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Chelsea Manning Faces Indefinite Solitary Confinement & Extra Prison Time After Suicide Attempt

StoryAugust 03, 2016
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Imprisoned Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning faces new charges after she tried to commit suicide last month. The Army reportedly told Manning she is being investigated on administrative charges that include having prohibited property in her cell and resisting being moved out of the cell. If convicted, Manning could face indefinite solitary confinement and additional time in prison. It could also hurt her chance of parole. Chelsea 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 a newly published interview with Amnesty International, Manning said, “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.” We speak with Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the ACLU, who represents Chelsea Manning in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Imprisoned Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning faces new charges after she tried to commit suicide last month. The Army reportedly told Manning she is being investigated on administrative charges that include having prohibited property in her cell and resisting being moved out of the cell. If convicted, Manning could face indefinite solitary confinement and additional time in prison. It could also hurt her chance of parole.

AMY GOODMAN: Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement, denied medical treatment related to her gender identity. In a newly published interview with Amnesty International, 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,” she said.

Well, for more, we’re going to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the ACLU who represents Chelsea Manning in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense.

Chase Strangio, welcome to Democracy Now! So tell us what is happening, exactly where Chelsea Manning is. Talk about the news of her attempted suicide, her hospitalization, and what’s happening now.

CHASE STRANGIO: Good morning, and thank you for having me. So, Chelsea Manning has really spent the last six years trying to survive, working to contribute her voice to the public discourse, even while she’s incarcerated. And she’s faced so many hardships and made, you know, a very sad decision on July 5th that her only option was to end her life. And that was unsuccessful, but now she’s essentially being punished by the government for trying to die, after so many times being punished for trying to live. And she recently was given a charge sheet indicating that the very act of attempting suicide was going to result in administrative charges against her. And this charge sheet was given to her while she is still in a medical, mental health observation unit at Leavenworth, where she is trying to recover and get the treatment that she needs from the suicide attempt of July 5th, and she’s still struggling to regain her mental health and stability. And in the midst of that, the government essentially says to her, “You know, we are prepared to further punish you with these charges.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And as far as you know, what led to her decision to try to take her life on July 5th?

CHASE STRANGIO: So, Chelsea is living under, you know, the constant surveillance and denial of care that is characteristic of prison for so many. She’s under an extra amount of scrutiny because she is high-profile. She is a transgender woman in a man’s facility. She is being denied healthcare related to her very well-documented gender dysphoria. And I think she reached this moment of feeling like the only agency that she had left was the agency to end her life. And so, that, you know, is a very sad and unfortunate moment for her, and one that represents, I think, the dire circumstances that so many people who are in prison and incarcerated in various ways are living under. And thankfully, you know, she is relieved to be alive. But it is terrifying to think that as she survives, the government is continuing to give her the message that they will enforce punishments against her, essentially, for living.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the conditions she’s living under? Where exactly is she? And what would be the effect of solitary confinement?

CHASE STRANGIO: So, right now she’s outside of general population, though, prior to the suicide attempt, she had been in general population. And she’s in an observation unit where she’s continuing to be monitored and ensured that she doesn’t take further action to take her life. She—

AMY GOODMAN: And the name of the prison is?

CHASE STRANGIO: She’s at the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She’s been there since her sentencing in August of 2013. It is a military facility for men. She has, you know, been living there and contributing to public life through her writing there. And now she’s in a separate unit there being observed for her mental health status.

I think one of the big concerns right now is that these charges that she is facing could result in long-term solitary confinement for her. They could also result, as they did last summer in comparable charges, in the denial of important privileges like access to phones, access to writing materials, access to law library—the very things that Chelsea Manning uses to stay connected to the world. And those are the things, the human connection that people need to survive, that she needs to survive. And if she is forced into solitary confinement, which could be indefinite under the terms of her charges, that will be absolutely catastrophic to her mental health, and particularly at this moment, but it is for anybody, as the U.N. has repeatedly said, as doctors and other mental health providers have recognized. It is a completely inhumane form of punishment that is used far too often in our country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, you said she was in a—for a while, in general population in a facility for men. So, to what degree is the government recognizing or not recognizing her gender identity?

CHASE STRANGIO: I think there’s a paradox across the country in this idea that our federal government and many state governments will honor and recognize the gender identity of transgender people, unless and until they are faced with incarceration. And so, Chelsea Manning has been recognized as female by the government, but they continue to impose upon her both the male housing facility, in the form of the Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth, but they’re also forcing her to maintain her male—the male hair length standards and grooming standards. And that is something that we’re fighting in court. And the perils and the damages of being forced to be punished through the denial of your core identity is something that has led to her depression. It’s imperiled her health. And it’s something that many transgender people across the country are facing on a daily basis.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly—we have 30 seconds—talk about HB 2 and the hearing this week.

CHASE STRANGIO: So, in North Carolina, the ACLU and Lambda Legal are headed to trial against North Carolina’s anti-trans law. We had our first hearing this week down in North Carolina. It is going to be an ongoing fight to take down that law and other anti-trans laws. And we’re going to be doing that in the context in which we know that so many trans women of color are being murdered on the streets. And we have a responsibility to fight back against all of the ways our communities continue to be targeted and killed—in prisons, by laws and by people on the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase, we’re going to continue this interview right after the show, and we’re giong to post it online at democracynow.org. Chase Strangio is staff attorney at the ACLU, representing Chelsea Manning in a lawsuit against the Pentagon.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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