Don't punish Chelsea Manning – release her | Trevor Timm

The incarcerated whistleblower is on a hunger strike to protest her treatment. It’s time to heed her pleas for help

How much more suffering will brave whistleblower Chelsea Manning have to endure in prison at the hands of her tormentors and jailors? Since leaking State and Defense Department documents to Wikileaks in 2010, the amount of injustice Chelsea has had to suffer is almost incalculable.

The Guardian columnist is entering her fifth day of a hunger strike, in protest for not receiving proper medical treatment and over the fact that - almost inconceivably - the Army may punish her with “indefinite solitary confinement” for her suicide attempt last month.

Tragically, this is just one item in a long list of deplorable treatment. Before she was even convicted of leaking to WikiLeaks she was subjected to brutal and disgusting treatment by the Army, which the UN said amounted to “cruel and unusual” punishment, and what over 250 law professors said amounted to torture. Of course no one was punished for any of it, besides the State Department spokesman at the time, who had to resign after calling the treatment “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

She was then given a grossly out of proportion 35-year sentence - many times larger than any other leaker in history. She and her legal team are thankfully in the middle of appealing the conviction in the military court of appeals, where she is challenging the constitutionality of the Espionage Act, the outdated and draconian law that was meant for spies working for foreign governments, not conscientious Americans looking to inform the public.

On top of all this, Manning has been denied proper medical care for gender dysphoria and has to fight in court every step of the way to get the government to recognize her rights as a transgender prisoner. In 2015, she was punished by the Army and was restricted in her recreation activities for having non-approved magazines and “expired toothpaste”.

She attempted suicide last month due to her deteriorating situation, saying afterwards, “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.” Fight for the Future has set up a petition in which supporters can protest her potential punishment.

The Obama administration just released a report urging US prisons to curb the use solitary confinement, and Obama himself said that its use was an “affront to humanity”. Yet apparently his comments don’t apply to the military. (Manning herself has written about why solitary confinement amounts to torture.)

Since being incarcerated she has been barred from speaking on the record to members of the media. We wouldn’t even know what her voice sounded like if it wasn’t for a leaked recording of one of her court statements. Yet through all this adversity, she has been able to get her message out to the public and has created a remarkable side career as an incisive commentator and writer on current events.

Manning, it should be noted, has already spent more time in prison that any other whistleblower or leaker in history. Far from deserving punishment for her cry for help, she deserves to be released. She has suffered enough.

  • In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255; Trans Lifeline runs a phone hotline staffed by trans people for trans people on 1 877 565 8860. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.


Trevor Timm

The GuardianTramp

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