Judge Orders Chelsea Manning’s Release From Jail for Not Cooperating With WikiLeaks Grand Jury, But Won’t Waive $256,000 Fines

15.3.20

Chelsea Manning, after her release from prison in 2017, and before her re-imprisonment in 2019, for refusing to cooperate with a Grand Jury investigation into Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange.

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Good news from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where, on Thursday (March 12), District Judge Anthony J. Trenga ordered the immediate release from jail of whistleblower Chelsea Manning (formerly Pfc. Bradley Manning), who has been imprisoned since last March for refusing to cooperate with a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

While serving as an Army intelligence analyst in 2009, Manning was responsible for the largest leak of military and diplomatic documents in US history, and received a 35-year sentence — described by Charlie Savage in the New York Times as “the longest sentence by far in an American leak case” — in August 2013.

After her conviction, as Savage also explained, “she changed her name to Chelsea and announced that she wanted to undergo gender transition, but was housed in a male military prison and twice tried to commit suicide in 2016.” After these bleak experiences, it came as an extremely pleasant surprise when, just before leaving office in January 2017, President Obama commuted most of her sentence, as I explained in an article at the time, entitled, Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s 35-Year Sentence; Whistleblower Who Leaked Hugely Important Guantánamo Files Will Be Freed in May 2017, Not 2045.

Unfortunately, after seven years in prison, Chelsea Manning’s freedom was short-lived. Last March, as Charlie Savage put it, “prosecutors investigating Mr. Assange subpoenaed her to testify before a grand jury about their interactions.” As Savage also explained, “Although prosecutors granted immunity for her testimony, Ms. Manning had vowed not to cooperate in the investigation, saying she had ethical objections, and she was placed in civil detention for contempt of court.”

Shortly after, that first Grand Jury expired, but, as Savage explained, “Prosecutors then obtained a new subpoena, and she was locked up again for defying it in May.” As he added, ominously, “The moves raise the possibility that prosecutors could start over a third time.”

In a brief opinion, Judge Trenga stated, “The court finds that Ms. Manning’s appearance before the grand jury is no longer needed, in light of which her detention no longer serves any coercive purpose.” As Savage described it, the judge’s ruling involved him “dismiss[ing] the grand jury that Ms. Manning was refusing to testify before after finding that its business had concluded,” even though Manning’s supporters “believed that the grand jury was not set to terminate on March 12.”

For Manning the timing is obviously helpful, as, just the day before, she had attempted to commit suicide, and had ended up hospitalized, but Judge Trenga refused to tackle another aspect of her imprisonment over the last year that has been profoundly unjust: the decision to charge Manning $1,000 for each day that she refused to testify, By the time of the ruling, this had reached $256,000, but the judge ruled that “enforcement of the accrued, conditional fines would not be punitive but rather necessary to the coercive purpose of the court’s civil contempt order.”

In a hard-hitting article for the Intercept, Natasha Lennard condemned the ruling for failing to recognize the fact that “the coercive purpose of Manning’s detention had long been shown to be absent,” because “Manning has proven herself incoercible beyond any doubt.” Lennard cited Manning’s attempted suicide as “the most absolute evidence that she could not be coerced: She would sooner die.”

As she also explained, the framing and timing of the decision were ”galling,” because, the day after the ruling, “Manning was scheduled to appear at a court hearing on a motion to end her continued imprisonment, predicated on her unshakeable resistance proving coercion to be impossible, and her incarceration therefore illegal. She endured months of extreme suffering, driving her to near death, but never wavered on her principled refusal to speak.”

As Lennard added, “Again and again, Manning and her legal team showed that her imprisonment was nothing but punitive, and thus unjustifiable under the legal statutes governing federal grand juries. Yet for nearly a year, Manning has been caged and fined $1,000 per day. Ever since she was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, which is investigating WikiLeaks, Manning has also insisted that there was never any justifiable purpose to asking her to testify. As her support committee noted in a statement last May, ‘Chelsea gave voluminous testimony during her court martial. She has stood by the truth of her prior statements, and there is no legitimate purpose to having her rehash them before a hostile grand jury.’”

