WICHITA, Kan. — The U.S. military said Thursday that it is committed to “a fair and equitable process” in the case of national security leaker Chelsea Manning and other prisoners accused of breaking rules at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth.
The response comes a day after Manning’s lawyer disclosed that the transgender Army private faces charges at an Aug. 18 hearing for allegedly having a copy of Vanity Fair with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover and an expired tube of toothpaste, among other things. The maximum penalty is indefinite solitary confinement.
The former intelligence analyst, formerly known as Bradley Manning, was convicted in 2013 of espionage and other offenses for sending more than 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks while working in Iraq. She is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking reams of war logs, diplomatic cables and battlefield video to the anti-secrecy website in 2010.
In a statement issued Thursday, Army spokeswoman Tatjana Christian says Manning’s case is pending before a disciplinary board, which is “a common practice in correctional systems to hold prisoners accountable to facility rules.” The military released no details of the alleged conduct that led to the disciplinary report against Manning.
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Manning’s attorney, Nancy Hollander, said the prison charges include possession of prohibited property in the form of books and magazines while under administrative segregation; medicine misuse over the toothpaste; disorderly conduct for sweeping food onto the floor; and disrespect. All of the accusations relate to conduct on July 2 and 9.
Some military legal experts familiar with the facility expressed skepticism that Manning will actually be punished with indefinite solitary confinement.
Victor Hansen, a retired Army judge advocate who teaches at the New England School of Law in Boston, said conditions at Fort Leavenworth are less restrictive than for inmates in the federal prison system because inmates with a military background have some experience following orders and do “not chaff at rules and regulations like someone who has not had exposure to that.”
Hansen said it is unlikely that prison officials would go after Manning just for having reading material, and that there has to be more behind the charges than either the military or her supporters are saying. Most discipline in the military is progressive and meted in a measured way, with the solitary confinement reserved as kind of “the nuclear option.”
Michael Navarre, an adviser to the National Institute of Military Justice and former Navy judge advocate, said Fort Leavenworth is well run, well organized and known to keep “a good rein on inmates.”
“My impression has always been that the military — particularly the U.S. disciplinary barracks at Leavenworth — has fewer prison-violence and serious-offense issues than other systems do,” Navarre said. “And so I would think there would be a less prevalent use of solitary confinement.”
Solitary confinement is common in civilian prisons, jails and detention centers across the United States, where there are an estimated 80,000 people in solitary confinement on any given day, said Alexis Agathocleous, deputy legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.