Manning, a former US Army analyst who was imprisoned for leaking evidence of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks and later had her sentence commuted in 2017, has since March 2019 once again been in jail for her refusal to cooperate with a federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Manning has said she can never be pressured to cooperate, but a US District Court judge imposed stiff financial penalties on her in a bid to force her compliance.
When this article went to publication, those fines had accumulated to approximately $230,000 - a punishment Manning’s lawyers have noted is both desultory and appallingly harsh. On Tuesday, they filed a renewed motion for Manning’s release.
“A witness who refuses to cooperate with a grand jury subpoena may be held in contempt of court, and fined or incarcerated. The only permissible purpose for sanctions under the civil contempt statute is to coerce a witness to comply with the subpoena,” Moira Meltzer-Cohen, Manning’s attorney, said in a Wednesday release. “If compliance is impossible, either because the grand jury is no longer in existence, or because the witness is incoercible, then confinement has been transformed from a coercive into a punitive sanction, and thus is in violation of the law.”
‘A Person Who Acts on Principle’
“What little law there is in the Fourth Circuit is unambiguous: If the witness 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, contrary to the mandate of 28 U.S.C. §1826,” the motion reads.
“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 witness. In the absence of a reasonable expectation of coercing testimony, coercive confinement has exceeded its lawful scope, and must be terminated,” Manning’s lawyers wrote in the Wednesday motion. “This is the impasse at which we have arrived.”
The motion notes of Manning that “being a person who acts on principle, even at great harm to herself,” is “core to her identity,” arguing that “there is no reason to believe she will at this late date experience a change of heart.”
“No realistic possibility remains that continued confinement or other sanctions will bring about Ms. Manning's testimony,” the motion concludes. “Further confinement cannot attain its stated coercive purpose, and therefore will be not simply futile, but impermissibly punitive. Ms. Manning's recalcitrance and fortitude have only solidified with each new challenge and each passing day. Her incarceration is not serving its only permissible purpose. For that reason, the motion should be granted in its entirety.“
Widespread Public Support
The motion follows a letter to the US government from Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in which he protested Manning’s treatment.
“Continued detention of @xychelsea [Chelsea Manning] is not a lawful sanction but an open-ended, progressively severe coercive measure amounting to torture & should be discontinued & abolished without delay,” Melzer tweeted on December 30, 2019, when the November letter was made public. The letter is included in the Wednesday filing.
Also included in the filing was a petition launched by Fight for the Future at FreeChelsea.com that has garnered more than 60,000 signatures of support. Meltzer-Cohen noted other groups that have expressed support for Manning’s cause include Amnesty International, Fight for the Future, Internet Archive, Defending Rights & Dissent, Media Alliance, Oakland Privacy, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Queerious Labs, Demand Progress, RootsAction and Lucy Parsons Labs.