Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier convicted for leaking national security information, faces the threat of indefinite solitary confinement for allegedly violating prison rules. These charges — classified as “serious” by Fort Leavenworth prison officials — are for such violations as having a copy of Vanity Fair with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, having an expired tube of toothpaste (“improper medicine use”), disorderly conduct for sweeping food onto the floor and then asking to speak to her lawyer, and possessing “prohibited property” including transgender rights literature and the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture.
Thursday evening, Manning tweeted out copies of the charge reports. Some of what they said had been shared earlier in the week on FreeChelsea.com, a petition site demanding her fair treatment. One of the charges alleges, “You were approached by a Correctional Specialist in regards to your actions inside the dining facility. You conducted yourself in a contemptuous manner by being disrespectful to the cadre present.”
Another page of the report explains — without much detail — what apparently happened during this incident:
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 medications.
Another charge suggests that “sweeping food onto the floor” is “conduct of such a nature as to affect the peace and quiet of individuals, or who may thereby be disturbed or provoked to resentment. This charge could encompass all participants in a fight, regardless of who started the fight, or against individuals who engage in disruptive conduct, such as trashing the facility (e.g. throwing things on the floors, or flooding the facility by any means.”
Among the other printed materials taken from Manning and not returned were copies of The Advocate, OUT Magazine, and Cosmopolitan — which featured an interview with her. There was also a copy of Transgender Studies Quarterly and a novel about trans issues called A Safe Girl to Love, among other books.
Manning’s charges will be addressed in a hearing next Tuesday, and she faces a maximum charge of “indefinite solitary confinement.”
Manning’s lawyers worry that any discipline over these charges could impact her access to various support networks, including her opportunities to contribute to The Guardian as a columnist. They also worry that she’s being “unfairly targeted based on her activism, her identity, or her pending lawsuit” seeking access to comprehensive transgender health care. She has so far been granted access to a few accommodations related to her transition, but she continues to fight for more.
It is unclear if Manning would continue to have access to even these basic accommodations if she is disciplined with indefinite solitary confinement. Solitary confinement — particularly when used for several weeks or indefinitely — is considered a form of torture by many global bodies, including the International Red Cross, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
An estimated 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement on any given day in the United States. Half of the successful suicides that take place in prison are committed by people in solitary confinement. This is perhaps unsurprising given research has found that solitary can actually cause brain damage because prisoners enter a state of hypervigilance, a stress response that they cannot turn off.
Manning has been subject to such treatment before. According to the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, she was subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by the United States military after her arrest, including being locked up alone for 23 hours a day for 11 months in conditions that may have constituted torture.
Though it’s not clear that Manning is being targeted for her identity, transgender prisoners are disproportionately housed in solitary confinement. Because they are often housed in prison’s that do not match their gender — and are thus subject to higher rates of physical and sexual abuse — they are often placed in solitary “for their safety.” This often backfires, as they are then more vulnerable to abuse from prison staff.
Chelsea Manning is serving her 35-year sentence at the maximum-security U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, a men’s prison.