Saturday, May 20, 2017

22.1 - Good News: Chelsea Manning is out of prison

Good News: Chelsea Manning is out of prison

Starting the week with some Good News, Chelsea Manning is out of prison.

For those of you with unfortunately short memories, she is the former Army intelligence analyst who, hoping to inspire "worldwide discussion, debates and reforms," was the source for one of the largest leaks of classified information in US history, including, perhaps most famously, the viral video called "Collateral Murder."

She was freed Wednesday morning at 3 am Eastern time.

From the very start, from the moment of her* arrest by military authorities after being betrayed by a supposed friend, she was treated terribly and wrongfully.

She was charged, in effect, with treason, with "aiding the enemy," on the convoluted basis that by leaking the information and it then having been published, she had made it possible for al-Qaeda to see it and thereby, hypothetically, benefit from some part of it, making it somehow no different from if she had been spying directly on their behalf. She was not convicted of that but she was convicted of a variety of violations of the Espionage Act.

She was sentenced to 35 years in prison. She was in prison for 7 years, which is more than twice as long as any other whistleblower or leaker has been.

While in prison before her court-martial, she was held in solitary under extreme "prevention-of-injury" conditions, even after a prison psychologist said it was no longer necessary. There is only one possible explanation for this beyond simple cruelty: They were attempting to break her so she would throw Julian Assange, who was their real target, under the bus.

Chelsea Manning
The treatment she received was not only cruel, often it was petty: Even after agreeing to provide the medical treatment she was entitled to and needed - after two suicide attempts and a hunger strike - treatment including approval of gender reassignment surgery, which is an open admission that she is transgender, the military still kept her in an all-male prison and enforced male grooming standards on her until the moment of her release. (In the photo, she is wearing a wig.)

Now she is out. But she is not free: Until the appeals of her conviction are complete, the military considers her to be on unpaid active-duty and so still under rule of military law. And as the saying goes, military justice is to justice as military music is to music.

The one advantage of being on this sort of "active duty" is that she can maintain her access to military medical benefits, including for gender dysphoria and gender reassignment surgery - but she says says she has no interest in using them because after the treatment she endured in prison, she wants to walk away from all of that and provide for herself.

Now, it's highly unlikely that she will be called to serve, but hypothetically, yes, they could call her back, could give orders that she report to some fort or whatever somewhere. More important, however, is that because of this status, any new offense, even if minor - if she got into a fight or even a pushing match with someone - she would be under military jurisdiction, subject to military punishment. She could even get into trouble with the military for speaking and writing anything critical, for saying something some general somewhere doesn't like.

Still, she said "For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea." One of the first things she is looking to do is grow her hair out.

In the meantime, family and friends are keeping her pretty much under wraps to ease her transition. Or as I should say, transitions: from prison to the outside and to a new life as herself.

Amnesty International, which had campaigned for Manning's release, celebrated her freedom but still called for an investigation into the treatment she received and for measures to ensure whistleblowers are never again subjected to, as they called it, "such appalling treatment."

*It would, I suppose, be acceptable to say "he" at this point because she did not come out as transgender until after her conviction, but that seems overly pedantic and I'm just going to say "she" throughout because that's who she is.

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