Solitary for Suicide Attempts: The Brutal Punishment of Chelsea Manning

2016.20.8 wolfe orig(Photo: DieselDemon / Flickr)

On August 10, Army Secretary Eric Fanning received a petition with 115,000 signatures, part of an ongoing effort by activists to ensure Chelsea Manning’s additional suicide-related charges are dropped. Although public pressure has mounted, there has been no sign that the charges will be dropped any time soon.

Manning’s case has been fraught with government abuses of power, ranging from 1,000 days of detention without trial to denial of medical resources when dealing with gender dysphoria. Now, after a suicide attempt, Manning is facing potential conviction that would force her back into solitary confinement. This horribly inhumane treatment is used for many prisoners, particularly those seen as threatening to the state. But Manning hasn’t just been punished because of her charges; she has been denied basic resources necessary for dealing with the complexity of both gender dysphoria and the mental ramifications of solitary confinement.

In her personal account of her whistleblowing ordeal, Manning describes how releasing documents revealing “the deliberate diplomatic and economic exploitation of developing countries” would show the public elements of war that had so long been hidden from them. This case was deemed unconvincing by the US military: Manning was found guilty of five accounts of espionage and five of theft, and in August 2013, after a lengthy and abuse-ridden period of trial-less detention, was sentenced to 35 years.

The transparency sought by Manning was by no means desired by the US military. Before her 2013 trial, at the beginning of her detention, Manning was transferred to a large cage in a Kuwaiti prison camp, where she lived for several weeks with no access to legal representation, and no sense of which charges were being brought against her. Not knowing when she was leaving or whether she would be given a public trial, Manning tried to choke herself with a blanket and was placed on suicide watch.

Her three years of detention…

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