hardship I have lived through. This process has forced me to relive one of the worst moments of my entire life.”

Very profoundly, she added, “I saw the face of a woman who had given up. I saw the face of woman who, for years, has politely asked, formally requested, and desperately begged for help.”

Manning calls these administrative charges “high-tech bullying.” They represent “constant, deliberate, and overzealous administrative scrutiny by prison and military officials.”

On September 9, Manning went on hunger strike and cried out for help. She begged for dignity, respect, and medical treatment from the Army.  The Army came back days later with a promise to grant her access to gender reassignment surgery, which they may or may not fulfill.

Supporters of Manning contend the disciplinary board should not punish her because it was the Army’s failure to halt abuse and provide proper medical treatment, which led her to attempt suicide.

Although Manning hopes to be able to report to her supporters what happens at the board, the Army could impose punishment immediately after the board meets tomorrow.

“They could start punishing her right away,” according to Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney who represents her. “Last time, she was able to call afterwards, and the punishment did not start immediately, but we were concerned then that it might have, and we are concerned now.”

Manning is serving a thirty-five year prison sentence at Leavenworth. She was convicted of offenses stemming from her decision to provide WikiLeaks over a half million U.S. government documents, which exposed war crimes, diplomatic misconduct, and other instances of wrongdoing and questionable acts by U.S. officials.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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