While this story probably should have been concluded as a news cycle feature long ago, the strange case of Chelsea Manning keeps bubbling to the surface. Manning, who changed his first name from Bradley a couple of years ago, reportedly tried to commit suicide earlier this year in the federal prison where he currently resides as a result of his treasonous release of classified data. There’s not much in the way of details as to how serious the attempt may have been, but now the disgraced Army Private’s health will become an issue once again because he released a statement indicating that he was beginning a hunger strike yesterday in protest of the shoddy treatment he’s supposedly received at the hands of his jailers. (Time Magazine)

Chelsea Manning, the U.S. army private convicted in 2013 for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, has announced she has started a hunger strike to protest what she calls “constant and overzealous administrative scrutiny by prison and military officials.”

“I need help. I am not getting any,” Manning said in a statement released to TIME through a member of the Chelsea Manning Support Network and confirmed as authentic by her lawyer, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Stragio. “I have asked for help time and time again for six years and through five separate confinement locations. My request has only been ignored, delayed, mocked, given trinkets and lip service by the prison, the military, and this administration.”

On July 5, Manning attempted to commit suicide, her attorneys said. She was subsequently charged with several administrative offenses that, her lawyers say, could result in her being transferred to indefinite solitary confinement.

The letter is a call for help, and it may indeed be that, but on more levels than the author admits. First of all, the complaints being listed don’t constitute abusive treatment under the law. The “medical condition” for which he’s being refused treatment (that being “gender dysphoria”) isn’t even firmly established as an actual “disease” in the medical community and is certainly not directly fatal when “treatment” is denied. As to the more superfluous items including haircuts, there are rules in Fort Leavenworth for prisoners and they cover things such as attire and grooming. If he doesn’t want to cut his hair, I’m fairly sure they will find someone to cut it for him.

But going back to the original topic, speaking strictly as a layman when it comes to disorders of the human psyche, I have no doubt that this hunger strike really is a cry for help. But in addition to wanting to get his own way while behind bars and drum up support in the liberal community, this is also most likely a cry for real help. Manning is on a self-destructive path at this point and it’s hardly uncommon for people to “attempt suicide” in ways which offer little prospect of success when what they really want is someone to help them escape the trap they’ve built for themselves.

I don’t want to see Chelsea Manning die. He wasn’t sentenced to death for his crimes and he should be allowed to serve his sentence and hopefully get on with his life. And if he really wants to go have himself surgically altered upon his release (on his own dime… not that of the taxpayers) then he should be able to do so. But in the meantime I do hope that the prison officials do a thorough, professional job in determining if he’s suffering from any potentially serious mental disorders and offer some treatment. The question of whether or not it is humane to force feed someone who is on a hunger strike can be left for another day.

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