Fortunately, in a sign of the esteem with which Manning is held by her many supporters, the $256,000 has been raised in donations in just two days, and a separate follow-up fundraiser, set up to fund her living expenses, has also reached its target — $30,000 — in a matter of hours.

The Guantánamo files

I’m delighted that so many people are supportive of Chelsea Manning, and I can only hope that they are all fully aware of her service to the cause of transparency, and of exposing secrets that the US government would rather keep hidden. As I explained when her sentence was commuted, in January 2017, with particular reference to the release of one set of files she leaked — the classified military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners — on which I worked as a media partner:

Any intelligent analysis of the files … reveals the extent to which they lay bare the cruelty and incompetence of the authorities at Guantánamo, providing the names of the many unreliable witnesses, who, as a result of torture or other forms of abuse, or being bribed with better living conditions, or simply through exhaustion after seemingly endless — and pointless — interrogations, told their interrogators what they wanted to hear. And the interrogators, of course, wanted whatever information would make the prisoners appear significant, when, in truth, they had been rounded up in a largely random manner, or had been bought for bounty payments from the Americans’ Afghan or Pakistani allies, and very few — a maximum of 3% of the 779 men held, I estimate — genuinely had any kind of meaningful connection with al-Qaeda, the leadership of the Taliban, or any related groups. Most were either foot soldiers or civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time, dressed up as “terrorists” to justify a dragnet, from September 2001 to November 2003 (when the transfers to Guantánamo largely ended) that is primarily remarkable because of its stunning incompetence.

I began a detailed study of the Guantánamo files leaked by Manning after their release in 2011, but exhaustion, and a lack of funding, prevented me from analyzing more than the 422 files I covered in detail in 34 articles totaling over half a million words, which are available here, although I do believe that my work on the files constitutes important research. One day I hope to complete the project, but even if I don’t, the files Manning released will provide historians with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the extent to which the so-called intelligence at Guantánamo is a house of cards built on torture and lies, and we should all be grateful to her for leaking them in the first place — just as there are reasons to be grateful for all the other documents she leaked.

After Thursday’s ruling, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, one of Manning’s lawyers, stated, “It is my devout hope that she is released to us shortly, and that she is finally given a meaningful opportunity to rest and heal that she so richly deserves.”

The entwined fate of Julian Assange

That is certainly to be hoped for, but we must also all spare a thought for the publisher of the information she leaked, Julian Assange, with whom her fate seems forever entwined. Last April, while Assange was still living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he had first sought asylum in 2012, the Justice Department unsealed criminal charges against him. As Charlie Savage noted, “Prosecutors initially charged him with a narrow hacking conspiracy offense, accusing him of agreeing to try to help Ms. Manning crack a password that would have let her log onto a military computer system under a different user account, covering her tracks.”

This seemed to be nothing more than a cynical effort to portray Assange as a cic-conspirator rather than what he and WikiLeaks are and were — publisher of leaked information, just as the Washington Post was, in 1971, with whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, relating to the Vietnam War. Since then, however, prosecutors “significantly expanded the case against Mr. Assange by bringing charges against him under the Espionage Act for soliciting, receiving and publishing classified information.”

Charlie Savage noted that these charges “rais[ed] novel First Amendment issues,” which, sadly, is something of an understatement, as a successful prosecution of Assange would have a genuinely chilling effect on the freedom of the press, and of freedom of speech in general — and, it’s worth noting, was a course of action that, precisely for those reasons, was abandoned by President Obama after he had initially sought to pursue Assange.

Savage also noted, at the close of his article, that “Mr. Assange has been fighting extradition in a London court,” which, again, is a rather curt reference to the proposed extradition of Assange from the UK to the US, which the British government, to its great shame, is supporting unquestioningly, even though the same principles of what is at stake — the chilling suppression of press freedom and freedom of speech in general — applies as much to the UK as the US, and ought to preclude any notion that his extradition is acceptable.

