Snowden Advocacy & Manning Isolation Underscore Whistleblower Risks

Bradley Manning Trial
Sketch of Chelsea Manning Trial Courtesy of Deb Van Poolen, (www.debvanpoolen.com)

Although exiled in Russia, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and a team of supporters have been vigorously advocating for a presidential pardon under the premise that his leaks have led to surveillance reforms and sparked important discussions about government intrusion.

At the same time, another whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, remains incarcerated in federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas after she was convicted of leaking classified documents related to the Afghan and Iraq war. This week, she was ordered to serve 14 days in solitary confinement related to a suicide attempt this summer.

Snowden may very well be the most recognized whistleblower in history given 2014’s Oscar-winning documentary Citzenfour, the recently released biopic Snowden by Oliver Stone, and his larger-than-life persona since exposing the United State’s global mass surveillance.

By being granted temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden has thus far escaped prosecution, unlike Manning—yet both plights underscore the inherent risks of sounding the whistle on perceived government abuses in the United States.

Related: The Controversial Truth Behind America’s Never-Ending War

Manning was convicted more than two years ago under the Espionage Act—a World War I-era law intended to prosecute spies—for passing along 700,000 emails to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks while a private in the US Army. The cache also included footage from an US Apache helicopter that documented American service members gunning down two journalists mistaken for enemy combatants. Manning, prosecuted at the time as Bradley Manning, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Immediately afterward, Manning revealed that she identified as a woman and expressed a desire to undergo gender reassignment surgery. After a lengthy battle with military officials and a five-day hunger strike, the military in September approved the operation.

But Manning’s situation turned grave earlier this year when she attempted suicide. Manning was notified of potential disciplinary actions for the suicide attempt, and the prison followed through Thursday, when a three-member disciplinary board found her guilty of “conduct which threatens”—related to the suicide attempt—and having “prohibited property” for being found with an unmarked copy of a book about the hacking collective Anonymous.

It took the board 30 minutes to issue its decision following a four-hour hearing in which Manning was prohibited from having a lawyer present.

Manning will first serve seven days of solitary confinement at an undetermined date. The remainder of the sentence will only be served if Manning is found guilty of other discretions in the future.

Manning has 15 days to appeal.

In a statement attributed to Manning, she said: “I am feeling hurt. I am feeling lonely. I am embarrassed by the decision. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Manning appeared to be in higher spirits earlier this month when her gender reassignment surgery was approved.

“This is all I wanted—for them to let me be me,” she said at the time.

Although Manning has the permission from the military to undergo the operation, she is still obligated to follow male hair length standards enforced by the prison.

Manning’s psychologist recommended the surgery this past April. Her suicide attempt came in July and then she commenced a hunger strike on Sept. 9.

Next for her is solitary confinement—which the United Nations’ expert on torture in 2011 said should be banned in all countries because “severe mental pain or suffering” could amount to “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” when utilized.

Manning’s lawyers in May officially appealed her 35-year sentence, calling her punishment “grossly unfair and unprecedented.”

So, as human rights groups, such as the ACLU, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and noted celebrities and writers advocate for Snowden’s pardon, Manning will soon be moved to a solitary confinement cell.

(Featured photo: Sketch of then-Pfc. Bradley Manning’s trial Courtesy of Deb Van Poolen)