15:18 GMT11 July 2020
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    A US grand jury can compel anyone to testify and scarcely refuses to grant indictments brought before it. However, Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond, jailed for refusing to help a grand jury investigate Julian Assange, follow a long tradition of dissidents fighting back, Berlin-based independent journalist Diani Barretto told Sputnik.

    Manning, a former US Army intelligence analyst who was jailed for several years following her leaking of evidence of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, is “sitting in prison again, and she’s not charged or convicted of a crime,” Baretto told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Monday.

    The William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia, is where Manning has been since March 6, when she was found in contempt of a Virginia grand jury for refusing to testify. She has subsequently made clear that not only does she believe she is being entrapped by being compelled to give repeat answers to questions asked of her years ago during her trial, but also that she is fundamentally against the institution of a grand jury, which she regards as highly undemocratic and with which she would refuse to cooperate regardless.

    As a consequence, Manning has been jailed ever since, save for a single week in May between grand jury convocations during which she was free. When the new grand jury began its term and called Manning to testify, she refused and was again imprisoned, this time with compounding financial penalties the longer she refused to cooperate.

    The whistleblower has indicated she is willing to sit out the entire term of the grand jury, which ends late next year and by the end of which she will have accumulated $441,000 in fines.

    Likewise, Hammond has seen his prison term lengthened by being called before the same grand jury at a time that interrupted his completion of a rehabilitation program that would have reduced his sentence.

    In 2010, Manning published via WikiLeaks evidence she had stolen proving the US government had repeatedly lied about and covered up war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including one notorious video dubbed “Collateral Murder,” which showed a US Army helicopter crew gunning down Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists on an eastern Baghdad street corner.

    Manning was released in May 2017, following commutation of her sentence by departing US President Barack Obama. Then in April 2019, just a month after Manning was re-jailed by the grand jury, Assange, the WikiLeaks co-founder who had been hiding out inside Ecuador’s London embassy since 2011, was suddenly allowed to be arrested, and a slew of charges in the US were unveiled against him, including under the Espionage Act of 1917.

    “It’s so egregious and offensive what has been done, and how they’re pitting these people that have already served their time, it’s just unbelievable,” Baretto said, noting that only Liberia and the United States continue to operate a grand jury system.

    “There is no judge; there is no defense lawyers; there is no checking if there’s bias of the jury,” Baretto noted.

    At one point, grand juries served an important role in advancing social liberties, providing an independent check on the power of governments to arbitrarily charge citizens. Today, however, critics argue that they serve as little more than a “rubber stamp” for the prosecution.

    The US inherited the grand jury system from the United Kingdom’s common law system, and the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution requires the federal government to use grand juries to investigate felony crimes. However, today just the US and Liberia still use the system, in which an unelected jury, led by a prosecutor without a judge present, conducts its proceedings in secret.

    “Chelsea has said that [because of] the expansive subpoena power, through this grand jury, the government can attempt to force any witness to testify, or obtain documents through prosecutors and through police. Historically the government has used this process to gather information, surveil, disrupt movements by creating paranoia and fear,” Baretto said.

    “There have been resistors in the past. This is not something new” that Manning is doing, Baretto noted. “Manning has followed the footsteps of black liberation activists, Puerto Rican independence activists, Free Palestine activists, anti-war activists, and this proves her long-held belief that grand juries are simply outdated, arcane tools used by the federal government to harass and disrupt political opponents.”

    Manning calls grand jury operations “fishing expeditions,” Baretto said, because “they can ask you anything; there’s no double jeopardy” principle respected by the court. “So you can incriminate yourself for things you’ve already done and served time for. How does this even hold up in the rule of law?” Baretto asked.

    However, Baretto noted that anarchists in particular have established a precedent by challenging the state’s attempts to compel cooperation, limiting the grand jury’s ability to coerce if the subject is incapable of being coerced due to ideological principles.

    “There’s a tradition here,” Baretto noted, “of trying to understand how to resist.”

    “We have to also understand, 99.9% of indictments sought through a grand jury are granted,” Baretto noted. “You are six times more likely to be struck by lightning than [that] a federal grand jury will decline to indict you.”

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Tags:
    resistance, anarchists, Loud and Clear, Julian Assange, grand jury, Jeremy Hammond, Chelsea Manning
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