Update (13 March 2020): On Thursday afternoon, a US judge ordered the immediate release of Chelsea Manning from an Alexandria jail after her third attempted suicide. Manning was supposed to testify in court on Friday, but the judge says that it is no longer necessary.
(This story was originally published on Thursday 12th March 2020)
This news comes two days shy of a hearing to rule on dismissing civil contempt sanctions against Manning. The sanctions came after Manning refused to testify in May 2019 in front of a grand jury investigating. Manning was being investigated for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in 2010.
Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne confirmed the suicide attempt in a statement to Refinery29, saying, “There was an incident at approximately 12:11pm today at the Alexandria Adult Detention Centre involving inmate Chelsea Manning."
Manning served seven years in prison on these charges before President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017. Obama's decision came after two attempted suicides by Manning in years prior, which many attribute to the fact that Manning was a transgender woman being held at a men's prison. Although Manning is no longer in a men's facility, she is being held in prison after her 2017 release for refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena.
“Each person must make the world we want to live in around us where we stand… I object to the use of grand juries as tools to tear apart vulnerable communities. I object to this grand jury in particular as an effort to frighten journalists and publishers, who serve a crucial public good. I have had these values since I was a child, and I’ve had years of confinement to reflect on them. For much of that time, I depended for survival on my values, my decisions, and my conscience. I will not abandon them now.”
Over the years since Manning first entered the public eye as an Army intelligence analyst and Iraq War veteran, she’s become a significant figure and advocate, notably on trans rights. She ran for Senate in 2018 in her home district in Maryland and is continuing to fight for transgender rights behind bars.
One in six trans Americans — and one in two black trans Americans — have been to prison, according to Lambda Legal. Incarcerated trans people face higher levels of violence, and experience higher rates of rape and sexual assault. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans people are “ten times as likely to be sexually assaulted by their fellow inmates and five times as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff.”
Trans women are often refused gender-affirming care while incarcerated or are placed in solitary confinement, which happened to Manning several times while previously imprisoned, leading to suicide attempts. In June 2019, 27-year-old Layleen Polanco was found dead in solitary confinement on Rikers Island after being unable to meet $500 (£396) bail, sparking community outrage. The same month, Johana Medina Leon, an asylum seeker from El Salvador, died in ICE detention.
Although Manning continues to face life-threatening circumstances while imprisoned, Sheriff Lawhorne told Refinery29 that she is currently alive and stable. "It was handled appropriately by our professional staff and Ms Manning is safe,” she said.