Queer Friends of Chelsea Manning at DIY Cultures 2016

Oliver Shykles of Queer Friends of Chelsea Manning joined Naomi Colvin of Courage Foundation this weekend in London at the ‘Hackers are Whistleblowers Too’ event which formed part of DIY Cultures 2016.

Oliver gave an update on Chelsea Manning (the text of the talk appears at the end of this post), and Naomi spoke to people about Lauri Love. Sadly, because of some technical issues, Nathan Fuller wasn’t able to join us via video link from the US.

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Here’s the text of the talk given by Oliver Shykles:

Queer Friends of Chelsea Manning was set up in 2010 to help raise awareness of Chelsea Manning in the queer community – over the years we’ve appeared at numerous Pride and trans pride events in the UK, joined in protests, given talks, and done some radio and tv stuff.

Chelsea was a US Army intelligence analyst who was stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer near Baghdad. During her time there she became increasingly disillusioned about the actions she was seeing the military undertake and she quickly realised that the US was going to lose the war. She hoped that if people knew what was going on the war would end more quickly.

After trying to speak with her superiors, and having made attempts to contact the New York Times and the Washington post without success, she released, to Wikileaks, a quarter of a million diplomatic cables, and half a million army reports which covered both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iraq War logs was a list of significant war actions and logged over 110,000 deaths covering a five year period – 60% of these deaths were civilians. The Pentagon had previously denied that it kept records of civilian deaths.

Feeling alone, Chelsea contacted Adrian Lamo, a hacker known for hacking into the New York Times, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Sadly, when she told Lamo what she was doing he snitched on her and Chelsea was arrested on the 27th May 2010 – six years and two days ago.

In 2013 she was sentenced to 35 years in prison – easily the harshest sentence given to a whistleblower in modern times.

To bring things more up-to-date, ten days ago the The ACLU filed a brief in support of the recently launched appeal of Chelsea’s conviction, the brief argued that Chelsea’s prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917 violated the Constitution and should be overturned.

Under the Act Chelsea was denied the constitutional right to present a public interest defence. She should have been able to make the case that their was a public benefit resulting from her actions. To date no case has been made that any of the documents she released resulted in the death or injury of anyone. Instead we found out about war crimes, the infamous Collateral Murder video was part of her releases, and that 150 innocent people were being held in Guantanamo Bay. There were many other revelations to numerous to mention here.

One of Chelsea’s lawyers, Nancy Hollander, stated that “That Act was meant to punish spies and saboteurs, people who act against the United States. It was never meant to prosecute whistleblowers and this case presents a disastrous precedent that needs to be overturned. A healthy, free society needs brave individuals to hold the government accountable for its actions at home and abroad.”

Chelsea is the eighth person to be convicted under the Espionage Act during the Obama administration, an administration which has charged more people under the Act than all other presidents combined.

A substantial part of the appeal looks the unduly harsh conditions Chelsea endured during her initial detainment, particularly being held in solitary confinement for nine months while she was dealing with severe mental illness. Because of this treatment, the judge reduced Chelsea’s sentence by a mere 112 days. The appeal argues that the charges be dropped in their entirety or that her sentence be further reduced because of this cruel and unusual punishment.

Hollander said, “Now that time has passed it is clear the Army over-exaggerated the crime. Reducing the sentence to ten-years is therefore appropriate.”

The appeal importantly notes that former CIA director and four-star general David Petraeus, who gave classified information to his biographer and lover, received a fine and two years probation with no prison time.

Chelsea is clearly keeping herself very busy, she spends 40 hours of her week working in a wood shop and when she’s not there she’s taking college correspondence courses, reading journals, books, writing a blog at Medium, composing tweets she reads to someone over the phone, and writing a column in the Guardian. A friend of Chelsea’s who recently visited her says that Chelsea has developed a keen interest in post-quantum cryptography. Chelsea is, of course, also dealing with being a trans woman in a male military facility, she is receiving hormone therapy but is not allowed to grow her hair longer than regulations permit.

Chelsea wrote a statement to mark her six years in prison and I think I should read it here as Chelsea’s own words are far more important than someone who is speaking on her behalf:

“I have faced many struggles: my pre-trial time in solitary confinement, the charges against me under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the unconstitutionally vague Espionage Act, the lack of proof by the government that the disclosures actually harmed the United States’ national security or diplomatic interests in any significant way, and my eventual conviction and sentencing to an unprecedented 35 years in prison.

And through it all, one thing has remained clear: It is important to read everything. To absorb everything. Act as your own filter for information. Search for your own answers to questions. If we rely on others to digest information for us, then we can’t say that we truly understand why we have done what we’ve done and where we will be going. We cannot, and will not, understand the world looking at information filtered through one lens.

This appeal is about more than just me personally. It’s about the chilling precedent set for future truth-tellers, journalists, and whistleblowers. It’s about free speech and a free press. It’s about your right to know the truth — to have access to enough information to allow us as a society to make informed decisions.

Because of the incredible support that I receive from my friends, my family, and countless people from all over the world, I manage to not only survive, but to grow, learn, mature, and thrive as a better, more confident person. Because of your support, esteemed lawyers Nancy Hollander, Vincent Ward and my detailed counsel, Capt. Dave Hammond, were able to take the time to compose and file a thorough, compelling brief. Because of your voice, we also received the support of well-known civil liberties groups.

Thank you to all of the amazing people and groups who have supported me in the past, and who are continuing to support me today, as we now prepare for the next vital stage in our legal fight: The reply brief and oral arguments to be presented in my appeal. You can work towards improving my situation, by donating to my defense fund , writing me a letter , and following my accounts on Twitter and Medium.

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