Opinion: Free Chelsea Manning!

A policeman directs a van with a 'Free Speech' placard and the images of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning on its side, near the Ecuadorian Embassy, in London, Friday, April 5, 2019. Assange has been hold out since in the embassy since 2012. A senior Ecuadorian official said no decision has been made to expel Julian Assange from the country's London embassy despite tweets from Wikileaks that sources had told it he could be kicked out within "hours to days" on Friday. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

In February 2010, WikiLeaks began to published leaked material from the US military, including video of airstrikes in Baghdad, files from Guantanamo Bay and over 700,000 diplomatic cables and Army reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The leaked material detailed the deaths of thousands of civilians, the murders of reporters and exposed the extent of US war crimes in the Middle East. Shortly after the material began being released to the press, US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was arrested and identified as the source of the leaks.

After her arrest, Chelsea was detained at Quantico where she was kept in solitary confinement, sleep deprived and denied access to blankets, a pillow or clothes. On July 30, 2013, Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. After her incarceration she publicly came out as transgender and began to request access to hormone replacement therapy. It took the government two years to finally provide her with hormones. While in prison she was subjected to abuse by prison authorities, solitary confinement and denial of medical services. Chelsea became a symbol of perseverance and resistance against the abuses of the United States government.

In 2017, after seven years in prison and numerous appeals for release, Barack Obama commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence. On May 17, Chelsea was released from Fort Leavenworth detention center after serving the longest sentence for a whistleblower in US history. Her commutation in the final days of Obama's presidency marked a strange bookend for an administration that spent years prosecuting whistleblowers and leakers.

Once freed, Chelsea continued her advocacy against the US surveillance and for trans rights and the rights of all of America's most marginalized. She has been on speaking tours, made a bid for US Senate and even appeared on a Donkey Kong 64 charity stream.

Then, in early March 2019, Chelsea Manning was called before a grand jury to yet again testify on her disclosures to WikiLeaks. Grand juries are frequently used as politically motivated dragnets in order to crack down on activists and dissidents. Chelsea refused to participate in the grand jury's questioning, stating that she stands by her answers from her extensive 2013 court-martial. Exercising her First, Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights, Chelsea elected to stand by her principles with the full knowledge that her defiance would likely result in her being held in contempt of court.

After making her stand, a judge ordered Chelsea to be incarcerated until she either agrees to testify or until the grand jury dissolves. She was placed in solitary confinement for 28 days, a punishment which constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and even torture by UN observers. On April 4, Chelsea was released from solitary confinement into the general population, but she still remains incarcerated today. It has been over a month, and Chelsea Manning is still being held without due process over her refusal to participate in the secretive grand jury process.

In America, we like to pride ourselves as a country with expansive civil and political rights; however, the treatment of Manning exemplifies the willingness of the United States to suppress dissidents and political expression. Chelsea is just one of the many thousands of victims of the US police state. Others include Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier and Simón Trinidad, as well as members of the Black Panther Party and Standing Rock resisters, those being held at Guantanamo Bay and at ICE detention centers and the countless victims of mass incarceration throughout the US. In standing with Chelsea, we must stand with all political prisoners in the United States.

Few women in America have faced as much negative treatment from the media and from the US government as Chelsea Manning. Her ability to persist and her willingness to stand by her principles despite constant abuse make her an inspiration. Chelsea must be released immediately. Her continued incarceration is an affront to the ideals of freedom and liberty and evidence of a state that does not value the freedom of information and transparency. Free Chelsea Manning!


Zoey Turturino is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at zoey.turturino@uconn.edu.