Declaring Chelsea Manning’s Voice against Torture Contraband

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Declaring Chelsea Manning’s Voice against Torture Contraband

Manning tweeted this picture as the last taken before she began hormonal therapy.

As a number of outlets have reported, Chelsea Manning faces a disciplinary board on Tuesday for four alleged violations, including brushing crumbs on the floor, disrespecting an officer, keeping toothpaste past its expiry date, and keeping items deemed contraband, including the Vanity Fair issue on Caitlyn Jenner.

Manning will not have a lawyer at the hearing, and over the weekend authorities refused her access to the prison law library. She may receive indefinite solitary confinement as punishment for these absurd alleged offenses.

Along with that list of seemingly trivial items, Leavenworth officials also confiscated an item that goes to the  core of the whistleblowing that landed Manning in prison in the first place: the Senate Torture Report.

Chelsea Manning faces the threat of solitary confinement, which most countries and many psychologists consider torture, because she was reading the Senate Torture Report.

Recall that among the events that led Manning to provide information to WikiLeaks was when she was ordered to “assist the Baghdad Federal Police in identifying the political opponents of Prime Minister al-Maliki” — people who Manning discovered were actually criticizing Maliki’s corruption. Manning realized that by helping the Baghdad Police, US forces would be helping put them “in the custody of the Special Unit of the Baghdad Federal Police [where they would be] very likely tortured.” In an effort to thwart US complicity in torture, Manning leaked classified materials to WikiLeaks, including information on Iraq’s Wolf Brigade, a unit that conducted torture the official US policy on which was to ignore.

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Manning hasn’t ceased her efforts to hold the US accountable for its involvement in torture. Among the seven columns she has written for the Guardian since being in prison, one focused on US torture. “According to numerous public reports, including the Senate Torture Report, these programs were authorized at the highest levels of government,” Manning wrote, relying on the Torture Report that has since been confiscated. “This clearly shows a premeditated and intentional conspiracy to knowingly violate US law, and to avoid any oversight and criminal liability.”

All of Manning’s columns addressed topics that the confiscated items likely helped her write, but by writing on torture she implicated the chain of command. Now Manning’s prison guards have decided the underlying document is contraband.

When asked to comment on the threat of solitary before Manning, CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou — who spent several years in prison for providing the name of a CIA torturer to lawyers for the people he tortured — argues the government wants to silence Manning. “Military authorities’ threats to place Chelsea Manning in solitary confinement for having a copy of Vanity Fair magazine and a copy of the Senate Torture Report further proves that the government is afraid of transparency, of information, and of the light of truth.” Kiriakou emphasized such treatment could happen to any of us. “What is happening to Chelsea Manning can happen to any of us.”

Of course, neither the Torture Report nor the Vanity Fair are contraband. As Manning’s attorney, Nancy Hollander, noted via email, “She received a hard copy of the Torture Report through normal prison channels. This is a Report from the United States Congress. It can hardly be considered contraband.”

Once before, Defense Department officials subjected Manning to forced nudity and separation. Now, they’re threatening to do so again, in part because she was reading — and writing — of how such policies are willful and systematic.

Marcy Wheeler

Marcy Wheeler writes the blog Emptywheel. and the "Right to Know" column for ExposeFactsorg. Her book, Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy, provided a primer on the CIA Leak case surrounding Valerie Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson. She publishes at various outlets including the Guardian, Salon and the Progressive. Wheeler won the 2009 the Hillman Award for blog journalism.

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