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Lawyer for Imprisoned Whistleblower Chelsea Manning: Ongoing Pattern of Abuse Led to Hunger Strike

September 13, 2016
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Chase Strangio

staff attorney at the ACLU.

We speak with Chase Strangio, lawyer for imprisoned Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, about the hunger strike she launched Friday to protest her prison conditions. In a statement, Manning said she would only consume water and medication until she’s provided "minimum standards of dignity, respect, and humanity." She’s demanding a written promise from the Army that she will receive medically prescribed recommendations for her gender dysphoria. Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in the disciplinary barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement and denied medical treatment related to her gender identity. Strangio is a staff attorney at the ACLU who represents Chelsea Manning in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to imprisoned Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. On Friday, Manning began a hunger strike to protest her prison conditions. In a statement, she said she would only consume water and medication until she’s provided, quote, "minimum standards of dignity, respect, and humanity," unquote. She’s demanding a written promise from the Army that she will receive medically prescribed recommendations for her gender dysphoria.

Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in the disciplinary barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement and denied medical treatment related to her gender identity. In an interview published by The Guardian last month, Chelsea Manning said, quote, "I am always afraid. I am still afraid of the power of government. A government can arrest you. It can imprison you. It can put out information about you that won’t get questioned by the public—everyone will just assume that what they are saying is true. Sometimes, a government can even kill you—with or without the benefit of a trial."

Well, for more, we’re joined by Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the ACLU. He represents Chelsea Manning in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense.

Chase, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what is happening with Chelsea in prison right now.

CHASE STRANGIO: So, you know, after six years of being locked away by our government, Chelsea has used really one of the only forms of protest available to her, which is her body, to draw attention to the ongoing abuses that she has faced. And on Friday, she began a hunger strike, which, she has made clear, will continue until she receives written assurances from the government that she’s not only going to be treated properly for her gender dysphoria, but that the ongoing harassment and abuses against her, culminating most recently with the charges brought against her related to her attempted suicide, will stop.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the Chelsea Manning statement announcing her hunger strike. She said, quote, "I have decided that I am no longer going to be bullied by this prison—or by anyone within the U.S. government. I have asked for nothing but the dignity and respect—that I once actually believed would be provided for—afforded to any living human being," unquote. She goes on to say, "I do not believe that this should be dependent on any arbitrary factors—whether you are cisgender or transgender; service member or civilian, citizen or non-citizen. In response to virtually every request, I have been granted limited, if any, dignity and respect—just more pain and anguish." So, tell us, Chase, about the last few months. Chelsea attempted suicide. Is that right? That’s why we last spoke to you.

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, so, on the weekend of July 4th, Chelsea attempted to take her own life. And she was unsuccessful in that attempt, and ultimately conveyed to us that she was happy to be alive. But during her recovery, while she was still under medical observation status, she was served with official charges, administrative charges from the prison, indicating that she would be punished for attempting to take her life. And just yesterday, she was formally served those charges, and will be facing an administrative board on September 20th. So, that really does reflect the ongoing pattern of abuses that she’s experiencing. Even when she goes so far as to—as to decide that the only agency she has left is to end her life, her survival itself becomes a mode of punishment.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about her life in prison at Leavenworth every day.

CHASE STRANGIO: Chelsea is an incredibly strong and resilient person, and she is able to navigate so much. But I think what she’s being faced with is the prospect of another three decades in prison being treated with this ongoing surveillance, punished for toothpaste, punished for books, punished for, you know, not properly writing her name in her books every time, and then also being told repeatedly that despite the medical recommendations of the Army’s own providers, she will not be treated with the healthcare that she needs. And despite the fact that in our filings before the court, almost two years ago, we indicated that she was at a grave risk of attempted suicide and possible successful suicide, they have continued to enforce male grooming standards against her and not follow the treatment protocols of her recommend—recommended by her provider.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip from—well, at the time, it was then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in December 2011, the day before Army whistleblower Private Chelsea Manning went on trial for passing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: I think that in an age when so much information is, you know, flying through cyberspace, we all have to be aware of the fact that, you know, some information which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected. And we will continue to take necessary steps to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton, years ago, when she was secretary of state. Chase Strangio, do you think that Chelsea Manning is suffering from retaliation for the—what—for the release of documents?

CHASE STRANGIO: I think Chelsea’s experience in prison has been an ongoing set of retaliatory actions by the government, from her treatment at Quantico to her denial of healthcare to the ongoing scrutiny that she faces. And she really is someone who put her life on the line for things that she believes in. And I think, as a society, we have an obligation to continue to stand behind her as she continues to suffer the consequences of that.


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