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As Chelsea Manning Speaks Out on Trans and Prison Issues, Authorities Threaten Her with Solitary

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Imprisoned Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning is scheduled to go before a closed-door disciplinary hearing today at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking U.S. government cables to WikiLeaks. Manning’s lawyers say she could be sent back to indefinite solitary confinement after being accused of a number of infractions including having an expired tube of toothpaste, an issue of Vanity Fair in which transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner describes her new life living openly as a woman, a copy of the U.S. Senate report on torture, several LGBT books and magazines and other “prohibited property” in her cell. Supporters of Manning are planning to deliver a petition today to the Army Liaison Office on Capitol Hill signed by more than 75,000 people calling on the U.S. military to drop the new charges and demanding that her disciplinary hearing be open to the press and the public. We speak to Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union and a member of Manning’s legal team.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the latest on imprisoned Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Chelsea Manning is scheduled to go before a closed-door disciplinary hearing today at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she’s serving a 35-year sentence for leaking U.S. government cables to WikiLeaks. Manning’s lawyers say she could be sent back to indefinite solitary confinement after being accused of a number of infractions, including have an expired tube of toothpaste, an issue of Vanity Fair in which transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner describes her new life living openly as a woman, a copy of the U.S. Senate report on torture, several LGBT books and magazines and other so-called prohibited property in her cell.

Chelsea Manning has been denied the right to be represented by an attorney at the hearing. In her most recent tweet, Chelsea wrote, quote, “Prison staff are now denying me access to the law library at scheduled times—with only two days until my board,” unquote. Supporters of Manning are planning to deliver a petition today to the Army Liaison Office on Capitol Hill signed by more than 75,000 people calling on the U.S. military to drop the new charges and demand[ing] her disciplinary hearing be open to the press and public.

Well, we’re joined right now in New York by one of Chelsea Manning’s attorneys. Chase Strangio is a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. Last year, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Manning to force the military to provide her medical treatment for her gender dysphoria and be provided hormones therapy and permission to follow female grooming standards.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Chase.

CHASE STRANGIO: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what’s happening.

CHASE STRANGIO: So, first, I just—I want to thank you for highlighting this issue, because it is only through public scrutiny that we’re going to be able to ensure that the government doesn’t continue to abuse Chelsea Manning and people like her who are sent into solitary confinement and who endure horrible conditions.

So, today, Chelsea will go before this disciplinary board, in which she’s not going to be represented by an attorney. She will face a possible indefinite solitary confinement, as well as other possible punishments that would severely limit her ability to engage with the public, possibly losing these publications altogether and other materials that allow her to have the public voice that she has. So there’s a lot of reason to be concerned about what’s happening to her right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair issue in her cell—that they say she could face indefinite solitary confinement for?

CHASE STRANGIO: So, obviously, the Caitlyn Jenner issue came in lawfully. It wasn’t smuggled in by Chelsea, and they’re not claiming that it was. There are some allegations in the disciplinary report that it somehow was altered from its original state, that it was used—of course, anything that one possesses would be used. I think this just highlights the extent to which prisons, in general, and the military prison, in this case, really use arbitrary disciplinary infractions to threaten people with things like solitary confinement.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the timing of this? I mean, Chelsea has just started tweeting. She now is writing a column in The Guardian.

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, so this—I mean, I think a number of things are happening right now. After five years of confinement, Chelsea really is leveraging her voice, and she’s become an important commentator on issues of government transparency, media access to prisoners, and, of course, transgender rights. And here we are, as her voice is being solidified in the public discourse, having the threat that she’s going to have that voice shut down, whether through solitary confinement or other means to take away the materials that she uses to inform her political and her public voice.

AMY GOODMAN: So explain this hearing today.

CHASE STRANGIO: So, you know, unfortunately, so many aspects of this are unknown. And as her attorneys, we have not been given a lot of information about it, nor has Chelsea. It is a closed-door hearing. She is not entitled to have counsel. The charges against her include the misuse of medication for the expired toothpaste.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain. I mean, how many people are thinking now, “I haven’t checked the expiration date on my toothpaste”?

CHASE STRANGIO: Right. I mean, a lot of people didn’t know toothpaste could expire. I mean—

AMY GOODMAN: But isn’t she getting it from inside the prison?

CHASE STRANGIO: She is, and she’s getting all of these things lawfully. So I think it’s just an example of the way in which prison rules can be used to punish and silence people when the government doesn’t want their voice to be heard. And, of course, Chelsea Manning is one of, you know, tens of thousands of prisoners subjected to arbitrary rules, in which they can be sent to solitary confinement for things like praying in a group of three, for singing “Happy Birthday.” And we hear these things all the time. And with Chelsea, because her voice is so important, because we need to highlight the issues of government transparency and transgender rights, we should be particularly concerned that this is an effort to silence that voice that is so important.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the full list of books and magazines that were taken from Chelsea and not returned. You had the Vanity Fair issue that highlights Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, Advocate, Out magazine, Cosmopolitan issue with Chelsea herself. You’ve got Transgender Studies Quarterly; a novel about trans issues, A Safe Girl to Love; the book Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous; the book I am Malala; five books by Robert Dorkin; legal documents including the Senate torture report; and the book Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential.

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah. So, I mean, one thing to point out that isn’t clear from the document list itself is that other materials were also taken, but they were returned and not deemed prohibited, even though they were in the same condition as those documents were. So, I think it is particularly concerning that the Senate report on torture and all of these trans publications were the things that were deemed prohibited. You know, those are the things that she’s been using to publish her tweets and publish her Guardian columns, to inform her voice.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the latest on your ACLU lawsuit?

CHASE STRANGIO: Right now we are still awaiting word from the government whether or not they’re willing to let Chelsea Manning grow her hair. Right now she is still forced to maintain male grooming standards with respect to her hair. We were successful in getting her access to hormones, which has been hugely important to her, and it was a plain violation of the Constitution that they were denying her that. But the fight is still ongoing. And the fact that they’re forcing her to essentially shave her head regularly, in accordance with the male grooming standards, is something that is greatly upsetting to her, and that fight will continue and will pick up in the fall, as will her continued effort to fight for her freedom through her appeal of her court-martial convictions.

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