on pardoning american heroes

This Op-Ed in the LA Times got me thinking a lot about something. I encourage you to read that first before reading on.

I think the author there covers the main reasons. Chief among them: Edward Snowden is a heterosexual man.

I fully support what both Snowden and Manning did, so it’s not really an issue of one being better than the other or more worthy of praise or pardon. I think they both should be pardoned. They both need to be pardoned.

The fact that Chelsea Manning is a transgender woman is definitely at the heart of this. While she was locked away for a few years pre-trial (something that is literally unconstitutional), the government worked very hard to smear her. They described her as having serious mental disorders.

As it turns out, her mental disorder can best be described as being transgender.

This matters a great deal for a few reasons.

First, the government outed her as transgender.

Second, they used this as a framework to explain that her motives were petty defiance stemming from her mental instability.

Third, and perhaps worst of all, this became the public narrative surrounding Chelsea Manning.

Fourth, Chelsea was not allowed to speak on any of this. She was often held in solitary confinement (torture) or was denied access to journalists.

She had to watch from prison (where she was being held without charge for well over the allotted 120 days, which is unconstitutional) as pundits picked apart her life. From her sexuality to her alleged motives.

It was, for these reasons, that she faced the trial as Bradley Manning. She and her lawyers decided they did not want the government to use her gender identity against her.

The fact that it’s even possible to smear someone based on their gender is astounding. The public’s discomfort with transgenders is well known. We’ve seen actual laws come into place regarding where they are allowed to use the public restroom.

So maybe it isn’t surprising that the US government used this as a tactic to attack her character. Maybe it’s unsurprising that it worked. But that doesn’t make it any less disgusting.

But let’s talk about the mechanics of a Hollywood biopic. Because, really, that’s what’s shining a light on Edward Snowden at the moment. But even before that, there was the documentary CitizenFour, which is an amazing film that I highly recommend.

Why was Chelsea Manning treated differently?

There are a few obvious reasons. For one thing, she made no grand escape. Chelsea Manning leaked information to Wikileaks, who then worked with several news organizations to release the information. It should be noted that Manning first reached out to news organizations. She wanted to disclose the information right to journalists.

She was ignored.

So she went to Wikileaks.

This isn’t exactly riveting screentime. Sure, they could make it that way, but Manning didn’t hack through government databases. She took readily available information and secretly sent it to Wikileaks, who then, in conjunction with places like the New York Times, released it to the public.

Once she was imprisoned, Chelsea Manning faced extensive cruel and unusual punishment for years before her trial. That’s not even an exaggeration.

Solitary confinement for months at a time. Sometimes she was stripped naked and left naked in her cell.

Human Rights organizations, world leaders, activists, and academics have written letters, pleaded, and demanded that she receive better treatment, but this was largely ignored.

Compare that to Snowden’s story.

Snowden learned an important lesson from previous US whistleblowers. From Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, he learned that he couldn’t just go to his superiors to let them know that what the NSA was doing was unconstitutional and illegal. From Chelsea Manning he learned that he had to be out of reach before he disclosed the information or he would sit in prison for years. Potentially the rest of his life.

So he made his escape.

I haven’t seen the film yet, but I understand it has the feel of a spy thriller. And it kind of sounds that way!

Maverick government employee steals secrets, escapes abroad, then releases secrets to journalists, and finally puts his own name on those documents, in order to take control of the narrative before the US government could smear him, the way it smeared Manning.

I think it’s true that we wouldn’t have Snowden without Manning. That Manning’s actions seem daring and thrilling makes it all the more appealing to a mass audience. Add to that a love interest, in Snowden’s long time girlfriend, and the fact that Snowden has had the freedom to speak extensively about what he did, why he did it, how he did it, and has been able to be a regular commentator about privacy, national security, and human rights for years since his disclosure.

To put it simply, Snowden became a household name. Even people who don’t follow politics are aware of him. Some think he’s a traitor while others a hero, and still others are wholly indifferent to him as a person. But there was a built in audience for him. An audience that he is allowed to cultivate by virtue of not being in prison.

Add to that the documentary, which is thrilling and amazing and informative, and you have an easy road to make him a movie with a certain level of mass appeal, or at least mass interest.

But when I say Chelsea Manning, most people need to wikipedia her name to even know who I’m talking about. Even people who have followed Snowden’s disclosures may be unaware of who Chelsea Manning is and what she did.

Being imprisoned took the narrative out of her hands and into the hands of her captors. More than that, the collaboration of the pundit class with our military’s agenda makes this kind of story easy to ignore and hide from the general public.

So Chelsea Manning was ignored and continues to largely be ignored.

How do you film the last six years of her life?

One prison cell after another. Solitary confinement. Her trial, which was a military tribunal so no reporters were allowed to even take notes, seriously hampering any kind of transparency. In fact, many have described it as a kangaroo court. To many, including Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, it appeared that Assange was being tried in absentia along with Manning.

