[Pnews] The Law Says Chelsea Manning Must Be Freed From Prison

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 19 16:47:39 EST 2020


  The Law Says Chelsea Manning Must Be Freed From Prison

Natasha Lennard - February 19, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA - MAY 16: Former U.S. Army intelligence analyst 
Chelsea Manning arrives at the Albert Bryan U.S federal courthouse May 
16, 2019 in Alexandria, Virginia. Manning, who previously served four 
years in prison for providing classified information to Wikileaks, could 
face additional jail time for refusing to cooperate in an additional 
grand jury investigation. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning arrives at the 
Albert Bryan U.S Courthouse on May 16, 2019, in Alexandria, Va.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

_To observe Chelsea_

Manning’s actions over the last months is to know that she will not be 
coerced. She could have avoided her current incarceration at Alexandria 
Detention Center in Virginia, where she has been held for nearly a year. 
She could have freed herself at any point. She could have avoided 
accruing fines of $230,000 and counting. She could still avoid further 
days in jail and further crippling debts to the government. All she 
would have to do — all she ever had to do — is testify in front of the 
federal grand jury currently investigating WikiLeaks.

What has long been clear — no amount of jail time will coerce Manning 
into speaking — is now, surely, undeniable. The sole purpose of 
Manning’s detention has been to coerce her to testify, and it has failed.

On Wednesday, Manning’s legal team filedwhat’s known as a Grumbles 
in court, asserting that Manning has proven herself incoercible and so 
must, according to legal statute, be released from her incarceration.

    “Should Judge Trenga agree that Chelsea will never agree to testify,
    he will be compelled by the law to order her release.”

It is a grim peculiarity of American law that a person who refuses to 
cooperate with a grand jury subpoena may be held in contempt of court 
and fined or imprisoned with the express purpose of coercing testimony, 
but when the coercive condition is absent, such incarceration becomes 
illegal. Wednesday’s motion directs Judge Anthony Trenga, who is 
presiding over the grand jury and Manning’s imprisonment, to accordingly 
recognize the illegality in this case.

“The key issue before Judge Trenga is whether continued incarceration 
could persuade Chelsea to testify,” said Manning’s attorney, Moira 
Meltzer-Cohen, on filing the Grumbles motion. “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.”

If the motion is successful, Manning will be freed for the very reason 
she has been caged: her silence. The judge can decide to recognize that 
Manning won’t speak as a consequence of more time in jail — or because 
she will continue to face unprecedented $1,000-per-day fines. Any other 
conclusion, after her months of steadfast and principled grand jury 
resistance, would fly in the face of all reason. The whistleblower’s 
actions and words make it plain.

“I have been separated from my loved ones, deprived of sunlight, and 
could not even attend my mother’s funeral,” Manning said in a statement 
Wednesday. “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.”

_Federal grand juries_ have long 
been used to investigate and intimidate activist communities — from the 
late 19th century labor movements, to the Puerto Rican Independence 
Movement and black liberationists of the last century, to the more 
recent persecutions of environmentalists, anarchists, and Indigenous 
rights fighters. Manning has consistently shown her refusal to cooperate 
with any such process, and again asserted in her latest statement that 
grand juries are “used by federal prosecutors to harass and disrupt 
political opponents and activists through secrecy, coercion, and jailing 
without trial.”

_The Grumbles motion_ filed on Wednesday contains a letter from the 
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, written late 
last year accusing the United States of submitting Manning to treatment 
that is tantamount to torture. As I wrote 
<https://theintercept.com/2020/01/02/chelsea-manning-torture-prison-united-nations/> after the 
letter was first released, Melzer not only criticized the torturous 
practice of coercive imprisonment and harsh fines, but noted that 
Manning’s “categorical and persistent refusal to give testimony 
demonstrates the lack of their coercive effect.”

The motion also includes a personality assessment carried out by Dr. 
Sara Boyd, a clinical and forensic psychologist from the University of 
Virginia, which suggests that Manning is constitutionally incapable of 
acting against her conscience. “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 wrote.

Manning’s consistent behavior in the face of immense hardship and 
financial ruin should be wholly sufficient evidence that she will not be 
coerced; the personality assessment and the letter from the U.N. 
rapporteur no more than state the obvious. Were the judge to decide to 
continue imprisoning Manning, which he has the discretion to do, he 
would do so in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Meltzer-Cohen, Manning’s attorney, has in the past successfully 
seen a grand jury resister released as a consequence of her filing a 
Grumbles motion. In 2014, her former client, a New York-based anarchist, 
was released after spending 241 days in a federal prison for refusing to 
testify. Meltzer-Cohen filed a motion arguing that since the young man 
had made amply evident that he would never cooperate, the coercive 
premise of his imprisonment was proven invalid.

That motion was aided by letters from friends and acquaintances, as well 
as a Change.org petition — arguably less august testimony than that 
which accompanies Manning’s motion. But the judge in that case ruled, 
begrudgingly, that the evidence compelled him to release the prisoner. 
“The refusal to testify is somehow transmogrified from a lock to a key,” 
the judge wrote in his decision. At the time, Meltzer-Cohen told me that 
the case illustrated the power of grand jury resistance; that people 
“have been capable of standing strong in the face of serious 
consequences” and that resisters “can survive and even prevail.”

It is a perverse juridical logic that finds potential justice in 
brutally coercing a witness to testify before a secretive hearing, ripe 
for governmental abuse. But even the nefarious law, if followed to the 
letter, demands that Manning be immediately freed.

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