May 27 marked six years that Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning has been held in military custody. The heroic 28-year-old WikiLeaks whistleblower and transgender activist is currently jailed in the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., serving a 35-year prison sentence for releasing classified military documents. Her intention was to tell the truth about U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in what she calls “the war diaries.” Manning’s real transgression: exposing U.S. war crimes.
However, even from prison Manning has continued political activism, especially through her writings, often published in the Guardian newspaper and on social media. She has international support from anti-war activists and members of the transgender community. Scores of human rights, civil liberties, and other progressive and legal organizations and individuals have denounced the extremely brutal punishment meted out to her by the U.S. military.
Manning’s attorneys reported that she tried to commit suicide at the prison on July 5, and that they and her family were not informed of her condition after her hospitalization. The lawyers, Chase Strangio, Vincent Ward and Nancy Hollander, said they had not been able to communicate with Manning for several days. On July 11, Manning finally talked to her lawyers. They released this statement at her request:
“After not connecting with Chelsea for over a week, we were relieved to speak with her this morning. Though she would have preferred to keep her private medical information private, and instead focus on her recovery, the government’s gross breach of confidentiality in disclosing her personal health information to the media has created the very real concern that they may continue their unauthorized release of information about her publicly without warning. Due to these circumstances, Chelsea Manning requested that we communicate with the media and her friends and supporters on her behalf.
“Last week, Chelsea made a decision to end her life. Her attempt to take her own life was unsuccessful. She knows that people have questions about how she is doing and she wants everyone to know that she remains under close observation by the prison and expects to remain on this status for the next several weeks. For us, hearing Chelsea’s voice after learning that she had attempted to take her life last week was incredibly emotional. She is someone who has fought so hard for so many issues we care about and we are honored to fight for her freedom and medical care.” (chelseamanning.org)
Because of Manning’s principled actions, courage and integrity, the military has never let up on its campaign of harassment. She was held in solitary confinement under 24-hour guard for nine months in the Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Va. She wrote about her experience in an op-ed in the May 2 Guardian, concluding that this horrific practice should be ended.
Last August, the military punished Manning for violating prison rules, such as having “unauthorized reading material” — LGBTQ publications, which she received through the prison mail system — and asking to speak to her lawyers. It was Manning’s determination and mass support that prevented her from being sentenced to “indefinite solitary confinement.” Her advocates delivered petitions containing 100,000 signatures to the Army’s congressional liaison office in Washington.
Moreover, Manning has had to struggle with the military to receive proper medical care since revealing that she is transgender, even filing a lawsuit with the ACLU’s assistance.
‘Unprecedented’ sentence for a whistleblower
In May, Manning’s attorneys submitted an appeal to the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Fort Belvoir, Va., calling for her conviction to be overturned and her prison term commuted or reduced. The document said the 35-year sentence was “grossly unfair and unprecedented.” The appeal, which was posted on May 19 at the Fight for the Future website, asserts that “no whistleblower in American history has been sentenced this harshly.” Several civil liberties and human rights organizations submitted supporting briefs.
Manning has said that what has sustained her is the support from her friends, family and millions of people around the world. Now, it is crucial to send letters of solidarity to this hero. It matters.
Manning tweeted through a friend on July 11: “I am okay. I’m glad to be alive. Thank you all for your love. I will get through this.” This message, along with notes of affection, solidarity and calls for her release, are posted at #standwithchelsea. One friend wrote, “Chelsea Manning’s name is honored by people who love truth, justice and peace.”
Four days later, Manning tweeted @xychelsea, “I am getting your love through letters and cards. There are so many pieces of mail! I am getting better each day. Thank you.”
Address mail to Manning exactly as follows:
Chelsea E. Manning 89289
1300 North Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 66027-2304.