I have been writing about this since last year, in a number of articles and in various media appearances — see, for example, my articles, Defend Julian Assange and WikiLeaks: Press Freedom Depends On It (from last April), Stop the Extradition: If Julian Assange Is Guilty of Espionage, So Too Are the New York Times, the Guardian and Numerous Other Media Outlets (from last May), As a Frail and Confused Julian Assange Appears in Court, It’s Time For the UK to Stop His Proposed Extradition to the US (in October), and, last month, A Call for the Mainstream Media to Defend Press Freedom and to Oppose the Proposed Extradition of Julian Assange to the US.

I have also submitted a witness statement in support of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, with specific reference to the Guantánamo files, which will, I believe, be discussed in May when the hearing regarding Assange’s proposed extradition resumes, following a disturbing week of hearings last month, in which Assange was held in a glass box, and there were allegations of clear judicial bias, and confusions regarding the terms of the US-UK extradition treaty.

For further information, I recommend the accounts of former ambassador and human rights activist Craig Murray, who attended the hearing (see here, here, here, here and here), and also of Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof, who was also attending the hearings, travelling from the US to do so (see here, here, here and here). Gosztola’s second article looks at, as he describes it, how “Chelsea Manning’s Grand Jury resistance [is] a major hurdle for prosecutors,” who are seeking to revise history to try, erroneously, to make Manning into some kind of accomplice of Assange.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

28 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, providing some good news for a change, as a US judge has ordered the release from jail of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who has been imprisoned for a year for refusing to cooperate with a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

    The judge, however, refused to waive the $256,000 that Manning was charged for refusing to cooperate with the investigation, although her supporters have, in just two days, raised all of the money owed – and more!

    In my article, I specifically thank Chelsea for having leaked the classified military files relating to the Guantanamo prisoners, which I worked on with WikiLeaks as a media partner when they were published in 2011 — and which continue to stand as a powerful insight into the lies told by the authorities about the men held at Guantanamo — and I also draw parallels with the ongoing and unacceptable efforts of the UK government to extradite Assange to the US to face espionage charges relating to WikiLeaks’ publication of the documents leaked by Manning.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil McKenna wrote:

    Great news. Long overdue.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    It certainly is, Neil – and amazing, I think, that Chelsea’s supporters raised the $256,000 in fines in just two days!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil McKenna wrote:

    A cracking effort, and goes to show in what esteem she’s held.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Ed Charles wrote:

    And they raised over $30,000 dollars in living expenses for her.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, absolutely, Ed. Amazing support!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Martin Izat wrote:

    They should have kept the crowdfunding page going. It had finished by the time I read the article, but I would like to have contributed to Chelsea too.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    The follow-up fundraiser, raising money for Chelsea’s living expenses is still going, Martin: https://www.gofundme.com/f/Help-Fund-Chelseas-Living-Expenses

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Sharon Tipton wrote:

    “Uncoercable” – my heroine! Great article! Thanks!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Sharon. Good to hear from you!

  11. Anna says...

    Indeed, a rare wonderfully positive piece of news ! And a great relief that her financial burden has been lifted from her shoulders.
    Hope Chelsea soon recovers and can leave all forms of confinement.
    She’s an example of what ‘having a spine’ means and a hero of mine already from before she was betrayed by someone she trusted and we knew her identity. I even personally owe her a young friend whom I met during early demo’s on her (then still his) behalf in front of the US consulate 🙂 My wish for the US : Bernie for president with Chelsea as his VP.
    Two uncoercables 🙂

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. Yes, celebrations are definitely in order for this news – and the news of Chelsea’s supporters paying off the outrageous fines.
    We clearly need some good news right now, as the coronavirus, which is eating into every aspect of our lives, isn’t bringing any good news with it. I hope your government finds a way to behave more responsibly than the wretched shower we have in charge here in the UK.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Katia Bahai wrote:

