For nearly a year, former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning has been detained in Federal Detention Center Alexandria. Manning is not charged with a crime, but rather, she is being held in contempt of a federal grand jury for refusing to answer questions about her relationship with Assange. The whistleblower insists she answered their questions during her 2013 trial for having stolen classified US government documents and given them to WikiLeaks to publish, and that asking them again is an attempt to entrap her.
Held in the same jail and for the same reason is Jeremy Hammond, a hacktivist whose prison sentence was nearly completed when he was called before the same grand jury as Manning, and who refused to answer questions about his leaking of hacked emails from private intelligence firm Stratfor via WikiLeaks. Now he is also held in contempt in the belief that doing so will compel him, like the US government hopes it will Manning, to cooperate with the grand jury.
‘Human Rights Start at Home’
Activists with several whistleblower defense groups, including United in Solidarity for Julian Assange and Action 4 Assange, gathered outside the Alexandria jail on Wednesday to voice their continuing support for Manning and Hammond, whose noncompliance they said was frustrating Washington’s attempts to have Assange extradited from the United Kingdom to the US to stand trial for charges associated with Manning’s leaks he published.
“Chelsea’s struggle and her principled stance against grand juries is one of the things that’s actually helping Julian’s defense right now,” Alex Smith, an activist with Action 4 Assange and one of the event’s planners, told Sputnik on a rocky median under an overpass outside the jail, the only place the group was allowed to demonstrate.
“She’s been very clear that they’ve already got all of her testimony that is ever going to be got - 100% clear on that,” activist Steve Boykin said. “What is working in this particular instance is that there is a concerted effort to keep her imprisoned. This is the re-incarceration, the third incarceration.”
“She has spent, between 2010 and 2020, 77% - so over seven years - in jail for this exact thing, and she also spent over a year in solitary confinement alone,” Smith continued. “So I think showing up here is as important for people supporting Chelsea and Jeremy as well as is important as supporting Julian, because it’s all interconnected and built into that same web of corruption that they’re fighting against.”
Ian Schlakman, an activist who traveled from Baltimore to join the protest, said the upcoming decision on Assange’s extradition “fundamentally defines whether or not … the US is going to assert its authority to literally abduct citizens around the world because they do not like what they are saying or publishing about the US government.”
“Why can’t the US understand that human rights start at home? We must respect ourselves as a country and our own citizens, and until we do that, we have no right to go around the world preaching to others how they should act and dictate. This is an outrageous act of imperialism,” he said.
The activists then took turns reading from Manning’s June 2, 2019, letter to US District Judge Anthony J. Trenga on a speaker system pointed at the jail. In the letter, Manning explains in detail her philosophical opposition to the concept of a grand jury and her “conscientious objection” to cooperating with what the grand jury has evolved into in the 21st century United States. She describes the panel as a “kangaroo jury” that, while capable of “indicting a ham sandwich,” only really demonstrates that capability when the accused are not members of the law enforcement community.
Afterward, the activists blew whistles to demonstrate their support for the whistleblowers, in the hopes Manning and Hammond could hear their cacophony through the detention center’s tiny slit windows.
They're blowing whistles because Chelsea & Jeremy are whistleblowers. I think they're loud enough to hear inside the jail pic.twitter.com/kk6C4nvTPm— Morgan Artyukhina (@LavenderNRed) February 26, 2020
Assange’s Judge Won’t Intervene In Prison
The protest comes the same day as Judge Vanessa Baraitser, presiding over Assange’s case in London, rejected pleas from Assange’s barrister, Edward Fitzgerald QC, to intervene and end the “horrendous” treatment Assange has received, as WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson put it. This is the second time Judge Baraitser has declined requests to intervene in Assange’s treatment.
“He was handcuffed 11 times yesterday on the way back and forth to the courthouse from the prison, which is just around the corner from here. He was strip-searched twice in that process. That is a humiliation that he has to endure,” Hrafnsson said outside the Woolwich Crown Court in southeastern London. Hrafnsson noted Assange has also had his court documents taken away, which he called “a violation of every principle in the book and every human rights consideration.”
Human rights activist and former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray also described on Tuesday how Assange was “confined at the back of the court behind a bulletproof glass screen” and expressed “several times during the proceedings that this made it very difficult for him to see and hear the proceedings.” Sputnik journalist Walter Smolarek has also reported that Assange was shifted between several rooms in Belmarsh Prison Monday night in an attempt to render him unable to adequately defend himself in the courtroom the next day.
The detention of both Manning and Assange has been explicitly condemned by Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Melzer described Assange as early as May of 2019 as having “all the symptoms of a torture victim,” and said in November that his condition “severely undermines the credibility of the UK’s commitment to the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, as well as to the rule of law more generally.”
Melzer described Manning’s treatment in a November letter published at the end of the year as not constituting 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.” He has not commented on Hammond’s detention.
More than 117 doctors from 18 countries recently penned a joint letter of protest against the conditions in which Assange has been kept since April 2019 - their second unheeded protest to the British government on the subject - in which they noted that “should Assange die in a UK prison, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has warned, he will effectively have been tortured to death.”