Taking on the Most Difficult Undertaking in Prison (So Far)

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Taking on the Most Difficult Undertaking in Prison (So Far)

Not shooting from the hip — writing opinions and a bill in prison is hard work

If she can do it from a federal military prison, writes Manning, 'Then you can too.' (Photo: EFF/flickr/cc)

I recently published an op-ed in The Guardian and a bill to abolish the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and to transfer the controversial surveillance authority from the secretive court to a good ol’ fashioned U.S. District Court.

I’m way ahead of your question — What the hell did I get myself into?

The answer is: the most difficult undertaking since arriving here after my court-martial in 2013.

It all started earlier this year — with the Second Circuit ruling declaring the intelligence community’s “bulk collection” and “mass surveillance” programs unconstitutional. The problem was — it actually didn’t, and couldn’t.

I realized that I should probably weigh in on this, with an eye towards substance and meaning.

So, I embarked on my journey. I had some people out there in the world send me the USA Freedom Act, which dances around the problems, without actually fixing the root issues. It had a damn good name too — (“U.S.A. Freedom Act,” who could vote against that? May as well call the next budget the “Ice Cream and Hot Dogs Act of 2015.”)

The key to the success of FISA and the USA Freedom Act is in their sheer complexity and mind-numbingly boring jargon — “business records,” “trap and trace device,” “minimization procedures” — but every word is potential minefield of interpretations that could be the difference between 3 people getting surveilled to 300 million.

I drowned in research and notes. Then, in July, my cell was searched by investigators without an explanation. I feared the worst, but my notes were still there. It slowed me down a bit.

Then, I reached a screeching halt. I was charged with 4 prison offenses and threatened with time in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) where people spend all day long staring at the wall and going crazy, excepted when shackled to go to appointments or the shower.

I didn’t start back up for over a month, until I began my eventual punishment — rec. restriction for 3 weeks without library time (except for law library), recreation yard and running track time, or time in the gym.

In that 3 weeks, I wrote my bill. Then I spent nearly 5 days typing up on a word processing computer that doesn’t save anything — I had to print it our in sections, slowly, hoping I didn’t make any typos.

Phew — and now it’s done. I even took the time to incorporate some protections for the so-called Cybersecurity Bill, CISA.

It took me all summer to create this 139 page monster — and it’s far from perfect. The important thing is: there are alternatives.

It’s too easy to shoot from the hip and criticize policy these days — as many people actually do. But, it takes grit, determination, hard work, painstaking research to create a meaningful alternative. I can do it, then you can too.

Chelsea Manning

Whisteblower Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley) is the US Army Private (Pfc) who leaked military and government documents to the online media outlet Wikileaks which became the basis for the Collateral Murder video, which showed the killing of unarmed civilians by a US Apache helicopter crew in Iraq. Leaks made by Manning also resulted in the Afghan War Diary, the Iraq War Logs, and a series of embarrassing US diplomatic cables that became known as Cablegate. In 2013, was convicted by a military court or the disclosures and sentence to 35 years in prison.

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