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Lawyers Ask, But Army Won't Tell What Happened to Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning

Attorneys for Chelsea Manning are fuming over what they contend is the Army’s leak of confidential — and possibly inaccurate — information about their client’s well-being. 

Early this morning, CNN reporter Shimon Pokupecz sent a tweet claiming that Manning was rushed to the hospital, “suspected of attempting suicide.” The tweet did not provide a source for the allegation. The subsequent article CNN posted on its website quoted an Army spokesman as confirming that Manning was hospitalized “during the early hours of July 5th,” noting that officials “continue to monitor the inmate’s condition.” An unnamed “U.S. official” reportedly told CNN’s Barbara Starr that Manning’s hospitalization was related to an attempt on her own life. 

Manning, 28, is a transgender woman and former Army private found guilty of leaking thousands of pages of classified government documents to the website Wikileaks. She was convicted under the Espionage Act and sentenced to 35 years incarcerated with men at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Manning’s attorneys filed an appeal of that conviction in May

Now members of Manning’s legal team say Army officials are refusing to confirm the details of any alleged hospitalization, despite apparently leaking details to the press. 

“We’re shocked and outraged that an official at Leavenworth contacted the press with private confidential medical information about Chelsea Manning yet no one at the Army has given a shred of information to her legal team,” said Manning’s lead attorney, Nancy Hollander, in a statement Wednesday afternoon

Hollander explained that she had a call scheduled with Manning at 2 p.m. local time Tuesday — hours after the Army says Manning was hospitalized — but that Leavenworth officials told her the call could not be connected. “I now believe [that] to be an outright lie,” Hollander said. Adding to the legal team’s frustration, Hollander said she and her team are being stonewalled by Army officials. 

“Despite the fact that they have reached out to the media, and that any other prison will connect an emergency call, the Army has told her lawyers that the earliest time that they will accommodate a call between her lawyers and Chelsea is Friday morning,” said Hollander. “We call on the Army to immediately connect Chelsea Manning to her lawyers and friends who care deeply about her well-being and are profoundly distressed by the complete lack of official communication about Chelsea’s current situation.”

An Army spokesman confirmed to The Daily Dot that Manning was in the hospital, but said he had no idea where the media came up with the claim that Manning had tried to kill herself. 

But suicide attempts in prison — particularly among transgender inmates who are housed in solitary confinement and facilities that do not recognize their gender identity — are a very real issue. 

Ky Peterson, the black trans man at the center of The Advocate’s award-winning investigative series, made an attempt on his own life after spending more than a week in “protective custody,” also known as solitary confinement. Chase Strangio, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project who is also a member of Manning’s legal team, previously told The Advocate that incarcerated transgender people are particularly vulnerable to abuse that can severely impact their mental health. 

What’s more, this isn’t the first time the Army has allegedly leaked information about Manning to the press. In May 2014, the Associated Press cited anonymous Pentagon officials reporting that they were considering moving Manning from Fort Leavenworth to a civilian prison — a claim that never materialized. 

Manning’s military lawyer, Lt. Col. David Coombs, at the time accused the Pentagon of a making a “strategic leak” to the press as a way to “pressure Chelsea into dropping her request for needed treatment” regarding her clinical transition. Two months later, the Department of Defense agreed to grant Manning access to gender-affirming clinical care, including hormone therapy, but the Army itself did not agree to provide Manning the medically necessary care until mid-February 2015

In March 2015, a federal court ordered military officials to recognize Manning by her legal nameChelsea Elizabeth Manning — and refer to her as a woman. 

Nevertheless, Manning’s incarceration has been marked by repeated allegations of infractions on her part, such as the possession of “prohibited material,” including a copy of The Advocate. That issue was adjudicated and resolved in a matter of days last August, resulting in Manning being found guilty of four charges and sentenced to three weeks of restrictions on recreational activities, barring her from the gym, library, or any time outdoors. Last November, Manning filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense seeking permission to grow her hair out as long as other female prisoners. It remains unclear whether she has been granted permission to do so. 

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