The Persecution of Chelsea Manning

According to her lawyer, the former intelligence analyst is being threatened with indefinite solitary confinement for the most minor transgressions imaginable.

Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters

Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst convicted of giving a trove of secrets to WikiLeaks, is serving a 35-year sentence inside a military prison. And now she may be thrown into solitary confinement indefinitely, her lawyer says.

A lengthy stay in solitary confinement is arguably torture. Shane Bauer, who spent seven months isolated in an Iranian prison, thinks so. “The ACLU says yes. Physicians for Human Rights agree. The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and several other prisoner rights groups recently filed a petition with the United Nations claiming just that,” he wrote in a harrowing article about his experience. “Human Rights Watch says at the very least, it constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, which is prohibited by international law.”

In U.S. prisons, reformers have been urging wardens to stop relying so much on solitary confinement. Some respond that they have no other way to control violent inmates who belong to prison gangs and pose a danger to the safety of others.

But Chelsea Manning was not being violent in prison. She poses no apparent risk to fellow inmates, nor has she been adjudged at risk herself. And if you try to guess the transgressions that may trigger this punishment, there’s no way you’ll hazard anything more petty than the truth.

Here’s what Reuters is reporting:

Manning has been charged with a number of disciplinary infractions and will attend a hearing before a three-person discipline adjustment board on Aug. 18 at the prison, attorney Nancy Hollander said.The alleged disciplinary infractions on July 2 and July 9 included attempted disrespect, the possession of prohibited books and magazines while under administrative segregation, medicine misuse pertaining to expired toothpaste and disorderly conduct for pushing food onto the floor, Hollander said. The maximum penalty she faces is indefinite solitary confinement. Items confiscated from Manning included a Vanity Fair magazine with former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, who is transitioning to life as a woman, posing in a white strapless leotard on the cover.

Boing Boing says it’s seen a word-for-word rendering of the charges. I’d have thought that a transgender inmate reading about Bruce Jenner in Vanity Fair would be the most innocuous infraction imaginable, but then I read this with jaw agape:

On 8 July 2015, while under administrative segregation pending investigation, your cell was inspected and a tube of anti-cavity toothpaste may-keep-in-cell, was found in your possession past its expiration date.

Did Martha Stewart draft new rules for all federal prisons while she was incarcerated?

Here’s the “attempted disrespect” charge explained:

On 2 July 2015, during dinner chow, inmate Manning was approached by [a correctional specialist] to inform inmate Manning to be aware of her surroundings because [the correctional specialist] was almost hit with some food inmate Manning swept off the table. [The correctional specialist] informed inmate Manning to stand by at "Commons 1" once chow was completed so [the correctional specialist] could talk to inmate Manning and explain what she had done wrong while at "Commons 1."

[The correctional specialist] attempted to talk to inmate Manning, but she continued to cut [the correctional specialist] off by stating words to the effect of "you are accusing me," "this interview is over" and "I want my lawyer."

[The correctional specialist] ended the conversation and inmate Manning left to go get medication.

Says the same document, “the maximum charge for these offenses is indefinite solitary confinement.” Thankfully, there is no guarantee that it will be imposed. But the mere possibility of that sanction for rule-breaking so minor is a bracing insight into America’s military prisons, where more scrutiny is apparently warranted.