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Chelsea Manning’s Attorneys Challenge Prolonged Solitary Confinement, Demand Her Release From Jail

Chelsea Manning remains in conditions of prolonged solitary confinement, and her attorneys argue she should be released from jail pending her appeal.

“Ms. Manning’s conditions of confinement must either be modified so as not to constitute punishment or she must be released,” Manning’s attorneys declared. “Since the jail cannot turn back the clock on punishment that has already occurred, her confinement in adseg in excess of 15 days already constitutes an incurable due process violation. She must therefore be released.”

On March 8, Manning was detained at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia. She was held in civil contempt by a district court because she refuses to answer questions before a federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.

The facility has kept Manning in “administrative segregation,” which authorities claim is standard for “high-profile” individuals. It means Manning is confined to a cell for about 22 hours every day.

Manning’s attorneys filed a motion [PDF] on April 1, where they raised “urgent” concerns about what they referred to as the “instant use of prolonged solitary confinement.”

“Ms. Manning was kept in solitary confinement for nearly a year during her confinement at Quantico. As a result of studying her case, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez issued reports defining solitary confinement as tantamount to torture after it becomes ‘prolonged,’” they recall. “On the basis of scientific research about irreversible changes in brain chemistry, he defined ‘prolonged’ as more than 15 days.”

Manning’s attorneys add, “While Manning objects on humanitarian grounds to anyone enduring such treatment, she recognizes that it is likely lawful for the jail to segregate people who are being subject to punishment.”

However, they maintain the law for “recalcitrant witnesses” does not allow for “punishment” of Manning.

“Adseg, particularly after 15 days, definitionally constitutes punishment, regardless of the motive, policy, or practice surrounding it.”

The motion for her release pending appeal challenges several additional aspects related to how Judge Claude Hilton handled proceedings.

The district court held a hearing on March 5 over Manning’s motion to quash the grand jury subpoena and a contempt proceeding on March 8—two days after Manning refused to answer questions on March 6.

As her attorneys argue, Manning “raised grave concerns about whether the jail could accommodate her daily post-surgery medical needs. She reminded the court that the only legitimate purpose of civil confinement is coercion, and that such confinement may not be transformed into punishment without due process of law.”

“Counsel for Ms. Manning presented both the government and the court with documents and letters from Ms. Manning’s surgeon, her doctor, a medical expert in transgender health, and two of the world’s foremost experts on the risks faced by transgender prisoners,” according to her attorneys. “Judge Hilton received this packet of letters and set them aside. He did not read them prior to ruling. He did not even flip through them or unfasten them from the binder clip which they were secured.”

Hilton allegedly violated federal rules by not stating any reasons for refusing to grant her bail.

The government apparently did not dispute the claim that Manning is not a “flight risk.”

“Without explicitly ruling on the motion for bail, he ordered Ms. Manning to the custody of the Attorney General. He issued no written denial or justification.” He also issued no “verbal rationale for his denial of bail.”

Although Manning put forward her “good faith belief” that she was subject to electronic surveillance, Hilton never required the government to respond to these allegations.

“A grand jury witness is entitled to refuse to answer questions derived from the illegal interception of communications,” Manning’s attorneys assert.

During the contempt hearing held March 8, counsel for Ms. Manning renewed the issue of electronic surveillance, referring to Ms. Manning’s declaration and the arguments of March 5. The specific basis for the renewal was that at least one question seemed to contain an assumption about Ms. Manning’s motivations that had no basis in fact or any prior statement made by Ms. Manning. Therefore, counsel for Ms. Manning reminded the court that a witness in a contempt hearing is entitled to the information in the possession of the government that would support their claim to having just cause excusing their testimony.

But the district court denied the electronic surveillance motion and did not apparently consider the possibility that the government may have an obligation to disclose such surveillance to Manning.

Manning mentioned that both President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have expressed resentment toward President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her sentence.

She suggested the subpoena may be a “mechanism of exposure and harassment.”

Additionally, her attorneys considered the possibility that the government may be using the subpoena to prepare for a trial and that the testimony they want is testimony they could use to undermine her if she appeared as a defense witness.

Hilton did not comment on any of the allegations of potential grand jury abuse that were made by Manning’s attorneys.

The vast majority of proceedings surrounding the motion to quash the subpoena and contempt were held behind closed doors, which Manning’s attorneys say violated her Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

Only after Manning was found in civil contempt on March 8 did the court open the proceedings to the public.

As Manning’s attorneys recall, “The courtroom was opened, the district court repeated its finding of contempt, allowed the parties brief argument as to sentencing, and ordered Ms. Manning into confinement.”

“The brief opening of the courtroom for the conclusion of the sanction proceedings was inadequate and violated Ms. Manning’s rights to due process and a public trial.”

In the final days of March, Manning’s attorneys requested the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacate Judge Hilton’s finding of civil contempt. They made many of the same arguments they put forward in their motion demanding her release from jail.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."