Without evidence–or rather, refusing to allow evidence to the contrary–they described Manning’s disclosures as aiding the enemy and seriously endangering the lives of US soldiers and intelligence officers.

None of which was proved because none of that was true. In fact, just the opposite. She made it safer for everyone by exposing US war crimes.

After her trial, she came out as transgender, was imprisoned in an all male prison. She had to petition and fight to receive gender transition medication, which they outright refused at first. For the last three years, Manning has been refused to be moved to a female prison. Refused to grow her hair out. Refused, at times, access to her medication and to be able to undergo gender affirming surgery. This led to her attempting to commit suicide, which she’s facing even more charges for.

This isn’t exactly a sexy narrative to play out on screens across america. A nation still actively at war in the Middle East. Now in even more countries than when Manning disclosed our war crimes. A public that believes we should continue these wars. A government that plans on expanding them still further.

To me, these are the reasons there has been no huge movement to grant Chelsea Manning a pardon.

  1. She’s a transgender female.
  2. Lack of visibility
  3. Her disclosures are even more damning to the US

My hope is that Snowden receives his pardon. But my greatest hope would be that Chelsea Manning also receives a pardon. Her plight is far greater than Snowden’s and she faces far more barriers to freedom.

If President Obama pardoned both, it would do a lot to lessen the great damage he has done to freedom of the press.

Sign the petition to free Edward Snowden.

Sign the petition to free Chelsea Manning.

chelsea manning approved for gender transition surgery

It’s just been announced that the US government is allowing Chelsea Manning to undergo her gender transition surgery!

“I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing,” Manning said in a statement released by Chase Strangio, her ACLU attorney. “I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted — for them to let me be me.”

This ends her hunger strike that she began on September 9th. It turns out my previous post about their refusal to give her medical treatment came just as change was happening.

So that’s great news.

Even if you think Chelsea Manning is a traitor–an absurd position to take–you should be celebrating this.

 

chelsea manning on hunger strike

Chelsea Manning has gone on hunger strike as protest against the dehumanising treatment she has received from the US government.

Those who have kept up with journey from whistleblower to indefinitely detained prisoner to actual prisoner are not surprised by this. Since being detained, she has faced inhuman conditions on numerous occasions, including excessive solitary confinement, where she was often left naked as well.

Our government recently pushed her to attempting suicide, which may result in solitary confinement and extending her sentence.

Why is she facing such terrible treatment?

For the crime of transitioning. She was born Bradley Manning and lived as a male until she was tried and found guilty of being a whistleblower by the US government. Since then she has attempted to transition, which was first blocked and refused by the US.

I won’t recap everything here. If you’ve been coming to this blog, you’ve probably seen me talking about her. I’ve been following her since 2011, when I discovered who she was and what was being done to her by the US government.

She awakened me politically. She made me take an active and critical look at my country and what we do around the world.

It should maybe be noted that I’ve donated hundreds of dollars to her defense fund. It’s not enough, but it’s all I can do.

She’s a hero. Her actions saved countless lives, while endangering no one, despite how she’s been smeared. She is a hero and she is facing extremely punitive treatment for showing that the US government was engaging in war crimes in the middle east.

I am not alone in my support of her. Countless organisations have pressured and criticised the US in their treatment of her and handling of her case.

She released this statement, which outlines why she is going on hunger strike, and what she hopes to achieve.

Quote from the statement:

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.

She continues:

Today, I have decided that I am no longer going to be bullied by this prison—or by anyone within the U.S. government. 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.

I am no longer asking. Now, I am demanding. 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.

This is a peaceful act. I intend to keep it as peaceful and non-violent, on my end, as possible. Any physical harm that should come to me at the hands of military or civilian staff will be unnecessary and vindictive. 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.

And this from the ACLU:

I learned late last night that Chelsea has begun a hunger strike today in protest of the ongoing denial of her medically necessary health care and the relentless scrutiny and abuses she has experienced in the years since her arrest. I am deeply saddened and very concerned for Chelsea’s well-being. The government has long been aware of her medical needs and continues to ignore them. When we filed our initial case against the Department of Defense in September of 2014 over Chelsea’s treatment related to her gender dysphoria, we made very clear that the lack of treatment put her at very serious risk of harm. They have known this for years. We are still in litigation over her treatment and are optimistic that justice will ultimately prevail but the government need not wait to be ordered to do the right thing and we hope they act promptly to treat Chelsea consistent with their constitutional obligations.
Whether you think she deserves to be in prison or not is not the issue. It happens to be much simpler.
If you believe Chelsea Manning should be allowed to peacefully transition and express her true self, please consider donating to the Chelsea Manning Defense Fund.
She needs our help. Not just monetarily, but emotionally. So if money seems out of the question, consider writing her.