A 2015 interview with Amnesty International, published Tuesday in theGuardian, sheds light on the conditions faced by US Army whistleblower, political prisoner, and torture victim Chelsea Manning, who attempted suicide on July 5 and now faces a vindictive campaign of retaliation by the military.
Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning), formerly a US Army specialist stationed in Iraq, is a whistleblower responsible for revealing numerous war crimes and international conspiracies. She was the source for major exposés by WikiLeaks journalists that included CableGate, the Guantanamo Bay files leak, the Iraq War Logs, and the Afghan War Diary. Her disclosures also included the infamous “Collateral Murder” video showing the killing of journalists and civilians by a US helicopter crew, as well as evidence of a war crime at Granai, Afghanistan on May 4, 2009, in which an airstrike killed between 86 and 147 civilians.
In particular, her leak of more than 250,000 State Department cables resulted in the exposure of numerous official lies and intrigues, including, for example, the fact that US diplomats knew that Georgia was the aggressor in the 2008 conflict in South Ossetia, even while they publicly denounced “Russian aggression.”
Manning was betrayed to the authorities by her confidant Adrian Lamo in 2010, and was the subject of a merciless retaliatory campaign by the American military and political establishment, which sought to make an example of her. Her torture at the hands of her captors, which included indefinite solitary confinement, sexual humiliation, and innumerable demeaning and arbitrary restrictions, provoked international outrage. UN special rapporteur on torture Ernesto Mendez concluded in March 2012: “I believe Bradley Manning was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” by the US military.
“I am still afraid of the power of government,” said Manning, now 28, in her recently published interview. “A government can arrest you. 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.”
Manning was apparently referencing the Obama administration’s assertion of the “wartime” power to assassinate any person, anywhere in the world, including US citizens, without charges or trial.
Manning also described her mistreatment at the hands of the Obama administration prior to and during her trial by a military tribunal. “Not long after I was first detained by the military,” Manning said, “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.”
Manning continued: “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, I even gave up on trying to live any more.”
“War is a terrible thing,” Manning said, “and this type of warfare is one of the worst,” referring to “the occupation of a country which is likely to lead to an insurgency.”
Manning also described her efforts to retain her humanity under the vindictive regime imposed by her captors. “I try to stay as active and productive as possible. I don’t have access to the internet, but I read books and newspapers a lot. I work hard at the job that I have in prison – work with wood. I am also always trying to learn more, working on my education. I also exercise a lot. .. I write a lot, too.”
Manning’s interviewer asked, “What helps you to stay positive in prison?” Manning replied, “I love reading the mail that I get from all over the world. I love talking on the phone with people I care about. I always feel so much better when people send me their warm love and strong words of support. I love staying active and engaged with the world. It is an amazing feeling!”
On July 5, Manning attempted suicide by hanging. She subsequently received a flood of sympathetic messages and letters, and she instructed supporters by phone to issue a Twitter message: “I am okay. I’m glad to be alive. Thank you all for your love <3 I will get through this.”
The military authorities’ response was to serve Manning on July 28 with notice that she was under investigation for numerous “administrative offenses,” which include “resisting the force cell move team,” possessing “prohibited property,” and for “conduct which threatens.” She has also been unable to meet regularly with a psychologist.
These spurious administrative charges were rebutted in an August 1 article by journalist Cory Doctorow and the Chelsea Manning Support Network. With respect to the charge that Manning “resisted a force cell move team,” her alleged “resistance” consisted in being unconscious when the prison guards found her. The “prohibited use of property” charge is based on the use of items in her cell to attempt suicide. The theory behind the “conduct which threatens” charge is that Manning’s suicide attempt “interferes with the orderly running, safety, good order and discipline, or security of the facility.”
If the military determines that Manning is guilty of the alleged “administrative offenses,” it can subject her to indefinite solitary confinement and other further restrictions. Since the administrative offenses can affect Manning’s eligibility for parole, they can also provide a legal foundation for extending her incarceration. Manning is currently held in a disciplinary barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she is serving a 35-year sentence for disclosing classified information.
Manning was previously harassed with alleged administrative offenses that included possessing unauthorized reading material and possessing a prohibited item – an expired tube of toothpaste.
The military brass, together with the rest of the political establishment, is seething with anger at Manning, who exposed so many of their crimes, and who continues to be praised as a hero by working people and youth around the world. They will miss no opportunity to revenge themselves on her and everything she represents. If, driven to hopelessness by systematic abuse and degradation, Manning’s suicide attempt had been successful, America’s leading military, intelligence, and political figures would properly have been considered responsible, either as direct accomplices or through their silence regarding her treatment.
The current presidential candidates of the establishment parties, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have said nothing in defense of Manning as a political prisoner, nor have they criticized her retaliatory ill-treatment at the hands of the military. In December 2011, while Manning was being tortured and persecuted, Clinton (then Secretary of State) defended the campaign against Manning on the grounds that “some information which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected and we will continue to take necessary steps to do so.”
In September 2013, Manning formally appealed to President Obama for a pardon. This appeal, together with numerous petitions for clemency, has fallen on deaf ears.