Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, currently serving a 35-year sentence in military prison, now faces the possibility of indefinite solitary confinement for what her supporters and lawyers say are innocuous offenses—like possessing books and magazines related to LGBTQ issues and having expired toothpaste in her cell.
The Chelsea Manning Support Network revealed Tuesday that prison authorities are using the trumped up charges—including "medicine misuse" and "prohibited property"—to silence Manning, who has become a Guardian columnist and outspoken advocate for transgender, privacy, and prisoners' rights during her incarceration.
Twenty-seven-year-old Manning has already been subjected to nearly a year of solitary confinement under U.S. military supervision—a form of punishment widely viewed as torture and condemned by the UN special rapporteur on torture. She is currently incarcerated at a maximum-security military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
"The catalyst for this attack on Chelsea seems to have been an incident in the mess hall where she may have pushed, brushed, or accidentally knocked, a small amount of food off of her table," said the Chelsea Manning Support Network in a statement released Tuesday. "She then asked to speak to her lawyer when confronted by a guard. The absurd charges were tacked on later."
Prison authorities' charges, which were published on the Support Network's website, directly cite Manning's request for a lawyer as an example of her "disrespect."
"To ask for a lawyer when you are being accused of something by a prison officer—that’s not 'disrespect,'" Nancy Hollander, the lawyer working with Manning to appeal her 35-year sentence, told the Guardian.
In addition, prison authorities levied charges that include "medicine misuse" for possessing "a tube of anti-cavity toothpaste... past its expiration date."
Authorities also cited "prohibited property" in the form of books and magazines. According to the Support Network, the list of books and magazines taken from Manning and not returned include: the Vanity Fair issue with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, OUT Magazine, the book I Am Malala, and legal documents including the Senate Torture Report.
"The maximum charge for these offenses is indefinite solitary confinement," prison authorities notified Manning.
"Given the materials that were confiscated, it is concerning that the military and Leavenworth might be taking action for the purpose of chilling Chelsea’s speech or even with the goal of silencing her altogether by placing her in solitary," said ACLU attorney Chase Strangio, who is working with Manning to wage a lawsuit against the military for denying her healthcare as a transgender woman.
What's more, Manning requested that her August 18 hearing for the charges be open to the public, but her request was denied. Her global supporters expressed concern that a closed-door proceeding could lead to further violations of her rights.
"We demand that these charges against Chelsea Manning be dropped, and request that Chelsea's hearing on August 18th be made open to the public, to ensure she is treated fairly," states a petition circulated by advocacy organization Fight for the Future.
In a Guardian column written in May, Manning reflected on her five years locked up under military supervision, including solitary confinement: "It can be hard, sometimes, to make sense of all the things that have happened to me in the last five years (let alone my entire life). The things that seem consistent and clear to me are the support that I receive from my friends, my family and the millions of people all over the world."