At a vigil on November 20, 2016 outside the gates of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, speakers underscored the need for pressure in the next six weeks on President Obama, before he leaves office on January 19, 2017 to approve clemency for U.S. Army whistleblower Private First Class Chelsea Manning. Manning's lawyers filed a Petition for Clemency on November 10, 2016.
Chelsea Manning has been in prison for six and one-half years, three in pre-trial confinement and three since her 2013 conviction by court-martial of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of documents and videos to Wikileaks in what has been described as the largest leak of classified material in U.S. history. Manning was found guilty of 20 of the 22 charges against her, including violations of the US Espionage Act.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
The speakers at the vigil in front of Fort Leavenworth included Chase Strangio, attorney and friend of Chelsea's; Christine Gibbs, founder of the Transgender Institute in Kansas City; Dr. Yolanda Huet-Vaughn, a former US Army doctor who refused to go to Gulf War I and who was court-martialed and sentenced to 30 months in prison, of which she spent eight months in Leavenworth; Brian Terrell who spent six months in federal prison for challenging the US assassin drone program at Whiteman Air Force Base; Peaceworks Kansas City peace activist and attorney Henry Stoever; and Ann Wright, retired US Army Colonel (29 years in Army and Army Reserve) and former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to Bush's war on Iraq.
The vigil was called after Chelsea's second suicide attempt inside the Leavenworth military prison. During the six and one-half years she has been imprisoned, Manning spent nearly a year in solitary confinement. A United Nations investigation into her isolation at Quantico Marine base, which involved being forced to strip naked every night, described her situation as "cruel, inhuman, and degrading."
In 2015, Manning was threatened with solitary confinement again after she was charged for violations including storing a tube of expired toothpaste in her cell and having a copy of Vanity Fair. More than 100,000 people signed a petition against those charges. Manning was found guilty but was not put in solitary; instead, she faced three weeks of restricted access to the gym, the library, and the outdoors.
The other two charges involved "prohibited property" and "conduct which threatens." Manning was authorized to have the property in question, her attorney Strangio said, but she allegedly used it in a prohibited way while attempting to take her life. It is unclear whether other prisoners at Fort Leavenworth would face similar administrative charges after a suicide attempt, or whether the "nature of the charges, and the aggressiveness with which they may be being pursued, is unique to her," Strangio said.
On July 28, the Army announced it was considering filing three administrative charges in connection with the suicide attempt, among them an allegation that Manning had resisted "the force cell move team" during or after her suicide attempt, according to the official charge sheet. But Manning's lawyers say their client could not have resisted because she was unconscious when officials found her in her cell at Fort Leavenworth detention center in Kansas. Her lawyers and the Army have not disclosed how she attempted to kill herself.
After her arrest in 2010, the whistleblower formerly known as Bradley Manning was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition of extreme distress that results when a person's gender identity does not match his or her biological sex. In 2015, she sued the Army to be allowed to start hormone therapy. However, according to her lawyers, the Army has not taken other steps to treat her like a female prisoner. "She has identified her ongoing deterioration of her mental health state as stemming in particular from the continued refusal to adequately treat her gender dysphoria as an ongoing need," her attorney Chase Strangio reported.
Manning's attorney's filed a Petition for Clemency on November 10, 2016. Her three page petition asks that President Obama approve clemency to give Chelsea a first chance to live a "real, meaningful life." The petition states that Chelsea never made excuses for disclosing classified materials to the news media and that she accepted responsibility at trial by pleading guilty without the benefit of a plea agreement, which her lawyers state was an unusual act of courage in a case such as hers.
The petition notes that the military judge had no way of knowing what constitutes fair and reasonable punishment as there was no historical precedence for the case. Additionally, the petition comments that the military judge did not "appreciate the context in which Ms. Manning committed these offenses. Ms. Manning is transgender. When she entered the military she was, as a young adult, attempting to make sense of her feelings and place in the world," and that many of Ms. Manning's fellow soldiers teased and bullied her because she was "different."... "While the military culture has improved since then, these events had a detrimental effect on her mentally and emotionally leading to the disclosures."