Chelsea Manning Back in Prison After Refusing to Testify

May 16, 2019

Freed eight days ago, Manning was subpoenaed before a new grand jury investigating Assange. Despite grave danger to her health, she refused to testify, saying she would rather die in prison than change her principles

Outside of an Alexandria, Virginia courtroom, Chelsea Manning explained to reporters why she would refuse to testify before a second grand jury investigating Wikileaks' Julian Assange, and as a result, face jail time once again. On May 9, Manning was released from jail because the term of the last grand jury she refused to testify before expired. She was immediately subpoenaed once again—for May 16.

“Based on my refusal to answer questions two months ago the grand jury is trying to compel me to testify,” Manning told reporters. "They sent me into confinement, so I got released last week. And here I am today with the same subpoena, or a different subpoena with the same questions. Ultimately this is an attempt to place me back in confinement,” Manning said.

“How long are you prepared to do this?” a reporter asked.

“Forever,” Manning said.

The government is attempting to coerce testimony from Manning to use in their case against Assange, and this time, there are penalties on top of the imprisonment.

“One way they can punish you or coerce you into testifying is to give you this fine on a daily basis,” Shadowproof's Kevin Gosztola told The Real News Network's Marc Steiner.

After 30 days in jail, Manning will be charged $500 dollars each day for refusing to testify. After 60 days, the fine will go up to $1,000 dollars a day. This could mean Manning is in jail and fined for being there and not cooperating for up to 18 months—the duration of the grand jury's term.

“[Manning] refuses to comply with a prosecution that is illegitimate in the sense that we know that Julian Assange was engaged in Freedom of Information, engaged in transparency, engaged in freedom of the press,” Gosztola said. “We know that she was a source. We know that she was already convicted, and went to jail, and served her time, and she should not have to serve another day in any jail cell, let alone a prison cell. And in fact, she recognizes that she's doing what every person should do in this situation.”

Manning's “strong group of supporters,” Gosztola explained, offer some hope for maintaining public awareness and raising funds for Manning: “They are the same people who made her commutation possible. They're the same people who put the pressure on Barack Obama's administration to give her her freedom,” Gosztola said.

Steiner observed that the Trump administration is far worse than the Obama administration: “I mean, we're not dealing with Obama. We're not dealing with an administration that is going to be moved by some of this,” Steiner said. “I mean [the Obama administration] did jail her, but they let her free, obviously. We're dealing with Donald Trump.”

Gosztola observed that under Trump the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers has been “kicked into overdrive.”

“Not only are they going after Julian Assange, but we have new cases—one in the last week of an alleged drone whistleblower named Daniel Hale. We have the case of Reality Winner, who is in prison right now, an NSA whistleblower,” Gosztola said. “So you have these people as examples of how the Trump administration is basically making it much more intense, and it's not only targeting former government employees, it's also implicating journalists.”


Chelsea Manning Back in Prison After Refusing to Testify

Story Transcript

CHELSEA MANNING Based on my refusal to answer questions two months ago, the grand jury, in order to try to compel me to testify, they sent me into confinement. So, I got released last week, and here I am today with the same subpoena, or a different subpoena with the same questions. Ultimately, this is an attempt to place me back in confinement.

REPORTER How long are you prepared to do this for, keep going before a grand jury, saying you’re not going to answer this question—

CHELSEA MANNING Forever.

MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner and that was earlier today before Chelsea Manning went inside to appear before the grand jury. She refused once again to testify, as we all know, and was jailed for up to 18 months. As we know, on May the 9th, Chelsea Manning was released from jail because the term of the last grand jury impaneled, where she refused to testify, expired. She was served a subpoena to testify for this new impaneled grand jury investigating Julian Assange. As you can tell from her statement, she refused to cooperate, and Judge Anthony Trenga sent her back to jail. We’re joined, once again, by Kevin Gosztola, who is managing editor of Shadowproof.com. Kevin, welcome. Good to have you back with us.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA Thank you for having me.

MARC STEINER So let me just start with this. I’d like to play a short clip also from her earlier press conference, that people can see, and then we can jump into what happened today, and what you think this all means.

CHELSEA MANNING I will not cooperate with this or any other grand jury, so it doesn’t matter what the, what it is, or what the case is. I’m just not going to comply or cooperate. Facing jail again, potentially today, doesn’t change my stance. The prosecutors are deliberately placing me in an impossible position— go to jail and face the prospect of being held in contempt again, or, in the alternative, foregoing my principles, the strong positions that I have, that I hold dear. And the latter is a far worse prison or jail than the government could ever produce. The truth is, that no matter what happens today, whether I’m placed in confinement or not, I’m not going to comply with this grand jury.

MARC STEINER So clearly, Kevin, she knew from the beginning before she walked in there, she was not going to walk out, it seems to me. Talk a bit about what you think is happening here.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA I’d agree with you that she believed that it was highly unlikely that the government saw that this subpoena should be quashed, and then that she should not be held in civil contempt again. And so, what’s important about today’s developments is that we saw the first time around, as she was held in civil contempt, and then for more than 60 days, about two months, she was sent to jail. The implications of that were severe, and even early on, she was held in prolonged solitary confinement and those conditions were harsh. But this round has the potential to be even more cruel to her in the way that the government is trying to coerce her to provide testimony that could be useful to their case against Julian Assange.

