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Hardships Chelsea Manning Has Endured Are Unlike Any Other Case Of Grand Jury Resistance

As United States Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning yet again affirmed she will not testify before a federal grand jury empaneled against WikiLeaks, her legal team filed a motion to force her release from jail.

“Manning has now been incarcerated for eleven of the maximum eighteen months. There is no reason to believe she will experience a change of heart. There are a plethora of indications that she will not,” the motion asserts [PDF].

It additionally argues, “The state of the law with respect to civil confinement is clear: the sole lawful purpose of civil confinement is to exert a coercive effect upon a recalcitrant [uncooperative] witness. In the absence of a reasonable expectation of coercing testimony, coercive enforcement has exceeded its lawful scope and must be terminated.”

“Counsel has been unable to find a case involving any other witnesses who have endured the kind of hardships Ms. Manning has endured, let alone for the length of time she has endured them, prior to release. Having now endured eleven months of confinement that she could have ostensibly ended at any time, there can no longer remain any serious doubt regarding the ruthlessness with which she will hew to her convictions,” Manning’s legal team concludes.

Manning has been confined at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia, for 343 days and owes $234,000 in fines.

There is no evidence that Manning’s resistance has prevented the Justice Department from indicting anyone. In fact, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was indicted on 17 counts of allegedly violating the Espionage Act and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime.

“My refusal to testify continues, predicated on my long standing belief that grand juries, as they function in the contemporary era, are often used by federal prosecutors to harass and disrupt political opponents and activists through secrecy, coercion, and jailing without trial,” Manning declared in a released statement.

She indicated her confinement “reinforces” her belief that grand juries are abused in practice and mentioned her mother Susan Fox, who lived in Wales, died during her time in jail.

“I cannot agree to participate in such a process. No matter how much you punish me, I will remain confident in my decision. I have been separated from my loved ones, deprived of sunlight, and could not even attend my mother’s funeral,” Manning shared. “It is easier to endure these hardships now than to cooperate to win back some comfort, and live the rest of my life knowing that I acted out of self interest and not principle.”

Dr. Sara Boyd conducted a personality assessment and concluded Manning is “being harmed via her adaptation to the incarceration setting, and the more she adapts, the more she is harmed.” That form involves “institutionalization,” and it manifests as “anxiety about returning to the community.”

“Manning exhibits long standing personality features that relate to her scrupulousness, her persistence, and dedication, and her willingness to endure social disapproval as well as formal punishments,” Boyd determined. “She also has a tendency to see issues in black and white terms with regard to ethical and values-based judgment. These personality features are not likely to be modified by any intervention.”

According to the motion, if Manning can “show by a preponderance of the evidence that there is no reasonable possibility that she will testify, then continued confinement transforms from a coercive sanction to a punishment,” which becomes evidence for her immediate release.

“Manning has well-founded reasons to doubt the propriety of this particular subpoena and believes that she does in fact have just cause for her refusal to testify,” her legal team maintains. “But beyond those legal issues, she is convinced that to cooperate with this grand jury would be a betrayal of her beliefs about the grand jury process in general, and this grand jury in particular.”

“She has always been prepared to suffer the consequences for her beliefs in this regard and in light of her history, it should surprise nobody to find that she has the courage of her convictions.”

The motion refers to her “internal moral code” as a driving force behind her resistance. It also suggests worldwide recognition discourages her from testifying because she is regarded as an “international hero, a person of principle who [is] willing to sacrifice everything in the public interest.”

“Her moral compass and the support she receives from her various communities function to mutually reinforce each other.”

Furthermore, Manning’s legal team contend “her reincarceration on the basis of the subpoena is seen by many as retaliation for President [Barack] Obama’s commutation, and as an end-run around the principles of double jeopardy. Her resistance to the grand jury is understood by historical and legal experts as part of a contribution to a long history of principled resistance to government secrecy and political repression.”

“The aim of the court was presumably to compound the coercive effect of confinement with a financial sanction. However, Ms. Manning has not been, and cannot be moved, by threats of financial ruin any more than she has been moved by her eleven-month confinement,” according to her legal team.

The motion adds, “The limited financial records provided to the court in July and August did not reflect that she has any financial capacity now, or any prospect of earning anywhere near the half million dollars that could accrue by the end of her confinement. She has already been fined orders of magnitude more money than she currently has, and she is not expected to earn, or even to be able to earn enough money to pay these fines even were she to relinquish ten percent of her salary over the course of forty-five years.”

As Manning’s legal team describes, “Her earning potential is largely speculative. She has spent very little of her adult life not in prison. Her primary marketable skill is in being Chelsea Manning, and while she is a person of intrigue and interest, the documentary made about her has not made enough money for her to have benefited financially at all, and the autobiography she is supposed to write has been so disrupted by her incarceration that there is reason to think that whatever earnings it might yet yield diminish by the day.”

In 2019, a Showtime documentary called “X/Y Chelsea” premiered right around the time that she was subpoenaed by the grand jury and forced into confinement.

The motion also highlights United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer’s objection to Manning’s continued confinement.

Melzer released a letter [PDF] from November 1, 2019, to the U.S. government that raised serious concerns over “coercive measures” against Manning.

He suggested authorities were intentionally inflicting “progressively severe mental and emotional suffering for the purposes of coercion and intimidation at the order of judicial authorities,” and it is compounding Manning’s post-traumatic symptoms and other mental and physical health problems she still experiences as a result of prior abuse she endured when she was imprisoned for releasing documents to WikiLeaks.

“I conclude that such deprivation of liberty does not constitute a circumscribed sanction for a specific offense but an open-ended, progressively severe measure of coercion fulfilling all the constitutive elements of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Melzer declared.

It was the second time in less than a decade that a UN Special Rapporteur on Torture accused the U.S. government of torturing Manning.

On May 16, 2019, Manning’s legal team moved to quash a new subpoena for her confinement. They argued her testimony was unnecessary and challenged the U.S. government’s inadequate denials related to their allegations that Manning was unlawfully surveilled.

“The court acknowledged that post-indictment subpoenas were inherently suspect. The court futhermore pressed the government to clarify that their offered denial of unlawful electronic surveillance was limited only to Article III surveillance and did not cover for example any potential surveillance that may have taken place under the authority of executive order or other statutory authority, such as FISA,” the motion recounts.

“Finally the court acknowledged that the cumulative effect of grand jury secrecy and ex parte filings functioned to force Ms Mannng to litigate blind. Nevertheless, the Court denied Ms. Manning’s motions.”

“The key issue before Judge [Anthony Trenga is whether continued incarceration could persuade Chelsea to testify,” said Moira Meltzer-Cohen, an attorney for Manning. “Judges have complained of the ‘perversity’ of this law: that a witness may win their freedom by persisting in their contempt of court. However, should Judge Trenga agree that Chelsea will never agree to testify, he will be compelled by the law to order her release.”

Meltzer-Cohen further contended: “The evidence overwhelmingly supports the claim we have made from the beginning: Ms. Manning cannot be pressured into betraying her principles. If her confinement is not having a coercive impact, it has exceeded its permissible scope, and Ms. Manning must be released.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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