Never Forget, Chelsea Manning is a Prisoner of Conscience

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Chelsea Manning is back in the news again: now the US military is attempting to punish her–by forcing her to spend potentially decades in solitary confinement–for attempting to take her own life. This attempt follows years of inhumane treatment. Manning, a trans woman, is being held in an all male prison. Even before she was convicted of any crime, the US government held her under conditions that UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez found to be cruel, inhuman, and degrading.  Mendez only stopped short of finding that the conditions of Manning’s detainment constituted torture because the US military denied him access to her. As such, he left the door open on the question of torture, not closed it.

That the Army is seeking to punish Manning for her attempt on her life, is cruel, despicable, and absolutely disgusting. It is, of course, in line with the US government’s treatment of Manning.

On July 5th, Manning attempted to take her own life. In response, the Army has charged her with:

1) Resisting the force cell move team (Chelsea was unconscious when this team arrived, which makes this charge particularly cruel and absurd.)

2) Prohibited property (For the items she used to attempt to take her own life.)

3) Conduct which threatens (For somehow putting the prison at risk while attempting to take her own life, quietly, in her own cell.)

If convicted of these bizarre “administrative offenses” that are effectively charging her for attempting to end her life, and she could be placed in indefinite solitary confinement for the remainder of her decades-long sentence.

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It is important not to lose sight of the fact that Manning does not belong in a jail cell in the first place and be cognizant of narratives meant to expose intimate details of Manning’s personal life to public scrutiny in order to delegitimize her heroic actions. The news of her suicide attempt first made it to the media when the US military gave confidential medical information about Manning, before informing her attorneys.

This is in line with a larger discourse about Manning, one that often times relies on transphobic and homophobic tropes, to portray Manning’s personal life as tumultuous and thus Manning as being unstable. This allows us to ignore the actual contents of what Manning released, focus on Manning herself, and write the act off not as a heroic act of truth telling, but as an unstable act.

Yet, the cackling hyenas who are so eager to probe every contour of her life to prepare their attacks, would not have to dig very deep into Manning’s own words to uncover the incredibly powerful moral convictions that led her to turnover information to Wikileaks.

We have the chatlogs that led Manning’s initial prosecution, during which she explained her actions to Adrian Lamo, who told her that as a “journalist and minister” Manning’s “confession or interview” would “enjoy a modicum of legal protection.” Lamo, of course, lied to Manning and proceeded to turnover the chatlogs to the government.

In these logs Manning mentions watching

15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…

Those who wish to malign or minimize Manning’s tremendous act of conscience, often point out that Manning leaked the US diplomatic cables, in addition to the Iraq War logs. They utter claptrap about the sanctity of the US diplomatic corp, as though its members are beyond reproach, or assert that this is evidence of a massive dump of information not indicative of any intent to reveal specific wrongdoing. Once more, we need only to turn to Manning’s chatlogs with Lamo. She explained the diplomatic cables contained  “crazy, almost criminal political backdealings … the non-PR-versions of world events and crises” and that she believed the  diplomatic cables demonstrated “how first-world countries exploited third-world countries.” When one reads through the cables and learns about how the US, at the behest of powerful corporations, bullied Haiti into not raising its minimum wage, one understands just what Manning meant.

Manning believed that she could remove the “fog of war,” reveal “the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare,” and expose the corrupt and exploitative way the US engages with other countries. Just as important though, Manning believed these actions could change policy, because if Americans knew about them they would force their government to change.

These are acts of conscience. These are the actions of a whistleblower. For these acts, which should be commended, Manning has been tortured, tried, and incarcerated. When sycophants of powerful government and corporate interest attempt to ignore the damning revelations of Manning’s leaks by maligning Manning, they call into question not Manning’s character, but their own.

Manning is a prisoner of conscience being held in the United States of America. Each minute of her continued confinement is a moment of great shame to our nation, as a whole. Manning must be freed.

We cannot allow this shame to be further exacerbated by subjecting Manning to the cruel punishment of solitary confinement for attempting to take her own life after being subjected to inhuman treatment. That is why we are calling on everyone to contact the military and demand they drop the new charges against Manning.

We must never forget, Chelsea Manning is a prisoner of conscience.



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