MARC STEINER What do you mean by “more cruel?” Why do you say that?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA Because there’s now a financial penalty. So after 30 days of time in jail, they will start to charge her $500 a day for refusing to testify. Then after 60 days, they are going to charge a thousand dollars per day to force her to testify. Now, she does have a strong group of supporters. They’re the same people who made her commutation possible. They’re the same people who put the pressure on Barack Obama’s administration to give her freedom, but that’s going to quickly add up. And it could quickly reach a hundred, two hundred, if not, $300,000 before the year is over. We know this grand jury could be impaneled for up to 18 months, and that’s the duration for which she could be kept in jail. And so, that price tag is going to add up. She says she will not betray her principles, but I believe she was making that calculation before she knew that one way they can punish you, or coerce you into testifying, is to give you this fine on a daily basis.

MARC STEINER So one of the things here, just playing on what you just said, I mean, we’re not dealing with Obama. We’re not dealing with an administration that is going to be moved by some of this. I mean, they did jail her, but they let her free, obviously. We’re dealing with Donald Trump. We’re dealing with the potential indictment of Julian Assange. We’re dealing with his extradition, possibly, from Great Britain to the United States to stand trial for which she may have to testify, which she said she would. She could be in jail for quite some time if in fact this grand jury’s impaneled for 18 months, and they don’t come to a conclusion, they’re still battling with Britain. I mean, this could go on for a while.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA It can go on for an extremely long time because we know that the struggle over extradition with Julian Assange could last for multiple years. We know that we actually don’t have the final extradition request yet from the United States, so we don’t know exactly what is going to be requested. We also now have the additional development of Sweden reopening the sexual allegations case against Julian Assange. So now, there is an interest in maybe that country extraditing him to Sweden. Does that still leave the United States interested in pursuing this conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, that this crime, which I believe targets a publisher, goes after the publication of information, and is a threat to press freedom, but how does that factor in? It all means that this could be unfolding over the next several years.

And then, you have this pressure of whether Chelsea should testify. I mean, she knows in her heart that if she goes to testify, she is providing information that the government is going to use against her as a defense witness, or to bolster their case and manipulate her own words into a case that is used to attack people who are working for a media organization. She recognizes that Donald Trump and the Justice Department has taken Barack Obama’s war on whistleblowers that had targeted her, that put her in jail, and that he has now kicked it into overdrive. Not only is he punishing her, and not only are they going after Julian Assange, but we have new cases— one in the last week of an alleged drone whistleblower named Daniel Hale. We have the case of Reality Winner, who is in prison right now, an NSA whistleblower. You have these people as examples of how the Trump administration is basically making it much more intense, and it’s not only targeting former government employees. It’s also implicating journalists.

MARC STEINER Once again, just to be clear, she has said that she will testify because she has to testify, being brought there for the prosecution or testifying for the defense. She may have to testify in court. This is different than what she’s facing now in terms of the grand jury, but let me read this exchange you all can see that took place between the judge and Chelsea Manning today. What she had to say, this was reported in The Washington Post not long after she was put in prison. Manning told the judge, “The government cannot build a prison bad enough, cannot create a system worse than the idea that I would ever change my principles. I’d rather starve to death than to change my opinions in this regard. I mean that quite literally.” And Judge Trenga said to her, “There’s nothing dishonorable in discharging your responsibility as a US citizen.” And she responded, “I believe this grand jury seeks to undermine the integrity of public discourse with the aim of punishing those who expose any serious, ongoing, and systemic abuses of power by this government.” So, she drew a line. The judge drew a line.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA She’s drawing a line and this judge is not acknowledging the history of grand juries in the United States and how they’ve been used to go after and punish activist or dissident groups. In this case, they’re going after Chelsea Manning because she refuses to comply with a prosecution that is illegitimate in the sense that we know that Julian Assange was engaged in the freedom of information, engaged in transparency, engaged in freedom of the press. We know that she was a source. We know that she was already convicted, went to jail and served her time, and she should not have to serve another day in any jail cell— let alone, a prison cell. In fact, she recognizes that she’s doing what every person should do in this situation if they were called to testify, which is resist.

MARC STEINER And we have, I would say once again here, at the very beginning, when she was first put in prison, she could have gotten the death penalty. She didn’t. And so, the severity of that, you can see the Trump administration is going to push this for everything it’s worth. As we close here, where do you think this goes from here? What are the chances that she could be released from prison? I think they look pretty slim, despite what her lawyer may attempt to do. Where do you think it goes from here?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA Where it goes from here is, it’s a whole new process. The appeals were exhausted in the first round, but now they have another chance to appeal and have a new judge who made these decisions, so they get to go up through the appeals court again. They get to exhaust all of their avenues to challenge the fact that she’s back in jail. Then after that, it becomes a test of will, and how much is she willing to pay financially, as well as emotionally, and as well as physically. I remind people, as we close here, that she let us know that she had gender confirmation surgery before she was jailed, not long before. And so, it’s almost inevitable that she will deal with complications, that she will struggle to maintain her health while she is in jail. A jail is worse than a prison. There are fewer resources for her to take care of herself. And so, there’s no way that she’s going to be able to avoid having medical problems while she is in there— let alone, psychological issues. She will be retraumatized day in and day out and that’s something that she’s going to be dealing with in her spirit. But she’s made it clear, as she has asserted before the press, that she intends to stay strong and resist, and I think we have to take that seriously. In fact, the US attorneys are taking it seriously because they’ve escalated and decided to impose a financial penalty.

MARC STEINER And as she said, she’d rather starve to death than buckle. Kevin Gosztola, thank you, once again. Thanks for you work at Shadowproof.com. Good to have you with us and we’ll be checking in, of course, obviously, as this develops.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA Thank you.

MARC STEINER And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. We’ll stay on top of this. Take care.