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Manning could be jailed for another 400 days and owe $144,00 because of an unprecedented decision by Bush-Appointed Judge Trenga. Kevin Gosztola discusses the latest development

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MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us.

Chelsea Manning had been in jail 147 days when Federal Judge Anthony Trenga refused to reconsider the exorbitant fines levied against her. She now owes $38,000 in fines. That’s just a few days ago. If this keeps up, she could spend another 400 days in jail, owe at least $441,000 by the time this impaneled grand jury ends its term. Well, there’s little if any precedent in jailing and at the same time fining someone for contempt. Judge Trenga said, who was appointed, by the way, by George Bush in 2008, that it was within his powers to do so. So what’s really at play here with Manning? And what is really going on here with the case of Julian Assange? And how does all this fit together? Just what did she refuse to do? And what are the next steps for her and her defense?

Kevin Gosztola is the Managing Editor of Shadowproof and co-host of the weekly podcast “Unauthorized Disclosure,” and joins us. Kevin, welcome.


MARC STEINER: And so, let’s just start. So she’s been in jail for a long time and I asked before we went on the air, had you seen her, had other people seen her? In part, to see how she was doing.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: I have not made an attempt to see Chelsea Manning, but that’s also because, as I understand, she’s only seeing family and she’s only seeing attorneys. I could be wrong, but I believe that there’s this tight circle of people who are only allowed to meet with her. Otherwise, we might see more media interviews with her about how she’s doing in jail at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

MARC STEINER: Which is not a federal facility, it’s a county jail, correct, that she’s being held in?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: But she’s probably deputized with the US Marshals, or they probably have some space there in order to hold her in confinement.

MARC STEINER: Now, Chelsea Manning’s refusing to—Let’s just go backwards for a second to our conversation in May when she was put back in jail after she was let out, and then put back in because she refused to testify. Talk here and remind our viewers why she refused to testify and what the issues are here.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Yeah. So she was given a subpoena and was asked to come before this grand jury, which has been impaneled. And in some form, people need to understand, it’s been meeting since the end of 2010. We’re talking about December following the disclosures that she made to Wikileaks. And by disclosures, we’re referring to the Collateral Murder video, we’re referring to the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, the US State Embassy Cables. Those were the high-profile publications that Wikileaks did that came from her.

And so, in some form or another, the grand jury had been investigating, looking into members of Wikileaks, staffers, anyone connected, subpoenaing documents, going after internet records, going at companies like Google and other places in order to find anything they could that could possibly be used for an indictment against members of Wikileaks. But then in 2013, Barack Obama’s administration decided to back off and not pursue this because of what they acknowledged as The New York Times problem. If they charged members of Wikileaks, then they would also be in a position where they would need to go forward with charges against editors at The New York Times, or The Washington Post, or other newspapers.

So then, under Donald Trump’s administration, there had been a rekindled interest in going after Julian Assange and other people in Wikileaks apparently. They restarted or they renewed this investigation. I don’t think it was ever formally shut down, even though it had lied dormant after Obama left office. And so, then she was asked to come before it. And there had been people even before her. So David House in the prior year had been subpoenaed to testify, and it was someone who was a friend, had represented Chelsea Manning’s support network as a face, gone on MSNBC and other networks. So anyways, she was asked to come before and answer questions, as she summarized, about her communications with people who were representing Wikileaks, with accounts that represented Wikileaks when she was having communications about making these disclosures while she was in the US military.

And what they really want to know is information that’s actually a part of the court-martial record that is already there. There’s really no reason to ask her these questions because the US military has all of this information available about what went on, and they can connect it. But they really wanted to ask her about her interactions with the person they believe was Julian Assange using the account. She refused. And because on principle she refused to answer these questions, then she was sent to jail. And then the term for the grand jury ended and had to be renewed. So she left for less than a week basically, or about a week, from jail and then she was sent back. And when she was sent back, that’s when we have the fines being added in addition to being jailed for contempt [crosstalk]. Yeah.

