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Chelsea Manning Begins Hunger Strike to Protest Prison Treatment

Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning has reached a breaking point with what she calls bullying and mistreatment at the hands of military officials, and has started to refuse food. 

Former U.S. Army private and whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, currently serving a 35-year sentence in a military prison for sending classified documents to WikiLeaks, is pushing back against how she has been treated by military officials. In an emailed press release today, Manning announced that she has begun a hunger strike and will refuse to cut her hair in protest of "constant, deliberate and overzealous administrative scrutiny by prison officials" and a lengthy history of resistance to recognizing Manning's identity as a trans woman.

The press release is largely a statement written by Manning herself, and she makes the following demands:

"As of 12:01 am Central Daylight Time on September 9, 2016, and until I am given minimum standards of dignity, respect, and humanity, I shall -- refuse to voluntarily cut or shorten my hair in any way; consume any food or drink voluntarily, except for water and currently prescribed medications; and comply with all rules, regulations, laws, and orders that are not related to the two things I have mentioned."

Manning's statement is phrased as a plea for help, laying out why she has decided to protest her treatment in this way:

"I need help. I needed help earlier this year. I was driven to suicide by the lack of care for my gender dysphoria that I have been desperate for. I didn't get any. I still haven't gotten any. I needed help. Yet, instead I am now being punished for surviving my attempt. When I was a child, my father would beat me repeatedly for simply not being masculine enough. I was told to stop crying -- to "suck it up." But, I couldn't stop crying. The pain just got worse and worse. Until finally, I just couldn't take the pain anymore. ... I have asked for nothing but the dignity and respect--that I once actually believed would be provided for -- afforded to any living human being. I do not believe that this should be dependent on any arbitrary factors -- whether you are cisgender or transgender; service member or civilian, citizen or non-citizen. In response to virtually every request, I have been granted limited, if any, dignity and respect -- just more pain and anguish."

In July, Manning attempted to take her own life and was rushed to a hospital. Her legal team was kept in the dark about the situation for over a week. She is currently facing the possibility of indefinite solitary confinement for prison violations stemming from her suicide attempt. She previously faced a prison disciplinary board, also with the possibility of solitary confinement looming, for having expired toothpaste and unapproved LGBT-related reading material.

Manning has also repeated battled prison officials over her gender identity. It took nearly two years of pressure and legal filings for Manning to get access to medically necessary hormone therapy. It required an appellate court ruling in order for Manning to referred to by female pronouns in legal documents. She is currently suing prison officials to allow her adopt the military's female grooming standards, including growing her hair longer, but Army officials continue to resist those efforts.

Manning's mistreatment at the hands of military officials began before she was even convicted. While held in detention prior to her trial, Manning was placed in solitary confinement for 11 straight months, confined to a maximum-security cell for 23 hours a day. For the duration of that time, she was denied nearly all human contact, despite being accused of a nonviolent crime and being a model detainee with no administrative violations. At one juncture, she was improperly placed on suicide watch and denied clothing until her lawyers intervened.

The conditions of her pretrial confinement were so severe that they prompted an investigation from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, which concluded that Manning's extended period in solitary confinement amounted to "inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the convention against torture." A judge eventually ruled that Manning's treatment had been improper and ordered that 112 days be removed from her sentence because of this.

Manning insists that her protest is peaceful resistance and that any punishment she might receive from prison officials as a result would be "unnecessary and vindictive."

It also appears that Manning is prepared to die for her cause, as she concludes her statement:

"I will not physically resist or in any way harm another person. I have also submitted a "do not resuscitate" letter that is effective immediately. This shall include any attempts to forcibly cut or shorten my hair or to forcibly feed me by any medical or pseudo-medical means. Until I am shown dignity and respect as a human again, I shall endure this pain before me. I am prepared for this mentally and emotionally. I expect that this ordeal will last for a long time. Quite possibly until my permanent incapacitation or death. I am ready for this. I need help. Please, give me help."

Army officials did not respond to The Advocate's request for comment on Manning's protest.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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