By Julia Conley
Common Dreams (3/25/19)
Supporters of U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning are demanding she be released from solitary confinement, in which she has been held for 17 days since refusing to answer a grand jury’s questions.
Chelsea Resists!, Manning’s support committee, released a statement over the weekend denouncing her treatment and invoking the United Nations’ own statements about the dangers and injustice of isolation in prisons.
“The United States Government has already tortured Chelsea Manning for months. She attempted suicide twice while incarcerated. Now they’re torturing her again.”
“We condemn the solitary confinement that Chelsea Manning has been subjected to during her incarceration at William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center,” the group wrote.
“Chelsea can’t be out of her cell while any other prisoners are out, so she cannot talk to other people, or visit the law library, and has no access to books or reading material,” the committee added.
Other supporters on social media joined the call for Manning to be released.
Manning has been held in isolation for 22 hours per day, with one break from 1:00 to 3:00am. Her treatment qualifies as prolonged solitary confinement according to Juan Mendez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture.
“After 15 days,” Mendez wrote in 2014, “certain changes in brain functions occur and the harmful psychological effects of isolation can become irreversible. Prolonged solitary confinement must be absolutely prohibited, because it always amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and may even constitute torture.”
The group also condemned the prison system’s use of the term “administrative segregation,” or adseg, to whitewash Manning’s treatment.
The term was “designed to sound less cruel than ‘solitary confinement,'” wrote the committee. “However, Chelsea has been kept in her cell for 22 hours a day. This treatment qualifies as solitary confinement.”
Manning arrived at the Truesdale detention center in Alexandria, Virginia on March 8 after appearing before a grand jury, which she says interrogated her about her 2010 decision to leak U.S. military documents to Wikileaks, making public possible U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Manning said she had already answered similar questions in 2010 when she was court-martialed before serving seven years of a 35-year prison sentence, and answered the grand jury by saying, “I object to the question and refuse to answer on the grounds that the question is in violation of my First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendment, and other statutory rights.”
She was found to be in contempt of court and imprisoned as a result.
“Chelsea is a principled person, and she has made clear that while this kind of treatment will harm her, and will almost certainly leave lasting scars, it will never make her change her mind about cooperating with the grand jury,” the committee’s statement reads.