MARC STEINER: I’m sorry. One of the things I read was that her attorneys have said it’s unprecedented almost for somebody to be put in jail and fined at this rate. As a matter of fact, what they said in their brief that was reported in Truthout was that, “Rarely, individuals are fined, but counsel can find no case in which fines were assessed to an individual other than where an individual was a sophisticated financial actor and the underlying contempt involved disobedience of a court order directing the management of a large amount of money.”

So I mean, one of the things here clearly is that there’s something afoot here. I mean, Judge Trenga is being completely incalcitrant in all of this, refused to make any changes. And so, I mean, what do you think politically is afoot here? Clearly they’re trying to break Chelsea Manning, but this is almost unprecedented how they are prosecuting her.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Yeah, that’s right. It’s unprecedented. And normally you would have either a person being put in jail because they were an activist and on principle they decided that they did not want to cooperate with or testify and give up their friends or associates to this grand jury. And we’ve seen these kinds of fishing expeditions conducted in the past against activists. But if you have a corporation obviously that does not want to comply with a grand jury, you can’t jail the corporation. You have to send somebody, which you maybe wouldn’t send the executive to jail because the whole entire corporation is responsible. So what the attorneys for Chelsea Manning have been trying to say when they make that statement is that normally you would see maybe a large fine levied against the corporation, and that would be the way to leverage them and try to get them to come before the grand jury and provide testimony, to coerce them. Because that’s what all these measures are supposed to be is coercive and not punishment.

And now what I think is really going on behind the scenes here is that you have a theory of conspiracy that the United States government has concocted about the way in which Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning were working with each other in order to put these documents out. So they contend that Chelsea Manning was essentially enlisted by Wikileaks. If you accept what the CIA has said about Wikileaks, that they are a hostile non-state intelligence service, then you would contend before a court, if you were a prosecutor, that Wikileaks had actually recruited Chelsea Manning to do the work of Wikileaks and to steal these documents. And then, you come up with a timeline of events in which she begins to work for Wikileaks in order to go search for these particular sets of documents and to steal them on behalf of Wikileaks.


KEVIN GOSZTOLA: But the problem-

MARC STEINER: I’m going to let you finish, Kevin. I’m sorry. Go ahead.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: But to conclude my point here-

MARC STEINER: Yeah, yeah.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: … the problem that the prosecutors have in going forward is that, what Chelsea Manning told the court, the military court, in February of 2013 when she pled guilty to some of the charges, completely conflicts with the theory of the case that the prosecutors have been trying to bring against Julian Assange. And so they desperately need to haul her in before the grand jury before this trial so that they can get her to say certain things that will help them be able to prosecute Julian Assange if he’s ever brought to the United States.

MARC STEINER: And you also think that if there were facts that could prove that Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange worked together and were conspiring together, that this would be part of the documents that they are using in the British courts to have him extradited to the United States.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: If they could get information that showed that Julian Assange was using Chelsea Manning in order to steal documents for Wikileaks, that’s what they would want. And that’s why they’re so insistent on bringing Chelsea Manning before this grand jury. But the other obstacle that they now have is that they did not get her to testify before they submitted the extradition packet. We know that the extradition hearing that is upcoming for Julian Assange is going to happen in February of 2020.

And supposedly under this treaty, you’re not supposed to add any additional information after this point. So they have the indictment, they were able to charge Julian Assange with several violations of the Espionage Act, which is hugely dangerous, has implications for press freedom that have been spoken about and discussed widely, but that should mean that Chelsea Manning is released yesterday or weeks ago. And yet, they’re still leaning on her and claim that it continues to be coercion and not punishment.

Again, we need to emphasize that in the grand jury process, you can keep people in jail, but it’s supposed to be coercive, not punishment. And by coercive, we mean that there is a potential that that person is going to eventually change their mind and come before the grand jury and testify. But Chelsea Manning has laid out very clearly her principled opposition to participating or cooperating with this grand jury.

