Updated August 19, 9 am EDT:
A U.S. Army disciplinary board on Tuesday found Pfc. Chelsea Manning "guilty" of four charges, including one for possessing LGBTQ reading material like the Caitlyn Jenner issue of Vanity Fair and another for having a tube of expired toothpaste in her cell.
As punishment for the alleged transgressions, the whistleblower received 21 days of recreational restrictions, excluding her from time in the gym, library, and outdoors; she faced a maximum possible sentence of indefinite solitary confinement. However, Manning as well as her attorneys fear that the conviction, now part of her permanent record, will be used against her in future parole or clemency hearings and could potentially delay her transition to minimum security custody status by years.
Ahead of the hearing, supporters delivered 100,000 signatures to the Army liaison office, calling on the military to drop the charges.
"When I spoke to Chelsea earlier today she wanted to convey the message to supporters that she is so thankful for the thousands of people from around the world who let the government know that we are watching and scrutinizing what happens to her behind prison walls," said Chase Strangio, Manning's attorney at the ACLU. "It was no doubt this support that kept her out of solitary confinement."
"But the fact that Chelsea had to face today’s four-hour Disciplinary Board without counsel, and will now be punished for daring to share her voice, sets a concerning precedent for the remaining decades of her incarceration," Strangio continued.
"No one should have to face the lingering threat of solitary confinement for reading and writing about the conditions we encounter in the world," the attorney added. "Chelsea’s voice is critical to our public discourse about government accountability and trans justice and we can only preserve it if we stay vigilant in our advocacy on her behalf."
Pfc. Chelsea Manning has undergone harassment and what many deem torture, and on Tuesday the U.S. Army whistleblower is faced with a potential sentence of indefinite solitary confinement for offenses her advocates say are "extreme and ridiculous."
Ahead of the 2:30 PM EST disciplinary hearing, supporters collected 100,000 signatures which they delivered Tuesday morning to the Army Liaison office on Capitol Hill. The petition is calling on the disciplinary board to open the hearing to the public and drop the charges, arguing that the egregious punishment would be an affront to justice.
"Putting any human being in indefinite solitary confinement is inexcusable, and for offenses as trivial as these (an expired tube of toothpaste, and possession [of] magazines?) it is a discredit to America's military and its system of justice," the petition states.
However, as of this writing, the hearing remained closed with no attorney present, forcing Manning to represent herself. Supporters told Common Dreams that they expect to hear the result of the hearing by the end of the day. However, they note that if Manning does not call from the prison, it likely means that the sentence was severe.
Over the weekend, news broke that military prison authorities were denying Manning access to the facility's legal library.
As Common Dreams previously reported, prison authorities are accusing Manning of such violations as "medicine misuse," prohibited property, and disorderly conduct for such "innocuous" offenses as possessing books and magazines related to politics and LBGTQ issues. Supporters say these "trumped up" charges are being levied to silence the whistleblower, who was jailed for leaking cables that exposed U.S. military misconduct, including the killing of innocent civilians.
"The U.S. government has a terrifying track record of using imprisonment and torture to silence free speech and dissenting voices," said Evan Greer, campaign director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, which initiated the petition. "They’ve tortured Chelsea Manning before and now they’re threatening to do it again, without any semblance of due process."
Greer continues, "Perhaps the military thought that now that Chelsea is behind bars she’s been forgotten, but the tens of thousands who signed this petition are proving them wrong. Chelsea Manning is a hero and the whole world is watching the U.S. government’s deplorable treatment of whistleblowers, transgender people, and prison inmates in general."
Since Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison in August 2013, she began writing a column for the Guardian and has garnered international support, emerging as figure of free speech and transgender rights.
Chase Strangio, Manning's attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, says that thousands of signatures collected in her defense and the outpouring of support "can break down the isolation of her incarceration and sends the message to the government that the public is watching and standing by her as she fights for her freedom and her voice."