17 December 2014: Grosvenor Square
Chelsea Manning’s 27th birthday, the fifth she has spent in prison for telling the truth, was marked in a number of cities around the world including London and Dublin. In London, as well as the Noise Demo at the US Embassy, there was a silent vigil on the steps of St. Martin-in-the-Fields earlier in the day.
Members of the Solidarity Collective along with WISE Up Action and the Manning Family Fund organised a Noise Demo outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London on the evening of Chelsea Manning’s birthday. As well as the Noise Demo, there was a Vigil on the steps of St. Martin-in-the-Fields earlier in the day.
A new 32-foot banner (pictured above) calling for Manning’s freedom and an end to torture was made specially for the Embassy demo, along with a number of other new banners and posters including this one (pictured below), lovingly decorated by Alma, age 4.
In a report about the demo on indymedia, the Solidarity Collective wrote:
Manning has been made an example of. She has been imprisoned as a warning to others who may think of daring to tell the truth. Governments propagate the illusion of an open society with tools such as whistle-blowing laws and processes. Manning tried to use internal reporting processes to alert her superiors to injustices and was told to shut up and put up. The New York Times and Washington Post both ignored her. WikiLeaks stepped up to the mark and as a result they have been attacked by governments on and off line, had their funding streams cut and Julian Assange, editor-in-chief, has been trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy for the past two years in fear for his liberty from the land of the free.
Focus on Torture
Chelsea Manning’s case is inextricably linked with the CIA torture scandal, given that she both exposed torture (including CIA torture) and was herself subjected to torture post-arrest and pre-trial in Kuwait and later Quantico. Alexa O’Brien, the independent journalist who covered the Manning trial and all pre-trial hearings was speaking at the Parliament of Catalonia last week about the mistreatment Manning suffered in Quantico. Watch her speech on YouTube or for more detail, read this indymedia feature on Manning’s ‘pretrial punishment’ hearing.
The importance of understanding the torture suffered by Chelsea Manning in the context of widespread CIA torture was discussed this week by a number of news outlets, including on the David Pakman show.
Imprisoning whistleblowers ends up affecting freedom of expression and transparency.
Chelsea was 11 months in isolation, a regime which itself constitutes a form of torture, and that the US government uses much more than it should. Isolation can mentally and physically damage a person. At that time she was also treated as if she was at risk of suicide, despite their own psychologists arguing that was not the case. But that was the pretext to remove everything she had. This in itself is cruel. What can a human being do all day with nothing? In addition, she was forced to be naked for a long time, a humiliating treatment. There is nothing that justifies it.
It’s sure to have left some mark, though she has been very brave. And there was no reason for such degrading treatment. Never really is.
One of the most incredible situations was when Chelsea told the social worker who visited her that if she wanted to commit suicide she could have done it with some of the objects she had: the elastic in the waste-band of her underwear, with her flip-flops etc. So they took everything she had. Later she discovered that it was that same social worker who signed the document that kept her under the suicide risk regime.
She had to spend all day standing, sometimes naked, unable to even lean against the wall. She could not exercise, or read, because if she got a book and at one point looked up they said, “oh, you’ve finished reading” and took it off her. She had nothing to do, nothing to think about, and was just going crazy with it.
Another US whistleblower Edward Snowden, along with many others, sent Birthday Messages. Snowden’s greeting praises Chelsea Manning for inspiring public demands for accountability in relation to torture and war crimes:
As a result of your courageous act, the American people are more informed about the workings of our government as it positions itself for endless war. You have inspired an angry public to demand a government that is accountable for its perpetration of torture and other war crimes, for the true costs of its wars, and for conspiring in corruption around the world.
A strong visible and audible presence at the Embassy
Outside the US Embassy, around 20 people put up banners along the hedge opposite, handed out flyers and postcards to passers by, played a soundtrack including Chelsea Manning’s statement recorded in court and some of the Collateral Murder audio, shared their thoughts and sang Happy Birthday to Chelsea.
Those present called for Chelsea Manning’s release, spoke of her courage in blowing the whistle on war crimes, torture and other atrocities carried out in the name of the ‘War on Terror’, condemned her torture at the hands of the US while in pre-trial detention, listed other birthday events being organised around the world and quoted Chelsea’s relatives who have recently spoken out about her torture in the wake of the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture.
Quotes from the Family
Chelsea’s aunt, Sharon Staples:
What really hurt me was the treatment Chelsea received in Quantico two years before the trial: stripped naked, kept in solitary confinement, made to stand in a corner, everything taken away.
Chelsea has been punished for releasing information [to WikiLeaks] , but whatever happened to the people responsible, the people in that helicopter gunship for instance – were they punished? That always plays heavily on my mind.
Chelsea’s Mum, Susan Manning:
Chelsea will be 27 years old on 17 December and this will be the fifth birthday she’s spent in prison. It breaks my heart to think of her missing out on her freedom, all because she told the truth instead of covering it up. Chelsea was brought up to be truthful.
When she was small her grandmother lived with us and she always said to the children: ‘If you can’t tell the truth, don’t bother speaking.’
Chelsea Manning: “Life is Precious”
When Chelsea Manning saw the terrible impact of the ‘War on Terror’, she spoke out and told the truth. In a recent interview with Amnesty International, she has explained why she thinks it was worth the risks of doing so:
I would point out that life is precious. In Iraq in 2009-10, life felt very cheap. It became overwhelming to see the sheer number of people suffering and dying, and the learned indifference to it by everybody around me, including the Iraqis themselves. That really changed my perspective on my life, and made me realize that speaking out about injustices is worth the risk. Second, in your life, you are rarely given the chance to really make a difference. Every now and then you do come across a significant choice. Do you really want to find yourself asking whether you could have done more, 10-20 years later? These are the kinds of questions I didn’t want to haunt me.
We are proud to be associated with the worldwide solidarity efforts for Chelsea Manning and hope that many others in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England will take action in one of the ways suggested here or take to the streets to demand her freedom and an end to torture.
Free Chelsea Manning!
End All Torture!
End the Persecution of Whistleblowers Everywhere!