And not only that, she rose to a challenge that Judge Anthony Trenga gave her. He didn’t know he was issuing a challenge, but he admonished her and said that she should recognize that there’s nothing dishonest about going before this grand jury system. It’s been a part of our constitutional system for – I mean, if go back to the founding of this country. So you should feel like you’re not betraying your country or values or freedom or whatsoever by going before this grand jury.

And she went and did research with the help of her attorneys on how grand juries have morphed in the last decades. And then she filed this response. She wrote this letter to the judge that outlined very clearly all the problems with the grand jury process, and made it evident to him that she’s never going to change her mind. And so, by that, she should be released from jail.

MARC STEINER: So before we conclude, and of course people could argue, saying that “No, if she’s not going to testify, she should stay in jail,” but that clearly is not what we’re arguing about here. I’m just saying that that’s also an argument on the other side. But the issue it seems to me here, a) I want to know what’s happening to Chelsea Manning. I mean, here she is in jail, she could be in jail for another 400 days. She’s not going to testify, as you just said. That’s not going to happen. So, a), politically, what happens next? And what happens to her? I mean, she’s been through a lot, from being in federal prison originally when the whole thing blew up, to going back to jail when she refused to testify, being let out, and the next week she was back in prison again. So I mean, she’s going through a lot here.

So I’m curious, both on the personal level with Chelsea Manning, how she’s doing, what could be the future here? And what do you think the future of the struggle is going to be? Because in part what I’ve been reading is legal opinions are saying it’s going to be very difficult on an appeal to overturn what Trenga did.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: I think it’s going to be extremely difficult given the way the system is set up to support prosecutors. We know that we have a justice system where, in 99% of the cases, prosecutors are basically able to have their way. And now, Chelsea is not a defendant, but still, she is challenging the system, and so they are going to be able to get the outcome that is desired.

As far as Chelsea Manning and what’s going on with her in jail, this is a transgender person who is probably dealing with trying to get access to healthcare. She had multiple … She had procedures, she had healthcare before she was put back into confinement. She’s worried about all of the work that was done to help her transition being complicated. And she’s worried about contracting all sorts of issues that are going to require surgeries when she finally is no longer in confinement again.

There’s the issue of being re-traumatized, the way that she is trying to deal with this all psychologically, triggers, thinking back to ways she was abused and mistreated when she was held at Quantico, the Marine Brig where she had her cruel inhuman treatment that was condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture. And so those are all the different aspects of what she’s dealing with in her struggle that need to be kept at the forefront.

I think, collectively, what we all need to be mindful about is that Judge Anthony Trenga is not only punishing Chelsea Manning, but he is punishing all of the supporters of Chelsea Manning. And what I mean by that is that he claims that she is going to be able to find the money at some point. Either while she’s in jail now or when she finally walks free, she is going to be able to find the funds.

The only way that that’s possible is if you think that her celebrity status is something that gives her the ability to raise money off of all of her supporters, to start a Go Fund Me campaign and to get people to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay this bill. And then she could pay that bill and then move on with her life as if nothing had happened.

That’s what judge Anthony Trenga is saying to all of the supporters. So he’s really not just only fining Chelsea, he’s not only sanctioning Chelsea Manning, but he’s also sanctioning the entire group of supporters worldwide that would like to see Chelsea Manning free as a voice that could potentially express solidarity with Wikileaks or, at minimum, raise the same concerns about the risks to press freedom that exist as a result of this case going forward against Julian Assange.

MARC STEINER: Well, Kevin Gosztola, we’ll stay in touch with you obviously and keep following this, as I know you will be, for all of our viewers. Thank you so much for the work you do, and thank you for joining us today.


MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for staying with us and being with us. Take care.

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Kevin Gosztola is the managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast Unauthorized Disclosure.