The U.S. military maintains that it is committed to “a fair and equitable process” in the case of national security leaker Chelsea Manning and other prisoners accused of breaking rules at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
The response comes after Manning’s lawyer disclosed that the transgender Army private faces charges at an Aug. 18 hearing (today) for allegedly having a copy of Vanity Fair with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover and an expired tube of toothpaste, among other things. The maximum penalty is indefinite solitary confinement.
The former intelligence analyst was convicted in 2013 of espionage and other offenses for sending more than 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks while working in Iraq. The transgender anti-war activist is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking reams of war logs, diplomatic cables and battlefield video to the anti-secrecy website in 2010.
In a statement to the AP, Army spokeswoman Tatjana Christian said Manning’s case wad pending before a disciplinary board, which is “a common practice in correctional systems to hold prisoners accountable to facility rules.” The military released no details of the alleged conduct that led to the disciplinary report against Manning.
Manning’s attorney, Nancy Hollander, said the prison charges include possession of prohibited property in the form of books and magazines while under administrative segregation; medicine misuse over the toothpaste; disorderly conduct for sweeping food onto the floor; and disrespect. All of the accusations relate to conduct on July 2 and July 9.
Some military legal experts familiar with the facility expressed skepticism that Manning would be punished with indefinite solitary confinement.
Victor Hansen, a retired Army judge advocate who teaches at the New England School of Law in Boston, said conditions at Fort Leavenworth are less restrictive than for inmates in the federal prison system because inmates with a military background have some experience following orders and do “not chaff at rules and regulations like someone who has not had exposure to that.”
Hansen said it is unlikely that prison officials would go after Manning just for having reading material and that there has to be more behind the charges than either the military or her supporters are saying.
Most discipline in the military is progressive and meted in a measured way, with the solitary confinement reserved as kind of “the nuclear option.”
Michael Navarre, an adviser to the National Institute of Military Justice and former Navy judge advocate, said Fort Leavenworth is well run, well organized and known to keep “a good rein on inmates.”
“My impression has always been that the military has fewer prison-violence and serious-offense issues than other systems do,” Navarre said. “And so I would think there would be a less prevalent use of solitary confinement.”
Solitary confinement is common in civilian prisons, jails and detention centers across the United States, where there are an estimated 80,000 people in solitary confinement on any given day, said Alexis Agathocleous, deputy legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Mid-morning on Aug. 18, supporters of Manning delivered petitions containing more than 100,000 signatures urging the military to drop the charges.
Chase Strangio, Manning’s attorney at the ACLU, said, “During the five years she has been incarcerated, Chelsea has had to endure horrific and, at times, plainly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. She now faces the threat of further dehumanization because she allegedly disrespected an officer when requesting an attorney and had in her possession various books and magazines that she used to educate herself and inform her public and political voice. I am heartened to see the outpouring of support for her in the face of these new threats to her safety and security. This support can break down the isolation of her incarceration and sends the message to the government that the public is watching and standing by her as she fights for her freedom and her voice.”
Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, added, “The U.S. government has a terrifying track record of using imprisonment and torture to silence free speech and dissenting voices. They’ve tortured Chelsea Manning before and now they’re threatening to do it again, without any semblance of due process. Perhaps the military thought that now that Chelsea is behind bars she’s been forgotten, but the tens of thousands who signed this petition are proving them wrong. Chelsea Manning is a hero and the whole world is watching the U.S. government’s deplorable treatment of whistleblowers, transgender people, and prison inmates in general.”
Nancy Mancias, of the peace group CODEPINK, said, “The recent charges are inappropriate, extreme and ridiculous, Chelsea Manning has done a great service by leaking U.S. war crimes in Iraq. Manning should have a right to legal counsel when requested, and threatening to her isolate from community is inhumane.”