Chelsea Manning’s Lawyers Blast Military Leak of ‘Unverified’ Suicide Attempt
This morning, The Independent reported that 28-year old military whistleblower Chelsea Manning was “rushed to hospital” in Tuesday morning “after trying to take own life” in Fort Leavenworth, the Kansas military prison where she’s currently serving a 35-year sentence for espionage. A few hours ago, the PR team that runs Manning’s Twitter account linked to a statement from Nancy Hollander, the lead attorney on Manning’s defense team, basically blasting the military for leaking “private confidential medical information” to the press and for not informing the legal team about Manning’s suicide attempted when the legal team tried to call Manning yesterday afternoon.
In the statement, Hollander said:
“I had a privileged call scheduled with Chelsea at 2pm Leavenworth time yesterday, after the Army has now said she was hospitalized, but the Army gave the excuse—which I now believe to be an outright lie—that the call could not be connected although my team was waiting by the phone.
“Despite the fact that they have reached out to the media, and that any other prison will connect an emergency call, the Army has told her lawyers that the earliest time that they will accommodate a call between her lawyers and Chelsea is Friday morning. We call on the Army to immediately connect Chelsea Manning to her lawyers and friends who care deeply about her well-being and are profoundly distressed by the complete lack of official communication about Chelsea’s current situation.”
U.S. Army spokesman Colonel Patrick Seiber apparently verified to CNN that Manning “was taken to the hospital ‘during the early hours of July 5th’ before returning to the barracks’” and is currently under monitoring.
So far, there are no details about Manning’s suicide attempt, though it’s hardly surprising considering her bleak life in military incarceration. In August 2015, Manning was forbidden from using gym, library and outdoor access for three weeks for the crimes of “brushing food onto the floor during meal time, disrespect of an officer… possessing a tube of expired toothpaste, and possessing prohibited reading material, including the Vanity Fair issue featuring Caitlyn Jenner and copies of The Advocate and Out magazines.” Manning also reportedly receives meals through a narrow slot in her cell door and gets escorted by two or three “correctional specialists” every time she showers or goes outdoors.
In a December 2015 letter to The Guardian, Manning wrote, “The chasm between me and the outside world feels like it’s getting wider and wider, and all I can do is let it happen. … I sometimes feel less than empty; I feel non-existent,” though she added that letters from her supporters give her hope.
Although the government allowed Manning to start transgender hormone therapy in February 2016, Manning still lives among Fort Leavenworth’s male prisoners and is forbidden from growing out her hair because other inmates might try and rape her. Manning has legally appealed the hair policy.
While working as an Army intelligence officer in 2010, Manning smuggled 700,000 government documents and diplomatic cables on a Lady Gaga CD and gave them to WikiLeaks, a website that publishes leaked documents alleging government and corporate misconduct. Though the leak revealed civilian murders and other abuses by U.S. military, Manning’s defense team said that a Defense Department review declared all the leaked information as “either dated… low-level opinions, or… already known”.
The military held Manning 17 months without trial and convicted her for violating the Espionage and Computer Fraud and Abuse Acts, disobeying orders and stealing government property. During her sentencing in 2013, Manning came out as transgender. Her 35-year sentence is the longest ever issued for a military information leak. She is eligible for parole in 2021.
After Manning’s sentencing, American Civil Liberties Union official Ben Wizner said, “When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system.”
Manning recently criticized the military’s decision to admit transgender people for requiring that all recruits be stable in their identity for a period of 18 months before enlisting, a criteria that Manning says most trans people will not meet and which use a “gender certification test” that excludes non-binary-gendered people.