Military Blasted for Violating Chelsea Manning's Right to Health Privacy
Earlier this week, unnamed U.S. officials reportedly told CNN and TMZ that jailed WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning had attempted suicide in prison. The story quickly captured media headlines, provoking alarm among Manning’s numerous global supporters.
But according to Manning’s legal support team, the anonymous remarks to media outlets are unverified and constitute a major breach of her most basic right to privacy and medical confidentiality.
“We’re shocked and outraged that an official at Leavenworth contacted the press with private confidential medical information about Chelsea Manning yet no one at the Army has given a shred of information to her legal team,” said Nancy Hollander, lead attorney on Manning’s defense team, in a statement released on July 6.
"We call on the Army to immediately connect Chelsea Manning to her lawyers and friends who care deeply about her well-being and are profoundly distressed by the complete lack of official communication about Chelsea's current situation," the statement continued.
According to Hollander’s latest comments, released July 8, what Manning’s legal team knows at this point is that, “The prison has notified us that Chelsea was hospitalized and remains under a doctor's care. At this time, her doctors are recommending against a call and we are respecting those recommendations but are in close touch with the facility and will continue to monitor her condition and hope to connect with her soon. To protect her privacy, that is all we can say at the moment. Please continue to send Chelsea your good thoughts and messages of support.”
Manning’s attorneys still have not made contact with her, according to Christina DiPasquale of Balestra Media, which is doing communications work for Manning’s legal support team.
Throughout her incarceration, Manning’s personal medical information has been highly politicized and public. After publicly coming out as a transgender woman in 2013, Manning has faced a constant battle to receive the most basic gender-affirming care in the face of repeated denials from the military.
“My status as a trans woman in a military prison places me in the unique position in which the extraordinary administration, regulation, surveillance and policing of gender norms, expectations, vices and virtues clash with my most fundamental understanding of my identity and how I intend to express myself as a female,” Manning wrote in September 2015.
Rev. Jason Lydon, national director for the LGBTQ prison abolition organization Black and Pink, told AlterNet, “While there are unique and particularly harmful ways that the prison treats Chelsea because of her gender, the practice of prison staff leaking information they decide they want to leak to media, while simultaneously refusing access to verifiable information to lawyers and other sources, is a systemic problem in prisons across the country.”
“While Chelsea is subjected to especially egregious harm due to her gender identity, as many other transgender women prisoners are, this type of inappropriate behavior from prison staff is commonplace,” Lydon added.
The Army public affairs officials who are handling media requests regarding Manning did not immediately return a request for comment.
Many consider Manning a hero for releasing to WikiLeaks key State Department Cables, the Afghanistan War Diary, Iraq War Logs, and Collateral Murder video exposing U.S. war crimes, killing of civilians and lies to the public. Her supporters have maintained that her stiff prison sentence and harsh detention constitute unfair retaliation. U.N. special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez concluded in 2012 that the United States is guilty of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” for holding her in solitary confinement for nearly a year.