Chelsea Manning — a pioneer fighting on two fronts
Sukey Wolf
volume:  
volume 37
issue 6
December 2016
imagestuff

On Aug. 18, Manning defenders pose outside the Pentagon before delivering 100,000 signatures to the U.S. Army Liaison Office on Capitol Hill demanding an end to her solitary confinement. Photo: Mike Avender

Courageous whistleblower and transgender activist Chelsea Manning remains in military lockup. But she does not remain silent. She resists brutish prison conditions by the Army and defends the right and need for whistleblowers.

Manning was originally charged with espionage for leaking thousands of documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. These leaks exposed war crimes committed by the military, unjust incarceration of prisoners at Guantánamo, and the phenomenal waste and corruption involved in U.S. prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A biographer, Denver Nicks, wrote that the diplomatic cables leaked were widely seen as a catalyst for the stunning Arab Spring that erupted in Tunisia in December 2010.

No lives were directly lost due to Manning’s disclosures. But in July 2013, having already served three grueling years in prison at Quantico, Va., Private Manning was tried and convicted of 20 offenses, including violating the Espionage Act. She was sentenced to 35 years, less than the 60 years the prosecutor wanted, but that was considered harsh and unwarranted, even by some government insiders. The international Reporters Without Borders denounced the sentence as proof of the vulnerability of whistleblowers.

Double persecution. The extreme persecution that Manning has suffered fits a pattern of harsh treatment of whistleblowers by the current administration. While there have only been ten people prosecuted for espionage in the entire history of the United States, seven have occurred under the Obama White House. This war on truth tellers is part of a larger effort to stifle dissent as Obama prosecutes the War on Terrorism with George W. Bush-like devotion. Human Rights Watch pointed out that the “aggressive prosecution and harsh sentencing” is a sharp contrast to the impunity of senior U.S. officials for torture and other human rights abuses.

Manning’s jailers treated her brutally. Why? Because she is a pioneer in blowing the whistle on countless U.S. war crimes and ruthless diplomatic decisions. And because she is a pioneer in fighting and winning the battle for transgender existence in the U.S. military.

Manning has undergone the repeated torture of solitary confinement and vicious mockery of her identity as a transgender woman — such as being required to have her hair at standard military length for males — forced to spend long periods spent completely naked, etc. All of this before she was sentenced, violating the government’s own rules against pre-trial punishment.

Manning explained that her attempts at suicide were prompted by the lack of care she has received for her gender dysphoria. “I needed help. Yet, instead I am now being punished for surviving my attempt.” She has been subjected to “high-tech bullying” in the form of “constant, deliberate and overzealous administrative scrutiny by prison and military officials.”

It takes a movement. After facing new charges and more solitary for her July suicide attempt, Manning finally won her demand to have gender reassignment surgery from male to female, under the new Department of Defense protocols. Her victory is precedent setting. She will probably be the first transgender soldier to receive the treatment.

Clearly, the decision to grant Manning her reassignment surgery and the fact that her latest spell in isolation was shortened was the successful result of mass pressure. It is also the result of Chelsea Manning’s firm commitment to keep on fighting. She joined the national labor strike of prisoners begun on Sept. 9 (See “National prisoner labor strike spurs resistance to a new level”) and she has recently written she was no longer going to be “bullied by the system.”

It is vitally important to keep up the pressure on Eric Fanning, the secretary of the Army, to ultimately free Chelsea Manning. To help, visit chelseamanning.org.

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