Chelsea Manning Spends Sixth Christmas in Prison with No End in Sight
December 25, 2015
Ed Pilkington / The Guardian & Chelsea E. Manning / The Guardian
The army private who transferred about 750,000 files of US secrets to WikiLeaks writes about the feeling of detachment that engulfs her at this time of year: "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."
Chelsea Manning Spends Sixth Christmas in Prison with No End in Sight
Ed Pilkington / The Guardian
NEW YORK (December 24, 2015) -- Chelsea Manning, whose role as the source of one of the largest leaks of US government state secrets in history earned her a 35-year prison sentence, will be spending her sixth Christmas in military custody with no end in sight for her ordeal.
In an article in the Guardian, the army private writes movingly about the feeling of detachment that engulfs her at this time of year. As her detention lengthens from her original arrest in Iraq in May 2010, she says that she is prone to existential doubts in what she describes as her "artificially-imposed stasis".
"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."
It is unclear how many more Christmases Manning can expect to spend behind bars for having transferred about 750,000 files of US state secrets to the open information website WikiLeaks. She was sentenced to 35 years in August 2013 having been found guilty on 20 counts, including six under the controversial Espionage Act of 1917.
In her Guardian article, she says that one thing that gives her hope, despite her desperate situation, are the letters and cards she receives from supporters. "I am happily reminded that I am real and that I do exist for people outside this prison."
Another source of comfort is that her appeal against conviction and sentencing is well under way. Nancy Hollander, lead counsel on the appeal, confirmed that Manning's brief to the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals will be filed some time in the spring, setting in train what promises to be a lengthy legal process to review what is probably the harshest punishment for the source of an official leak in recent times.
Hollander said that along with her co-counsel, Vince Ward and Captain James Hammond, she has been poring over classified evidence in preparation of the appeal. A special secure room has been created within Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she is held, where lawyers and their clients are able to discuss classified material.
The US Army Court of Appeals is imbued with strong legal powers. It can dismiss the case outright, send it back for a new hearing or re-sentencing, or set its own new sentence.
"This is a very important court for us and we are focused on winning there," Hollander said. "For us, winning would mean all the charges being dropped and Chelsea walking out of there; or it could mean Chelsea being given a much lesser sentence."
This will be the first Christmas that Manning will spend since she began hormone therapy to transition as a woman. In February, the Army granted her the hormones -- a breakthrough in terms of the military's handling of prisoners with gender dysphoria, a recognized medical condition in which a person's self-identity is in conflict with her or his biological sex.
Manning writes that the hormones have started to take effect. "The anti-androgen and estrogen I take is reflected in my external appearance, finally: I have softer skin, less angular facial features and a fuller figure."
But the legal battles that she begun by suing the military for hormone treatment in September 2014 are by no means over. She continues to be held along with male prisoners in the maximum-security United States Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth and is not allowed to grow her hair beyond the uniform male standard of two inches.
Manning's lawyers, led by Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed an amended complaint in October, pointing out that even the military's own medical providers have recommended that she be allowed to grow her hair according to female standards. The government has countered with a motion to dismiss the complaint, and a ruling is expected anytime.
"Despite the many obstacles she has faced, Chelsea continues to fight for justice. So many transgender people in prison and jail are fighting for healthcare and fighting to survive and hopefully Chelsea's fight will pave the way for more justice for more people," Strangio said.
In Prison, the Holiday Season Is Grim -- But I Won't Lose Hope
Chelsea E. Manning / The Guardian
(December 24, 2015) -- Having a birthday around the holidays was never easy and, with every successive year, it felt more and more as if celebrating my birthday got thrown into the December holiday mix as an afterthought.
But now, Decembers are becoming the hardest month of the year to endure.
The most obvious reasons are physical: the temperature drops; here in Kansas, it rains and snows a lot more; the colors outside my window turn from the greens, yellows and blues of summer to the browns, grays and tans of winter, with the occasional white on the rare days that it snows. I spend more time indoors, trying to stay warm and dry. The hills and trees I can see seem still, silent and lifeless.
I feel myself becoming more distant and disconnected as the color leaches from the world outside these walls. 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 realize that my friends and family are moving on with their lives even as I'm in an artificially imposed stasis. I don't go to my friends' graduation ceremonies, to their engagement parties, to their weddings, to their baby showers or their children's birthday parties. I miss everything -- and what I'm missing gets more routine and middle-aged with each passing year.
The changes that occur as I sit here can raise doubts about my very existence. I have no recent snapshots of myself and no current selfies, just old Facebook photos, grainy trial photos and mugshots to show for the last six years of my life. When everyone is obsessed with Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and WhatsApp, it begins to feel like I don't exist in some very real, important way. Living in a society that says "Pics or it didn't happen", I wonder if I happened.
I sometimes feel less than empty; I feel non-existent.
Still, I endure. I refuse to give up. I open the mail I receive -- which spikes in December, as people send me birthday and then Christmas cards, but I get letters and well-wishing cards all year -- and am happily reminded that I am real and that I do exist for people outside this prison.
And I celebrate, too, this time of year, in my own little way: I make phone calls to family, I write letters, I treat myself with the processed foods and desserts I all but gave up during my gender transition.
This holiday season is the first since I won the right to begin hormone therapy for that gender transition, which I began in February. The anti-androgen and estrogen I take is reflected in my external appearance, finally: I have softer skin, less angular facial features and a fuller figure.
Even though I'm still not allowed to grow my hair to the female standard in prison -- a battle I'll continue to fight with the ACLU in 2016 -- I know that my struggles pale in comparison to those faced by many vulnerable queer and transgender people. Despite more mainstream visibility, identification and even celebration of queer and trans people, the reality for many is that they face at least as many, if not more, obstacles as I do in transitioning and living their lives with dignity.
And, however improbably, I have hope this holiday season. With my appeals attorneys, Nancy Hollander and Vince Ward, I expect to submit my first brief to the US army court of criminal appeals next year, in support of my appeal to the 2013 court-martial convictions and sentence.
Whatever happens, it will certainly be a long path. There may well be other Decembers like this one, where I feel at times so far away from everyone and everything. But when faced with bleakness, I won't give up. And I'll try to remember all the people who haven't given up on me.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.