Amidst the election coverage, the recent stories of Chelsea Manning are easy to miss.
If you haven’t heard of Chelsea Manning, you may recognize the name Edward Snowden - the one that got away. Manning, another whistleblower, is currently serving a 35-year sentence.
Some background: Hoping to gain a college education through the G.I. Bill and study for a PhD in physics, Manning enlisted in the U.S. army. Six weeks after enlisting, she was discharged, after being bullied to the point of a breakdown. A soldier told The Guardian: "He was a runt, so pick on him. He's a faggot, pick on him.” Apparently Manning fought back—if the drill sergeants screamed at her, she would scream at them. The army revoked her discharge, and she reentered.
In 2009, Manning had access to classified databases while working with an Army unit in Iraq as an intelligence analyst, The next year, she leaked classified information to WikiLeaks such as videos of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, and the 2009 Granai airstrikein Afghanistan.
The Baghdad airstrike video showed two American helicopters firing on a group of ten men. Two were journalists there to photograph the scene, but American pilots mistook their cameras for weapons. The pilots also fired on a van with two children and targeted a building where insurgents had retreated—despite their retreat.
According to The Washington Post, this video’s millions of views first drew national attention to WikiLeaks. This was the first time that Americans learned just how many civilians were being murdered.
When an acquaintance informed Army Counterintelligence of the leaks, Manning was arrested.
Before her trial even occurred, the government restricted her to solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. Her lawyer, David Coombs, said Manning was not allowed to sleep between 5 am (7 am on weekends) and 8 pm, and was made to stand or sit up if she tried. For several nights, she was forced to sleep naked. Several outlets called it cruel and unusual punishment. In her one hour a day to roam the grounds, she was shackled, though she never displayed any signs of violence.
The day after her sentencing in 2013, the Today show announced Chelsea’s transgender identity.
In a letter to Amnesty International last year, she said: “It's been such an amazing relief for my body and brain to finally come into alignment with each other. My stress and anxiety levels have tapered off considerably.”
However, she is still not allowed to grow her hair out, and remains jailed in an all-male prison, though psychiatrists insist that this heightens her risk of suicide.
Her legal team pointed out that no other whistleblower in American history received such a long sentence. What makes Manning different from other whistleblowers? Her transgender identity—just as it had made her an extra target as an Army soldier.
Here’s where things take a turn for the worse.
On July 5, 2016, Manning was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. On July 28, the ACLU announced that Manning was under investigation and facing several possible charges related to her suicide attempt.
These new charges are vague and clearly intended to find an excuse to hurt her more. Last year, the Army tried to prosecute Manning for something as small as owning an expired can of toothpaste.
According to the ACLU’s website, they include “resisting the force cell move team” (but she was unconscious when they arrived), “prohibited property” used for the attempt, and “conduct which threatens”.
If convicted, Manning faces indefinite solitary confinement, reclassification into maximum security, and an additional nine years in medium custody. This also threatens any chance of parole.
Psychologists condemn solitary confinement as cruel and immoral. Manning describes it as the worst time of her life, a time that traumatized her and eroded her mental health, leading to her suicide attempt.
After all, when in solitary confinement, who knows what goes on behind those bars? For example, no one knew that she was stripped naked every night until afterwards.
And that was before she had even been convicted.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics showed in 2014 that 39.9% of transgender respondents reported sexual assault or abuse in the preceding year by either another prisoner or staff, ten times the rate of prisoners in general.
Now the government wants to place her in solitary confinement again and cut her off from any support systems, indefinitely, for three decades. All for the nonviolent crime of exposing the murder of civilians.
If you are interested in hearing more of Chelsea's story or sending her a letter of encouragement, you can look into that on her website.