Chelsea Manning Released But Still Faces Massive Fine

March 16, 2020

A judge released Manning from prison the day after her third suicide attempt because the grand jury inquiry has been disbanded. The massive fine shows this was about teaching her a lesson, not just about coercing her testimony against Assange.   Update March 16,2020: Supporters of Chelsea Manning managed to raise enough money with a GoFundMe campaign over the weekend, shortly after this interview was conducted. As a result, she no longer needs to pay this fine.

A judge released Manning from prison the day after her third suicide attempt because the grand jury inquiry has been disbanded. The massive fine shows this was about teaching her a lesson, not just about coercing her testimony against Assange.   Update March 16,2020: Supporters of Chelsea Manning managed to raise enough money with a GoFundMe campaign over the weekend, shortly after this interview was conducted. As a result, she no longer needs to pay this fine.


Former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning leaves after speaking to the press ahead of a Grand Jury appearance about WikiLeaks, in Alexandria, Virginia, on May 16, 2019. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP via Getty Images)

Story Transcript

Greg Wilpert: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Arlington, Virginia. If federal judge ordered the release of whistleblower Chelsea Manning on Thursday after having been in prison for a full year, the judge’s order came one day after Manning had attempted suicide while in prison. The reason for the release is that the grand jury that is investigating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been dismissed, and so Manning’s testimony is no longer needed.

Manning was imprisoned and fined $256,000 when she refused to testify against Assange, whom the United States is currently trying to extradite from Britain. The U.S. government is arguing that Assange have helped Manning to copy databases of information about the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the state department’s internal communications. Manning, though, always denied that she received help from anyone.

Joining me now to discuss Manning’s release is Kevin Gosztola. He is a writer and publisher for the website shadowproof.com, and co-hosts a weekly podcast called Unauthorized Disclosure. He has been covering Manning and the Assange cases for a long time now. Thanks for joining us again, Kevin.

Kevin Gosztola: Thanks. It’s good to talk to you.

Greg Wilpert: So let’s start with Chelsea Manning’s suicide attempt. What can you tell us about what happened and what led up to the suicide attempt?

Kevin Gosztola: Well, what we know is that around the time that she attempted suicide, the grand jury had apparently ramped up its effort to try and coerce her into providing testimony to the grand jury. Her lawyers had challenged a summons that was issued to bring her before the grand jury on March 10th, and it appears that the grand jury was going to intensify its effort to coerce her into testifying.

So far, they had failed to break her in such a way that she begged for mercy and came back to them and agreed to provide testimony about her involvement and what she did with the disclosures. Again, these disclosures that we’re talking about are the most well known disclosures that WikiLeaks published. This is the collateral murder video, this is the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, the U.S. diplomatic cables, which numbered around 250,000.

They’re the Guantanamo detainee files, and they wanted her to speak about how … They were hoping they could get testimony that would show Julian Assange solicited these leaks from her. They were hoping she would speak about him helping her to crack a password, allegedly, and this goes back to the allegations that she has faced that Julian Assange is facing in his extradition case, and ultimately, if he’s brought to United States, it would be during his trial.

So, this ever had ramped up and we already know that she was going through a lot of trauma and struggling with what we can call psychological torture because of the fact that she was in jail. She was released almost exactly a year after this all started, that the grand jury subpoenaed her, and then she was jailed for civil contempt. I should add that this isn’t the first time that she has tempted suicide in confinement. When she was serving her military sentence at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas in September 2016, and maybe August, September 2016, she was going through an ordeal and was actually punished because she attempted suicide.

So rather than giving her help with her mental health, she received 14 days of solitary confinement for attempting suicide. She had books that the military didn’t want her to have. There were other materials that they confiscated from her. So they accused her of these violations, and then there were also the fact that she attempted suicide. So this has happened before. She’s somebody who people have been concerned about with their mental health.

And, of course, after she had her sentence commuted, there were times in which people who were her supporters were concerned that she might be having suicidal ideations. So, it’s clear that the release comes, for her, at an important time because this was escalating … these issues with her suicidal thoughts were escalating.

Greg Wilpert: I want to get into the issue of what this release means for the trial also against Assange, but first I want to ask, now the federal judge, Anthony Trenga, who released Manning, said that she still must pay the $256,000 fine that had accumulated during her imprisonment. Now, according to U.S. law, the imprisonment and the fine are there to coerce her testimony, not meant as a punishment. However, now that the grand jury has been disbanded, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to coerce her anymore. So, why is she being required to pay the fine if she can’t be coerced for anything?