    …when will she be actually out… to order release is not the same as being freed?…

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    She’s been freed, Katia. Her legal team “asked that reporters grant her privacy ‘while she gets on her feet,'” according to Gizmodo: https://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2020/03/judge-orders-chelsea-manning-and-jeremy-hammond-released-from-jail/

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Julie Alley wrote:

    Good news! She should not have ever been imprisoned.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Julie. I don’t know how normal the Grand Jury process seems to Americans, but it’s a weird one to those of us watching from across the ocean. We don’t have them in the UK, and Wikipedia tells me that “the United States and Liberia are the only countries that retain grand juries.” Last year, it was shocking to see that this body was able to provide the framework for Chelsea Manning to be imprisoned – and then, separately, it was shocking to see that a judge was able to impose a fine of $1,000 a day for her non-cooperation, which seemed to have no basis in legal precedent.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Maura Hurley wrote:

    Chelsea will continue to need support. Thanks all.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Maura!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    While we’re thinking about Chelsea, let’s also spare a thought for the hacker Jeremy Hammond, who was also ordered freed by Judge Trenga, in a separate order, because “[t]he business of the grand jury itself, with which both refused to cooperate, is ‘concluded'”, as Gizmodo has explained, stating, “While released from the jail that’s held him since October, Hammond will soon be en route back to a federal correctional facility to serve out the remainder of a 10-year sentence for his role in the 2012 hacking of Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor. Had Hammond not been called to testify, close supporters say, it is possible he would already be a free man. The 35-year-old Chicagoan anarchist – whose computer crimes were thoroughly documented and in some cases instigated by an FBI informant in late 2011 – had put months of work into an intensive substance abuse program, which may have earned him his release in December. But that opportunity was seemingly wrecked the moment prosecutors yanked the high-profile inmate out of the medium-security prison in Kentucky where’d he been serving the last years of his sentence.”
    See: https://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2020/03/judge-orders-chelsea-manning-and-jeremy-hammond-released-from-jail/

  20. Anna says...

    Glad you mentioned Jeremy Hammond as I did not know who he is.
    As for the 2020 medieval pest, I really feel sorry for the abominable way Boris handled this, initially laughing it off, like the equally idiotic Trump did. They of course do not have to worry about getting a bed in a ICU and the best medical care available…
    Just listened to his ‘address to the nation’ and the draconian measures to try and make up for lost time – if I lived in Britain I now should self-isolate for several months. Fair enough for a single person, but how about cash-strapped whole families living in a one bedroom flat? That is the surest way of unnecessarily infecting scores of other persons. In addition no one is getting tested. Surely at least those who show the most common symptoms should be tested before their situation becomes critical beyond being saved and the rest of their family also gets sick ? Mindboggling. Read this yesterday in the Guardian : https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/15/uk-coronavirus-crisis-to-last-until-spring-2021-and-could-see-79m-hospitalised. No surprise to me, but apparently it was to your government…
    Over here for the moment nothing as drastic as that, but that probably is only a question of time. Hang in there Andy, you’re younger but also are in the high risk group. Take care 🙂 !

  21. Anna says...

    And I did not even mention what to me is so obvious that it does not need mentioning : the disastrous impact of this pandemic on people in war zones, refugee camps, city slums, prisons and all countless other vulnerable people who have hardly or no access to any healthcare at all, or even water. So much for frequently washing your hands…

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Anna. I’m glad to have directed you towards Jeremy Hammond’s case, as he is another whistleblower worth knowing about.
    As for the coronavirus, how surprising is it that the UK, yet again, has chosen to diverge from our neighbours? When it comes to a global pandemic, we are apparently as Brexit-y and idiotic as usual. Until today, that is, when now apparently we’re going to see a sudden change from laissez-faire to authoritarian. It really is like a bad dream.

