"Free Chelsea Manning" posters.

Punishing Chelsea Manning for a Suicide Attempt Would Be a Disgrace

Tomorrow, September 22nd, at 9:30 a.m., Chelsea Manning will stand in front of a disciplinary board at the United States Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) in Kansas, and be forced to defend herself for her suicide attempt in July. The charges, which have already been dismantled by Boingboing.net here, are bizarre. Chelsea is accused of “resisting the force cell move team,” possession of “prohibited property,” and “conduct that threatens,” all of which sound surreal when you consider that Chelsea was found unconscious, in her cell, after the attempt. The charges are of the same gravity as if Chelsea had assaulted someone, or attempted arson. Basically, they’re as serious as she could get; and the potential punishment is as grave: indefinite solitary confinement for the length of her sentence, and negation of any chance of parole.

Boingboing has broken down how the charges demonstrate an aggressive, almost vindictive pursuit on behalf of the USDB. Chelsea will receive no legal representation to help her defend herself in front of the three person board. She must review the 70 pages  of evidence against her all by herself, and has received only about 45 minutes to do so — she’s not allowed to keep a copy of this record, or do anything beyond make all the notes she can in the meager time she’s allotted.

And all of this is notwithstanding the fact that Chelsea is forced to do this while being the recent survivor of a suicide attempt, who is also coming off a hard fought hunger strike for basic rights to medical care as a trans person. It was just last week that the U.S. military agreed to “move forward” with her urgent request for gender transition surgery, succumbing finally after five days of the strike. But Chelsea is left with little time to celebrate due to the harrowing preparation for her defense.

There’s nobody better to walk us through how disgraceful the whole experience is but Chelsea herself. She writes,

In the evidence, I saw a photograph of myself shortly after my 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.

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.

Forcing a suicide attempt survivor to so vividly not just relive her attempt, but also desperately defend herself from further trauma for it, is the sign of a morally bankrupt, and horrifically broken criminal justice system.

I’ve written before about how Chelsea needs to be seen as so much more than a whistleblower, because she is a trans activist, a sister, a writer, a friend. It is in all those capacities that we must rally behind her — for her services to freedom of speech and government accountability through her whistleblowing, but also because no fellow activist, friend, or person deserves to be “disciplined for their desperation.” Simultaneous to Chelsea’s oncoming hearing, we have recently seen a slew of star-studded public support for whistleblower Edward Snowden, including the release of a Hollywood film, and a high profile campaign by human rights organizations and prominent celebrities for his release. That momentum cannot benefit Snowden alone: it must translate into sympathy, support, and solidarity with Chelsea as well.

It is a disgrace for a country to put a trans woman in a male prison, to deny her life-saving medical treatment for as long as they have done, and to then punish her for the trauma that they themselves have induced in her through their own operations. It is a disgrace that Chelsea Manning faces negation of her parole in her 35 year sentence, while Charles Graner, a former inmate at the same barracks in for sexual abuse, torture, and murder of prisoners at the notorious Abu Gharib, got out on parole six and a half years into his ten-year sentence. Chelsea has already served longer in prison than any whistleblower or leaker in history, and is sentenced — not to bring up Abu Gharib again, but the contrast can’t be emphasized enough — to serve over ten times the sentence Lynndie England received, also for sexually assaulting, torturing, and causing the death of several prisoners of war. (Warning: Graphic images of torture in Graner/England links.)

Chelsea’s sentence, these charges, and the treatment she has faced so far are abhorrent to her as a whistleblower, as a trans woman and a minority in prison, and as a human being.  We must rally behind Chelsea, and refuse to support a system that goes after purported enemies of a warmongering state, and “deviants” to the cissexist status quo, with such a vintage, cruel, McCarthyist breed of vengeance.

Note: You can support Chelsea via petition here, or tweeting support here! You can also compose your own tweet by hashtagging your posts with #dropthecharges, or tweeting at @SECARMY (Secretary of the Army) to register your displeasure with how Chelsea’s charges are being handled. 

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Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and politics, intersectional feminism, criminal justice, human rights, freedom of the press, the law and feminism, and the politics of South Asia.

Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and gender, race and criminal justice, human rights, cats, and sports.

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