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"It's terrifying to think that as [Chelsea Manning] survives, the government is continuing to give her the message that they will enforce punishment of her essentially for living," Manning's attorney said. (Photo: U.S. Army/File)

Outcry Swells After Military Threatens to Punish Chelsea Manning 'Essentially for Living'

As whistleblower faces further punishment for suicide attempt, tens of thousands petition U.S. Army to drop new charges and provide adequate healthcare

Nika Knight

Since news emerged last week that imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning is facing new criminal charges and further punishment from the U.S. Army for attempting suicide, public outcry has been swift.

Civil liberties group Fight for the Future has received over 30,000 signatures on a petition that demands the new charges be dropped and that Manning be provided with adequate healthcare.

A separate petition demanding that Manning be spared solitary confinement garnered over 2,000 signatures in a matter of hours.

Chase Strangio, one of Manning's attorneys, said on Democracy Now! Wednesday that after her suicide attempt last month, Manning is "relieved to be alive."

"It's terrifying to think that as she survives, the government is continuing to give her the message that they will enforce punishment of her essentially for living," Strangio said.

"Governments have so much power, and a single person often does not. It is very terrifying to face the government alone."
—Chelsea Manning
Indefinite solitary confinement, the punishment Manning is currently faced with for attempting suicide, would be "catastrophic for her mental health," Strangio said, noting that the United Nations has said that solitary confinement can amount torture and should be banned.

Strangio is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is also engaged in a lawsuit with the Department of Defense over Manning's treatment while incarcerated, including her placement in a male prison. Manning is transgender, and Strangio observed that the "perils and the damages of being forced to be punished through the denial of her core identity has led to her depression, has imperiled her health."

Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with rights group Amnesty International published by the Guardian Tuesday—although the interview itself took place before Manning's suicide attempt—Manning herself attested that she is "always afraid."

"I am still afraid of the power of government. A government can arrest you," Manning said. "It can imprison you. It can put out information about you that won't get questioned by the public—everyone will just assume that what they are saying is true. Sometimes, a government can even kill you—with or without the benefit of a trial. Governments have so much power, and a single person often does not. It is very terrifying to face the government alone."

"It's a very difficult feeling to describe," Manning continued:

Not long after I was first detained by the military, I was taken to a prison camp in Kuwait, where I essentially lived in a cage inside of a tent. I didn/t have any access to the outside world. I couldn't make phone calls. I didn't get any mail. I had very limited access to my lawyers. There was no television or radio or newspapers. I lost the sense of where in the world I was. The military had total control over every aspect of my life. They controlled what information I had access to. They controlled when I ate and slept. They even controlled when I went to the bathroom. After several weeks, I didn't know how long I had been there or how much longer I was going to be staying. It's an overwhelmingly terrifying feeling. I became very, very sad.

"At one point," Manning added, "I even gave up on trying to live any more."

As the website Boing Boing wrote on Monday: "Even if you are someone who believes that Chelsea did something wrong and should be punished, ask yourself: 'Isn't nine months of solitary, three years of imprisonment before even receiving a trial, and three and a half years as a female in an all-male maximum security prison punishment enough?'"

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