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Unable to break Chelsea Manning’s spirit by jailing her, the United States escalated efforts to force her to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks by imposing steep financial penalties.
Judge Anthony Trenga held Manning in civil contempt and ordered her to be sent back to the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria. He also imposed a fine of $500 per day after 30 days, and then a fine of $1000 per day after 60 days.
The grand jury term is likely to last for 18 months. If she were to remain in jail until the term expired, she would face a fine of more than a half million dollars.
“While coercive financial penalties are commonly assessed against corporate witnesses, which cannot be jailed for contempt, it is less usual to see them used against a human witness,” Manning’s attorneys stated.
Manning was released from jail after 62 days on May 9. She was issued another subpoena prior to her release.
A motion to quash the subpoena, as well as other filings, were submitted in federal court. In particular, Manning’s attorneys urged the court to review her claims of alleged unlawful surveillance and instruct the government to disclose what they know about the surveillance.
The motion to quash was denied, and immediately, a contempt hearing was held, as Manning’s attorneys waived appearing before the grand jury.
“Jails and prisons exist as a dark institution, and despite that, it doesn’t frighten me or disturb me. I mean, I’ve already been to jail. I’ve already been to prison. So, attempting to coerce me with a grand jury subpoena is just not going to work,” Manning declared in a press conference prior to her contempt hearing.
She added, “Ultimately, this is an attempt to place me back in confinement. I think that the questions are the same questions I was asked at the court-martial seven or eight years ago. They’re not asking anything new.”
Manning suggested the government’s goal is to “re-litigate the court-martial” because they do not like that President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year prison sentence. “They didn’t like the outcome. I got out.”
U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger insisted, “The only thing that is being asked of her is to come answer questions truthfully. As someone who received the incredible gift of a commutation, was literally given 28 years of her life back, she now refuses to simply answer questions as part of our constitutional criminal justice process.”
“It’s interesting that she has such an abhorrence for grand juries, given that that mechanism is set forth in the Fifth Amendment and stands as a bulwark against unchecked prosecutorial power and its secrecy protects the innocent by not subjecting them to public scrutiny when no indictment is returned. That’s especially interesting given that she swore an oath to defend and support that same Constitution as a soldier,” rebuked Terwilliger.
Although Terwilliger may cheer the grand jury process, the United States and Liberia are the only countries that still rely on grand juries to issue indictments. England abolished their grand jury system in 1933.
Manning’s attorneys argue the “enormous discretion held by prosecuting authorities in the United States allows them to use the law for political and other ends.”
“Historically, the grand jury system was used to indict outspoken opponents of slavery for sedition, and then to harass and indict black people and Reconstruction officials attempting to gain suffrage.”
“In the mid-20th century, the grand jury system was improperly used to frame labor organizers and union leaders,” her attorneys additionally note. “During the Nixon administration, over one thousand political activists were subpoenaed to more than one hundred grand juries investigating lawful antiwar, women’s rights, and black activist movements.”
After Daniel Ellsberg, who worked for the RAND Corporation, provided copies of the Pentagon Papers to media organizations, the Justice Department convened two grand juries in the Boston area in 1971. They targeted Neil Sheehan, a New York Times reporter who was the first to write about the Pentagon Papers, as well as Noam Chomsky, Senator Mike Gravel, and journalist David Halberstam. They had Samuel Popkin, a Harvard University professor, jailed for contempt for refusing to testify.
What Terwilliger regards as a “bulwark against unchecked prosecutorial power” enabled a fishing expedition against anyone who had associated with Ellsberg and helped him blow the whistle on the Vietnam War just as the Justice Department is engaged in a fishing expedition against anyone who associated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or worked on WikiLeaks publications.
Moira Meltzer-Cohen, attorney for Manning, asserted after she was sent back to jail, “I suspect that this sanction of further incarceration will be exactly as coercive as the previous sanction, which is to say not at all.”
“In 2010, Chelsea took a principled decision to let the world see the true nature of modern asymmetric warfare. It is telling that the United States has always been more concerned with the disclosure of those documents than with their damning evidence,” Meltzer-Cohen declared.
Prosecutors may contend that they need Manning to provide testimony that can bolster their case for Assange’s extradition to the United States.
Assange plans to fight the U.S. government’s extradition case until all avenues for appeals are exhausted. Plus, Sweden re-opened a case against Assange over sexual allegations.
When considering how it is likely to take multiple years before Assange is brought to the U.S. or he defeats the U.S. government, the efforts to break Manning and force her to comply may extend beyond 18 months if she is willing to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt that will compound the physical and psychological harm she already has sustained.
Manning had gender confirmation surgery in October. She shared in a declaration to the court that her post-surgery regimen requires “delicate and regular self-care at least twice daily, including the use of anti-bacterial soap and dilators. Otherwise, I risk serious medical complications, including permanent injury and deadly infections.”
Before her court hearings, Manning told the press, “If I am in there for an extended period of time, it’s going to impact my health. I had surgery recently and I’ve had a few thankfully not life-threatening complications, but I’ve had complications.”
She acknowledged the jail where she will be confined does not have “the medical capacity to hold people too long.”