Free Chelsea: 115k petition to drop suicide charges for whistleblower Manning

People hold signs calling for the release of imprisoned wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning while marching in a gay pride parade in San Francisco, California June 28, 2015. © Elijah Nouvelage
The original WikiLeaks whistleblower should not be punished for attempting suicide in a military prison, Chelsea Manning’s supporters say, after delivering a petition signed by over 100,000 Americans to the Secretary of the Army.

Manning is serving a 35-year sentence at the US Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, following a 2013 conviction under the Espionage Act. On July 5, Manning reportedly attempted suicide, and was treated at the prison hospital.

Three weeks later, she was informed that she might be facing charges for “resisting the force cell move team,” possession of “prohibited property,” and “conduct which threatens,” according to documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The charges carry the maximum penalty of indefinite solitary confinement.

Activists from the group Fight for the Future delivered a petition with 115,000 signatures to Army Secretary Eric Fanning on Wednesday, calling on the military to provide Manning with “adequate and humane” treatment for the suicide attempt and gender dysphoria, rather than penalize the whistleblower further.

Manning’s supporters and civil rights activists pointed out that she had been held in solitary for nine months prior to trial, often deprived of clothing, and that inflicting more of the same in Leavenworth would be cruel and vindictive.

“These new charges and mistreatment is meant to break her down. It is sadistic and outrageous,” Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, told reporters Wednesday.

Manning’s “loss of access to phone calls, the prison library, and not getting medical treatment for gender dysphoria,” while being cut off from outside support is how the jailers are “destabilizing her mental health,” said attorney Chase Strangio from the ACLU.

The ACLU has already sued Department of Defense and Department of the Army officials for “failure to provide necessary medical treatment for [Manning’s] gender dysphoria,” Strangio added, but is open to further legal action if warranted.

The “arbitrary” administrative charges which Manning faces “are designed to make anything a violation,” Strangio said. “Even possessing a tube of expired toothpaste, which a prisoner has no control over, can be used against them.”

Manning, who served in the US Army as an intelligence analyst, was arrested in late 2010 and charged under the Espionage Act after handing over 700,000 US military and diplomatic documents to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The documents included the Iraq and Afghan war diaries, as well as a trove of diplomatic cables exposing the inner workings of the State Department.

Ellsberg said that he considered Manning “a political prisoner,” and that the information he leaked was less classified than the Pentagon Papers. The government “had never proven in court that any harm resulted from Manning’s leaks,” Ellsberg said, blasting the Obama administration for “misusing” the Espionage Act, which was “meant for spies and not for whistleblowers acting in the public interest.”

Manning’s lengthy sentence and strict treatment in Leavenworth are intended to deter further whistleblowers, Ellsberg added.

“The US government's treatment of her will be remembered as one of the most shameful abuses of power in our nation's history. Everyone who cares about human rights should be speaking out against this cruelty and injustice right now," said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future.