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Chelsea Manning faces punishment for suicide attempt, highlighting injustice of US prison system

While UK prosecutors tell Lauri Love he has nothing to fear, Chelsea Manning, already tortured, is punished for attempting to take her own life

The ALCU have announced that Chelsea Manning is facing disciplinary action at the military prison where she is serving her 35 year sentence. Incredibly, the military is seeking to punish Chelsea in connection with her attempt to take her own life on 5 July this year. We have written previously about how officials at Fort Leavenworth abused Chelsea’s rights by informing the media about her medical issues before her family, friends or legal team.

Chelsea has dictated details of her charge sheet to a supporter over the phone. If convicted of these administrative charges, Chelsea potentially faces penalties including indefinite solitary confinement and reclassification out of general population, with all of the social and communicative restrictions that implies. Her chances of being granted parole may also be impacted.

Furthermore, despite Chelsea’s suicide attempt, the prison has not appeared to make any improvement in her mental health treatment. As Fight for the Future note in a press release today,

At this time, Chelsea is not receiving adequate psychological counseling, as her course of treatment is constantly irregular and therefore less effective. Having uncertainty, from day to day, regarding what medical treatment she is even going to receive is stressful in itself, and is certainly not what someone recovering from a suicide attempt should be subjected to.

This is not the first time that Chelsea has been threatened with disciplinary action. Just last year, Chelsea faced potential indefinite solitary confinement for trivial issues including the possession of reading material and expired toothpaste. At that time, public pressure played a key role in ensuring Chelsea was not unfairly penalised.

The threat of solitary confinement, which successive UN Special Rapporteurs have said constitutes psychological torture, is particularly worrisome given Chelsea’s ongoing health issues, including gender dysphoria, depression and her previous horrific 9-month experience in solitary confinement at the Quantico Marine brig before her conviction. Even the military judge who sentenced Chelsea to 35 years imprisonment was obliged to rule that unlawful.

USA vs Love

Indefinite solitary confinement and the denial of access to proper physical and mental healthcare is exactly what Lauri Love can expect to face if he is extradited to the United States. Over the course of Love’s extradition hearing, which concluded this week, experts on the US prison and legal system, medical professionals and Lauri’s own father – who, as a prison chaplain, has direct professional experience of how standards differ in the UK – all testified to their concerns that Love, who has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and who endures crippling anxiety, would commit suicide in a US prison.

As Reverend Love testified, in US prisons, when a prisoner is or appears to be suicidal, the response is ‘suicide watch,’ which actually constitutes solitary confinement, not mental health care.

Prisoners are kept in isolation, which for many of them only exacerbates the problem. Joshua Dratel, who provided expert testimony on the US legal system at Lauri’s extradition hearing, said, “I have visited [clients] in the suicide area of the segregated area and they feel like they are in a zoo, being watched as a caged animal. It doesn’t do any good for their mental health.”

Witnesses agreed that Lauri Love would certainly be put in some form of segregation, or suicide watch, as soon as he found himself in an American prison. There is an additional aggravating factor, and another link to be drawn between Chelsea’s case and Love’s in that segregation appears to be the retaliatory treatment of choice for digital activists or otherwise political prisoners in the United States. In addition to Chelsea Manning’s abusive conditions, where psychiatrists’ recommendations to remove her from ‘prevention of injury’ watch at Quantico were consistently ignored, Jeremy Hammond, Barrett Brown, and environmental rights activist Tim DeChristopher, all drawing international attention for their imprisonment, have all been thrown in solitary confinement and had their voices silenced.

Thomas Kucharski, Professor of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an expert on how psychiatric treatment is actually conducted in US prisons, testified that he believed there would be “unusual administrative pressure” to keep Lauri on suicide watch because of the “international dimension and notoriety of the case.”

Chelsea Manning’s recent appeal filing describes a situation at Quantico where staff were acutely aware of Manning’s status as a “high-profile detainee who would bring media and other attention to Quantico brig and case” and used this as a rationale to ignore repeated professional advice that there was no medical need to keep Manning on prevention of injury watch.

Solitary confinement is finally becoming an issue of national concern in the United States. President Obama banned the practice for juveniles in federal prisons, affecting 10,000 prisoners, and the New York Civil Liberties Union scored a major settlement overhauling solitary in state prisons, freeing 1,100 prisoners from the treatment and setting a path for many more. We think it’s time European courts recognised this shift and reconsidered whether US prison conditions actually meet the international norms they’re meant to be held to. Lauri Love’s extradition ruling on 16 September could be the moment that line is drawn.

What you can do

Sending Chelsea a lettter is a really good way to show your support at the moment. She has already tweeted about the difference it makes to her.

Yan Zhu and the Freedom of the Press Foundation organised a postcard-writing effort at HOPE last weekend and there will be another event in London next Wednesday. We’d be more than happy to publicise others.

You can also donate to Chelsea’s defence fund; the Courage Foundation runs a channel that accepts donations tax free within the EU via Wau Holland.

Chelsea Manning’s experience shows exactly why we have to stop Lauri Love being extradited to the United States. If you’re in the UK, these are all points that are worth making to your MP.