The Pentagon persecutes a political prisoner

August 24, 2015

Elizabeth Schulte reports on the latest outrage in Pfc. Chelsea Manning's ongoing struggle for justice from inside the walls of Fort Leavenworth military prison.

SUPPORTERS OF Chelsea Manning rallied to her defense after the Army threatened the whistleblower with indefinite solitary confinement for "crimes" that included possessing an issue of Vanity Fair with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover and "expired" toothpaste.

Public pressure--including more than 100,000 signatures on a petition demanding the charges be dropped--helped push back the threats of a maximum sentence of indefinite solitary for these disciplinary violations. However, a three-person military board ruled on August 18 that she was guilty of four charges and gave her 21 days of recreational restrictions--no gym, library or outdoors.

The board's ruling could have a more far-reaching impact. Manning's lawyers are concerned that now that the convictions are on her permanent record, they could be used in future parole or clemency hearings, and could delay her transition to minimum security custody status. Manning explained via Twitter, "Now these convictions will follow me thru to any parole/clemency hearing forever. Was expecting to be in min custody in Feb, now years added."

Supporters of Chelsea Manning call for her freedom
Supporters of Chelsea Manning call for her freedom (

During the four-hour, closed-door hearing, Manning's was not allowed to have legal counsel present--another of the many injustices Manning has faced in the U.S. Army's years-long campaign to persecute and silence her.

The transgender Army private was sentenced to 35 years in Fort Leavenworth military prison in 2013 for espionage after she went public with hundreds of thousands of top-secret military documents exposing, among other things, the U.S. responsibility for thousands of previously unreleased civilian casualties.

The 700,000 documents and videos made public by the watchdog website WikiLeaks showed that the Pentagon failed to investigate reports of torture, rape and abuse committed by the part of the U.S. military in Iraq--including the killing of 700 civilians, pregnant women and children among them, at border checkpoints. Video of a U.S. air attack in Baghdad in 2007 showed the killing of two Reuters war correspondents by U.S. Apache helicopters.

FROM BEHIND the bars of a military prison, Manning--who was first diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2010--is an outspoken opponent of the crimes of the U.S. military and advocate for transgender rights. She has a column in Britain's Guardian newspaper in which she takes up the military, civil liberties and trans issues.

The Pentagon has thrown up obstacles to Manning every step of the way, including unrelenting harassment and psychological abuse. After she was arrested, it threatened her with the death penalty and forced her languish in the torture of solitary confinement in Kuwait, and again while she awaited trial at Quantico in Virginia.

Only after months of protest did military officials say that they would allow Manning to undergo hormone therapy, which began in February. The ACLU has also filed a lawsuit demanding that the military respect Manning's requests to grow her hair out. The military continues to force her to shave her head to the Army's grooming standards for males.

In July, Manning was written up for medicine misuse, for having expired toothpaste; disorderly conduct, for brushing food onto the floor; disrespect to an officer; and having prohibited property, such as magazines and books, in her cell. She was sent to solitary confinement for 24 hours, while guards searched her cell and confiscated her property.

The prohibited reading materials, totaling 21 books and magazines, confiscated from her cell included: the issue of Vanity Fair with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, Advocate, OUT Magazine, an issue of Cosmopolitan with an interview of Manning, Transgender Studies Quarterly, a novel about trans issues called A Safe Girl to Love, the book I Am Malala about the Afghan school girl who was shot by the Taliban and became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, legal documents including the Senate Torture Report, and a book about the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791.

Prior to the hearing, Manning says that she was refused access to the prison's law library. The military itself refused to release any information on Manning's disciplinary hearing, citing the Privacy Act of 1976, according to the Associated Press. The results of her hearing are only known because Manning released the details herself.

The military would prefer that the inhumane treatment of Chelsea Manning go unreported--just like the war crimes revealed by the documents she leaked five years ago. Officials would prefer that she is isolated, stripped of her right to free speech and never heard from again. Unfortunately for the U.S. Army, Chelsea's supporters are watching.

Manning lawyer Chase Strangio told the Associated Press, "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." Strangio added that it was this support that played the key role in keeping Manning out of solitary confinement.

"Chelsea's ridiculous convictions today will not silence her," Manning's other attorney, Nancy Hollander, tweeted after the hearing. "And we will fight even harder in her appeal to overturn all her convictions."

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