Daily fines against Chelsea Manning for resisting a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks increased to $1000 on July 16.
On May 16, 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. The court also imposed a fine of $500 per day after 30 days, and then a fine of $1000 per day after 60 days.
From June 16 to July 15, the court fined her $500/day. Those fines total $15,000.
If Manning “persists in her refusal” for the next 15 months or until the grand jury’s term ends, her legal team says she will face a total amount of fines that is over $440,000. This excessive amount may violate her Eighth Amendment rights under the Constitution.
In May, Manning’s attorneys filed a motion challenging the harshness of the fines. The federal court has yet to rule on the motion or hold a hearing.
The motion asserted there is no “appropriate coercive sanction” because Manning will never testify. She should be released from jail and relieved of all fines.
“Ms. Manning has publicly articulated the moral basis for her refusal to comply with the grand jury subpoena, in statements to the press, in open court, and most recently, in a letter addressed to this court,” her attorneys stated. “She is suffering physically and psychologically, and is at the time of this writing in the process of losing her home as a result of her present confinement.”
“The government, and maybe the general public, think that I have access to resources just because I am a public figure but that’s just not true,” Manning previously declared. “Making money has never been my priority.”
She continued, “I do the work I do for the same reason I do everything—because I want to make a difference. Now, my work has been totally interrupted by my incarceration. I definitely feel the costs of these sanctions, but I never expected to have a comfortable life, and I would rather be in debt forever than betray my principles.”
According to a June press statement from her legal team, the government alleged Manning had the resources to pay tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines since she does public speaking events.
But her legal team countered, “She has no personal savings, an uncertain speaking career that has been abruptly halted by her incarceration, and is moving her few belongings into storage, as she can no longer afford to pay her rent.”
Manning has attempted to share her financial records with the federal court in an effort to show that she has debt and “compromised earning capacity,” which has “left her balance sheets near zero.” But the court has apparently never completed a financial assessment of her ability to pay fines.
Manning’s attorneys do not question whether the court has the authority within its “traditional contempt powers” to impose fines, however, they maintain such fines are “generally reserved for corporations, which cannot be confined, and which have the capacity to absorb a fine without suffering, for example, homelessness.”
“Rarely, individuals are fined, but counsel can find no case in which fines were assessed as to an individual other than where the individual was a sophisticated financial actor and the underlying contempt involved disobedience of a court order directing the management of a large amount of money.”
Often a court will order someone to prison or fine them to coerce testimony. The judge took the extraordinary step of imposing both penalties.
The United States government already submitted its extradition request against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and additional charges are highly unlikely. Despite this fact, Manning remains in jail, where she endures daily psychological and physical trauma compounded by her previous confinement and her needs as a transgender woman.