Chelsea Manning went before a three-member disciplinary board at Fort Leavenworth on September 22 and was punished with 14 days of solitary confinement.
The punishment stems from administrative charges the United States Army brought against Manning after she attempted suicide in July. The Army charged her with “resisting the force cell move team,” “prohibited property,” and “conduct which threatens” the “good order and discipline” of the facility.
In a statement from Manning, she indicated the Army acquitted her of the “resisting” charge. But she was found guilty of the “conduct which threatens” offense and the “prohibited property” charge, which was for having an “unmarked copy” of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous by Gabriella Coleman.
“My punishment is 14 days in solitary confinement,” Manning added. “Seven of those days are ‘suspended.’ If I get in trouble in the next six months, those seven days will come back.”
“I am feeling hurt. I am feeling lonely. I am embarrassed by the decision. I don’t know how to explain it,” she shared. “I am touched by your warm messages of love and support. This comforts me in my time of need.”
Manning is serving a 35-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.
The military has a history of putting Manning in solitary confinement instead of responding appropriately to her mental health needs.
Prior to her court-martial, she was held in conditions of solitary confinement for nine months. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez condemned Marine Corps Base Quantico’s treatment, specifically calling attention to the “seriously punitive conditions of detention” imposed before she was even found guilty.
Brig officials defended the treatment as necessary to “safeguard” Manning. Yet, as Manning’s appeal contends, “Brig officials knew of Pfc. Manning’s already poor and deteriorating mental health, transferred her to a brig that was ill-suited to address her mental health needs, and purposefully kept her in solitary confinement over the recommendation of the brig’s own mental health professionals to
avoid unfavorable media attention.”
Whether the Army consulted any medical personnel to assess how solitary confinement might exacerbate Manning’s mental health problems is unknown.
After a few days of isolation, a person can experience lasting mental damage. Manning is already known to be struggling with mental health problems. The Army’s failure to provide adequate medical treatment led to her suicide attempt. That makes putting her in solitary confinement even more cruel.
Méndez previously declared, “Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit…whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by [countries] as a punishment or extortion technique.” He called such punishment a “harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system,” and said it could “amount to torture.”
At the hearing, Manning was able to present evidence and question witnesses through the board president. It broke for lunch after four hours. The board voted, and according to Manning, a decision was issued after 30 minutes.
She now waits for “formal board results in writing” and has 15 days to file an appeal.
Before the disciplinary board hearing, Manning called the charges against her “high-tech bullying,” and said they represent “constant, deliberate, and overzealous administrative scrutiny by prison and military officials.”
Fight For the Future, a grassroots advocacy organization which has supported Manning, reacted, “The July incident where Chelsea attempted to take her own life followed years of the government systematically denying her access to medically recommended treatment for gender dysphoria, and previous threats of solitary confinement following minor prison “infractions,” including possession of mislabeled general research materials that Chelsea used for article writing and an expired tube of toothpaste.”
Earlier this week, Manning described what it was like to see a photo of herself taken after her suicide attempt.
“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.”
She continued, “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.”
With the prospect of punishment hanging over her head, Manning went on hunger strike on September 9 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. However, it remains unclear whether they will fulfill this promise.