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Chelsea Manning - spring 2019
Chelsea wears trench dress with bolero Givenchy, Dr. Martens boots Chelsea’s ownPhotography Mark Peckmezian, Styling Emma Wyman

Chelsea Manning supporters condemn her time in solitary confinement

The whistleblower and activist is being kept in isolation for 22 hours a day

Chelsea Manning – the activist, whistleblower, and advocate for prisoners’ rights – was jailed earlier this month for contempt of court, after she refused to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning has spent more than two weeks in solitary confinement, and her supporters are demanding she is released.

According to those close to her, she is spending up to 22 hours a day in isolation at the Northern Virginia prison.

A statement from a committee of supporters at Chelsea Resists said: “We condemn the solitary confinement that Chelsea Manning has been subjected to during her incarceration at William G Truesdale adult detention center.”

The group claims: “Chelsea can’t be out of her cell while any other prisoners are out, so she cannot talk to other people, or visit the law library, and has no access to books or reading material. She has not been outside for 16 days. She is permitted to make phone calls and move about outside her cell between 1 and 3am.

“The jail says keeping ‘high-profile’ prisoners in adseg is policy for the protection of all prisoners, but there is no reason to believe jail officials view Chelsea as either a target or a risk. If Truesdale wants to prioritise Chelsea’s health and welfare, as they consistently claim, then they should make sure she is able to have contact with other people in the jail.”

Manning was jailed in early March, after she refused to testify in a case investigating Wikileaks. Manning was asked to provide information about the classified US documents she sent to the transparency organisation back in 2010, when she was an intelligence analyst in the army. Manning asserted that she would not testify, as she had already shared everything she knew. 

Grand juries are used to establish “probable cause” that a felony offense has been committed and whether charges can be brought. This happens without a judge or defense attorney present. According to critics of the process, it is eschewed to favour indictment of the individual or group accused of a crime.

People have historically resisted engaging with a grand jury because of the secrecy that surrounds the process and the power that they have without many checks and balances. The Grand Jury Resistance Project, a coalition of lawyers, activists, and individuals “targeted by government harassment”, has highlighted that grand juries have been used by the FBI and police investigations against social justice movements and activists, from the McCarthy era to anti-war and black liberation movements.

Manning served seven years of a 35-year sentence for leaking state secrets, after previous president Barack Obama granted her clemency in 2017. 

The local authorities have rejected supporters’ claims about Manning’s current state. Sheriff of the city of Alexandria Dana Lawhorne said accusations were “not accurate or fair”.

Multiple human rights organisations, as well as advocates for the United Nations, agree that solitary confinement is akin to torture. Many call for the practice to be banned.

“I’ve been in an occupied military situation, you know, I’ve been an occupying power in a combat zone, and when I see the police force I see the same things, the same mentality, the same sort of wartime footing among the police in certain communities. It’s the same thing,” Manning told Dazed during her recent guest edit of Dazed’s Infinite Identities issue.

Supporters of Manning are currently crowdfunding for legal funds to help her resist.