Interview (1) with Nancy Hollander, Chelsea’s Appeal Lawyer 8th Dec 2014

Below is an adapted translation of a translated article (couldn’t find the original which I imagine was in Spanish) – an interview conducted by Spain’s ’20 Minutes’ – which appeared on 8th Dec at ‘News Directory’ here, when Nancy Hollander visited Spain with Amnesty International in support of both Chelsea Manning and her Guantanamo clients.

You can read another interview with Nancy Hollander, published on 10th Dec 2014 in Spain here

Amnesty International in Spain are having a particular drive to raise awareness of Chelsea’s case at the moment (Dec 2014); they have also arranged a speaking tour with Alexa O’Brien.

Oh, and, Chelsea urgently needs funds for the work being done on those appeals. Donate here! Please!

“Governments have everything ready to incriminate those who unveil their bad practices

Chelsea nancy hollander

Nancy Hollander is the lawyer who has been hired by Chelsea Manning, the US soldier who leaked 700,000 classified documents to Wikileaks, to appeal the government’s 35 year prison sentence.  Ms Hollander has come to Spain for a few days to promote Amnesty International’s campaign which, on the occasion of Human Rights Day – 10th Dec – calls for support (through letters, signatures, emails, tweets and photos) for twelve people whose human rights have been violated, one of which is Manning.

20minutes had the opportunity to talk to Nancy Hollander on Friday.

Can you update us on the case of the soldier, Manning?

There are two cases going on right now. In mine we are working to appeal the sentence. We are preparing our arguments to request clemency.

But there is a second case, lead by other lawyers, which is calling for the army to provide necessary medical care for Chelsea’s ‘gender dysphoria’ (Chelsea Manning was born male and named Bradley Manning, but a few months ago requested sex change).

You aim to challenge the 35 year prison sentence? 

That’s the plan. Exactly. We have no way of knowing what they will say in court. I never play with predictions. But I know that we will provide any argument that helps to challenge the conviction because the penalty was excessive.

To what extent will the Amnesty International letter writing campaign help your client?

Chelsea is lucky to be one of 12 selected for this year’s Day of Human Rights. The letters you write directly to Chelsea are very important because they lift her spirits; it’s an encouragement to know that there are thousands of people worldwide, also in Spain, who remember her and support her. And then also helpful are the letters sent directly to President Obama to request a pardon for her.

The 12 people AI have selected have in common that they have been tortured. What abuse did Manning suffer and how it is now? 

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.

About the current situation, I must say that once she was moved to new headquarters, the situation changed considerably. She herself was surprised because the transfer was done without shackles, when in the former prison she had to wear them whenever she was moved out of her cell. The conditions are better. She is no longer in isolation, there are more prisoners. There is work in this prison and she can do physical exercise and the circumstances are therefore better for one’s mental health.

But is it (not?) surprising that such a harsh sentence would be given to a whistleblower who revealed the illegal practices of the US Government US in Iraq and Afghanistan? 

Chelsea was convicted under the Espionage Act passed in 1917. Probably then it was a pretty bad law, but today it’s even worse. And why? Because it makes no distinction between providing information that helps the enemy and providing information of public interest. That means any person, including a journalist, may be charged for exposing information that is of public interest. In my view, the government is saying ‘look what can happen to you if you put the government in an embarrassing situation’.

And in the end, imprisoning whistleblowers ends up affecting freedom of expression and transparency.

Let’s change the focus, let’s look at the crisis in policing in the US. In the case of Arizona, Ferguson and New York, where officers who kill unarmed black men are not indicted. What is happening? Do the police have carte blanche?

The US renders people to secret prisons to be tortured, keeps Guantanamo open, and has officers who kill human beings with impunity.  

In the US there is a huge problem with the police. Just in my city, Albuquerque, in the last two years the police have killed 25 people. Most were not armed. The last was a homeless man and the police video shows him being beaten even as he was collecting his belongings to leave. The images went viral, there were demonstrations … The Ministry of Justice is investigating. But this morning (Friday) I read that another policeman killed a 12 year old boy in Cleveland.

Several factors weigh in this -racism, but also the militarization of the police. The militarization phenomenon started a few years ago and now we see the results. After the war in Iraq, the Defense Ministry saw that they had old equipment, wanted new, and donated the old to various police departments. If you give war toys to some people, they will act as warriors. Now all cities have riot vans with camouflage suits and have begun to develop a wartime mentality and raise the level of their response.

On top of this we have the problem of the Grand Jury, which does not indict the abuses. It is rare that no charges are brought against someone when a case goes to the Grand Jury. That charges have not been brought against these police is simply because they are police.

Obama announced, among other measures, camcorders on uniforms. But if the images of the attacks go viral and nothing changes…..? 

The problem of police abuse will not end through surveillance; it is too entrenched, although I am in favour of camcorders.

An Amnesty report says that a third of the world’s population justifies police torture for security reasons. The percentage is lower in Spain (18%), but much higher in the US (45%), almost half of the population. 

Americans are very fearful. There has been discussion on why this is. Some say it is because of the information they get from the media, others say that the majority of citizens are not as politically sophisticated as the Europeans, not so aware nowadays, and this gives them a more defensive attitude. I think the solutions to reducing these percentages will come through education and awareness. And in remedies for poverty.

I have read the reflection of a US university professor, Eric Posner, who claims that the Western democracies, great bastions of human rights, are losing their grip on their values internally.

Governments will always have a desire to control. Of course the US is suspending its values in terms of Human Rights. It is a country that has recently tortured people in an absolutely atrocious manner. I never thought that America was capable of such acts.

I do not really know the situation in European countries, but I can say that when the US suspends human rights it’s not good for the world; when the country in the world which is regarded as the guarantor of human rights renders people to secret prisons to be tortured, keeps Guantanamo open, and has police who kill people with impunity.  I frankly do not see that this is improving.

In Spain it is the social movements, as well as immigrants, that most denounce abuses and state repression. In fact, there is a social campaign at the moment against a new law, known as ‘gag law’ because of the criminalisation of protest. Are social movements the ‘new terrorism’?

Many European countries that were involved with the US in recent wars have absorbed a perception of fear that paralyses. Spain, with its peculiarities, too. I think the recent wars have made the states more security conscious and more controlling than they were before. And I think we’re losing independent journalists worldwide. And we have to have independent journalists to protect us. Because governments will always have a desire for control.

That brings us back to Manning, Wikileaks, and Snowden. What message does it convey that those who dare to tell state secrets in the public interest are prisoners, whether in prisons or embassies?

The message of governments is clear: ‘beware if you are going to put governments in an embarrassing situation’. Snowden has already said he will not return to the US for fear of ending up like Chelsea. The lesson is that all measures will be taken to incriminate any complainant who reveals wrongdoing by a government in the media, and that includes journalists.

NB More quotes from Nancy Hollander on Chelsea’s case in this Sputnik piece about Chelsea’s birthday – 17th Dec 2014

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