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Monday, 26 August 2013 00:00

We need a mass campaign to free Chelsea Manning

by Lily Connor

The future Ms Manning faces as a trans woman in a military prison for men is unacceptable

For most of us the phrase "political prisoner" conjures up images of shady foreign governments plucking dissidents from their beds at night and unfortunate victims never to be heard from again.

As recent months have driven home, though, political imprisonment doesn't just happen to other people.

There are political prisoners in the United States, often convicted on the pretext of seemingly apolitical charges.

The arrest, unconscionable treatment and imprisonment of Private Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning represents the most public recent example of this type of political suppression.

Manning, who recently let the public know that she is a transgender woman, faces over a decade in a military prison before even being eligible for parole.

She published documentary evidence of US soldiers committing war crimes, revealing the footage through the website WikiLeaks.

But to date none of the perpetrators of those crimes have been tried or charged, or even detained.

Neither the military nor the government has investigated the content of the leaked footage.

Indeed, no national politician, military leader or even major media outlet is on the record calling for such an investigation.

According to President Barack Obama it was Manning who "broke the law."

Given the government's extraordinarily selective prosecution, the political motivations for targeting Manning seem undeniable.

Chelsea Manning stands as the latest and most publicised in a long line of US citizens imprisoned for supposedly threatening state interests.

Other famous examples have included American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier and Communist Party and Black Panther supporter Angela Davis, whose arrest sparked an international movement to Free Angela and All Political Prisoners.

Like her predecessors, Manning is being punished for struggling for a better world.

She herself has perhaps put it best in her letter to President Obama.

"If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.

"I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal."

Of course, there is one key difference between Manning and most political prisoners.

She is a trans woman seeking hormone therapy.

But an army representative states: "The army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder."

What are Manning's prospects in military prison then - not just as a prisoner of conscience, but also as a trans woman?

According to the documentary Cruel and Unusual, 20 per cent of US trans women are incarcerated at some point in their lives.

Most of these women, including Manning, are held in men's prisons.

As Manning attempts to begin transition, she is locked up in a men's military prison under the authority of a military and political administration that appears to consider her a traitor.

Given that the army has issued a blanket refusal to allow her the trans-specific medical care that she needs, she is unlikely to face very good treatment while in military custody.

Political imprisonment is nothing new.

However, each time the state commits it we must organise and resist.

We might recall, for instance, the Free Angela movement and how it galvanised countless people across the world against the racist and anti-communist detention of Angela Davis.

Many, of course, are working on behalf of Chelsea Manning, including supporting her appeal to the White House for clemency.

But as the capitalist state keeps suppressing those who threaten the status quo, we must create nothing short of a mass movement to free her, free all political prisoners and finally free all of humanity from oppression and exploitation.

  • This article appeared in People's World.

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