Chelsea Manning could face indefinite solitary confinement for possession of books and toothpaste

Chelsea Manning, currently serving a 35 year prison sentence for leaking classified information, could face indefinite solitary confinement — which is increasingly viewed as a form of torture —  for too much reading material and an expired tube of toothpaste, the Guardian reports:

The army private is reportedly accused of having showed “disrespect”; of having displayed “disorderly conduct” by sweeping food onto the floor during dinner chow; of having kept “prohibited property” – that is books and magazines – in her cell; and of having committing “medicine misuse”, referring to the tube of toothpaste, according to Manning’s supporters…

…The fourth charge, “medicine misuse”, follows an inspection of Manning’s cell on 9 July during which a tube of anti-cavity toothpaste was found. The prison authorities noted that Manning was entitled to have the toothpaste in her cell, but is penalizing her because it was “past its expiration date of 9 April 2015”.

The prohibited property charge stems from Manning possessing what appears to be too much reading material in her cell. Authorities have confiscated Malala Yousafzi’s memoir, the novel A Safe Girl to Love, a copy of Out Magazine, the Caitlyn Jenner issue of Vanity Fair and the issue of Cosmopolitan that includes an interview with Manning, among other books and magazines. They have also confiscated the US Senate torture report. Individually, it is unclear as to why any of these would be prohibited; the torture report — which would seem to be the first on that list that the authorities would want to confiscate — is public and widely available.

Chelsea Manning, via Wikimedia Commons

Chelsea Manning, via Wikimedia Commons

It shouldn’t even warrant mentioning how absurd the “medicine misuse” charge is. First off, does toothpaste really expire? And if it does, wouldn’t it be the responsibility of the prison to make sure Manning has not-expired toothpaste? And if they didn’t, could that possibly be because they, too, don’t take the expiration dates on toothpaste all that seriously? And in what world does toothpaste count as medicine?

None of the reading material in Manning’s cell is a threat to anyone, and no one is claiming that Manning had made any attempt to conceal any of it. That it is now considered contraband is arbitrary, to say the least. That these arbitrary charges carry a maximum penalty of indefinite solitary confinement is cruel and unusual, to say the least.

As Chase Strangio, a staff attorney for the ACLU who is handling Manning’s dispute with the military over her health treatment as a woman, told the Guardian, there are doubts as to whether another inmate with a less-well-known name would be facing this kind of discipline, saying, “Chelsea has a growing voice in the public discussion and it would not surprise me were these charges connected to who she is.”

Manning’s supporters have started a petition for the charges to be dropped, or that her disciplinary hearing, scheduled for August 18th, be made open to the public. You can sign the petition here.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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