  23. Judge Orders Chelsea Manning’s Release From Jail for Not Cooperating With WikiLeaks Grand Jury, Supporters Raise $256,000 Fines « The Nuclear Resister says...

    […] Andy Worthington (reprinted by permission of the […]

  24. Anna says...

    Luckily apparently Brits are wiser than Boris, who apparently had his old father (admittedly co-responsible for his son’s stupidity and irresponsible behaviour) state that HE still goes to the pub – to help struggling pub owners … At least they gave up on the criminal herd contamination ‘strategy’, but only after ‘scientists modelled’ what I had calculated for my own country in 10 minutes : that tens if not hundreds of thousands could be expected to die if indeed 70 – 80 % of the population would catch it, not to mention the NHS (or our NFZ) being completely overwhelmed. Saw the UK health minister equally fumble yesterday on AJE. This pandemic really is a litmus test for politicians, isn’t it ?

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, our politicians are clearly out of their depth, Anna – but I have to confess that I am also having difficulty accepting that the complete shutdown of the global economy, and the accompanying destruction of the livelihood of best millions of people, is the answer to the threat posed by the virus.

  26. Anna says...

    I understand this worry and I’m a zero in economy, but it would seem that the stark choice for workers and small business owners might eventually be bankrupcy or death. Their own or that of weaker family members and many other equally innocent persons. Italy waited too long, so did Spain.

    Every day now counts. Over here schools/ universities etc were closed about a week ago. A hassle for parents, but it makes a huge difference. Streets nearly deserted, public transport ditto. Restaurants and other food places open but with signs at the – barraged – door that it’s only for take-away, no sitting down, even on outside terraces. We seem to be pretty responsible in that respect. I’m amazed.

    So maybe this should be the moment to reassess our economic system alltogether, decide whom to support : the cruise ship companies and their (wealthy) owners and shareholders, or their laid-off individual employees ? Where are all those promised & steadily increasing billions and even trillions to come from?

    In the US the federal health budget apparently is 1,5 % of their military budget… If world-wide outrageous military spending would be refunneled to supporting vulnerable workers (also those from the military industries), if billionaires would be taxed, steeply, I assume it would be feasible.

    This is an interesting piece on the economic impact of such individual subsidies, from 2001 :
    https://www.nber.org/papers/w10784.pdf

    For the moment the usual opposite seems to be happening. Bezos’ companies refuse to give their already under-paid workers paid sick leave and ask their healthy co-workers to voluntarily foot that bill !

    Even so, none of that will save those confined in refugee camps etc. Pandemics have always wiped out the poorest segments of society, but somehow one would have hoped that in this ‘enlightened’ day and age things would be different…

    Health or economy, a prime example of Hobson’s choice. But that should not be a reason to be sloppy about the health factor.

    If heaven forbid virus cases peak too fast and health services are overwhelmed (as is the case in northern Italy) a lot of additional persons will die who could have survived if adequate medical support had been available. On top of all the inevitable victims.

    As for the idiotic ‘elbow bumping’ (which cannot be done while keeping a six feet distance), when will someone in charge have the guts to suggest the muslim way of greeting as the only safe one : one’s right hand touching one’s own heart. Not just safe, beautiful too :-).

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts and your update, Anna.
    My assessment is here: https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2020/03/18/coronavirus-how-did-8900-deaths-worldwide-lead-to-the-complete-shutdown-of-the-global-economy/
    I’ll be interested to hear what you think. I just cycled through the Cirty and the West End today, and saw everything shutting down, with no notion, to my mind, of how the huge numbers of people who, in a very short time, will have no work and no income, are meant to survive.

  28. Nine Years Ago: Assange And WikiLeaks Released The Guantánamo Files, Which Should Have Led To Prison’s Closure – OpEd | NOQTA says...

    […] imprisoned because of her refusal to testify in a Grand Jury case against WikiLeaks, and only released last month, owing $256,000 in outrageously imposed fines — “need protection, and so do those in […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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