Kevin Gosztola: That is a good question, and I think that’s for Judge Trenga to answer, that’s for the court to answer, that’s for the United States government to answer because it is, as you say, supposed to be coercive and if they don’t need her testimony, which by the way, in my view, they never her testimony. They were able to issue indictments against Julian Assange without getting testimony from Chelsea Manning.

And so, all along, and obviously, as this WikiLeaks grand jury has been dismissed, what I have said all along is proven that what they were doing was punishment, it was abusive, and it served no legitimate purpose to keep her in jail for all of these months. And in fact, that’s what her legal team argued, that there was no legitimate purpose for keeping her in jail to provide testimony.

When they issued the indictments, she should have been released because at that moment they were in a position where they needed to put her on the list of prosecution witnesses and simply wait until Julian Assange was brought to the United States and put on trial, if that were to happen. So, the fact that these fines, which is $256,000, exist, that she is still expected to pay is cruel. And, to be clear, for most of the time that she was in jail, she was being fined $1,000 a day. For 30 of those days, she was fined $500 per day, and that’s how it all added up.

And she leaves jail essentially in destitution and a complete state of poverty. She had lost her home or apartment, she had most of her items and possessions in a storage locker. She is fortunate to have such a good support network of people who have looked after her, but she leaves, in this moment, and she has to entirely rebuild her life with next to no money in her own account. And the court never conducted a basic assessment of whether she had the financial ability to pay these fines. What they presumed is because she has so many people who support her around the world in what she’s doing to stand up on principle, they’ve presumed that she can just launch a GoFundMe account and raise the money.

And so, because she could easily do this, then she can be fined this incredible amount, this amount that it’s not quite there, but it’s approaching what corporations are fined in order to coerce them into cooperating with federal grand juries. It’s probably on par with the way someone would charge people who were wealthy and powerful in order to make them bend to a government prosecution. It’s not the way to treat somebody like Chelsea Manning who has a low income, but they never wanted to respect this fact that she really doesn’t make that much money being Chelsea Manning.

Greg Wilpert: Now, I just want to dig a little bit into the background. I mean, why did Manning actually refuse to testify? And what role would her testimony have played in the Assange extradition, which is still going on in Britain? And then, finally, what does the jury disabandonment mean for the government’s case against Assange?

Kevin Gosztola: Chelsea Manning, in her resistance, essentially what she was doing was making it hard for the government to turn her against Julian Assange and she understood that what they wanted to do was, as her legal team called it, get her in a perjury trap, but also what they wanted to do was impeach her credibility and make it seem like the statement that she had given to the military corps about the timeline of events was not credible.

And the reason why the prosecutors want to make her statement to the court seem not credible is because it doesn’t match up with the theory of the case that they’re bringing against Julian Assange. Essentially, she says that, “Independently, I decided to disclose all of these documents to WikiLeaks. I went around, I tried to first go to The New York Times, I contacted wanting to contact the Washington post, but they didn’t want my disclosures, and so I went and submitted documents to WikiLeaks.”

On the other hand, what the government is trying to say, and so why they need to break Chelsea Manning and bend her in such a way that they get testimony that’s useful to them, they wanted to say Julian Assange recruited Chelsea Manning to work on behalf of WikiLeaks and that she was inside the military going around on the network, the secret network, going through databases, finding sets of documents and picking them out because WikiLeaks told her that they wanted these particular sets of documents to be disclosed to the world.

And that doesn’t match up, unless you’re able to show that what she said to the military court isn’t the truth. So, going forward here, we know that the WikiLeaks grand jury was dismissed. It resulted in not only Chelsea Manning being released, but Jeremy Hammond, who had been subpoenaed to appear before this grand jury, was released and he was serving a federal prison sentence related to the Stratfor hack and then the leak of that information that was published by WikiLeaks, and he returns, he’s going to be completing his prison sentence.

However, had he not been subpoenaed, he would have been released from prison back in December 2019. So, he goes back to prison and it’s obviously a much more … It’s a crisis moment now because all of these prisons and everyone inside of them are hugely vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus. And so, it’s something to consider here that, had the grand jury not subpoenaed him, he would not be in the situation right now where he’s vulnerable to the spread of this virus. But going forward here, the critical issue is the grand jury is no more. It could have continued on. It was not done with its term, they have 18-month terms.

In fact, Chelsea Manning, last year, was in jail, the grand jury elapsed. She was out for a week and then they subpoenaed her again and she re-entered jail, and so this time, it was dismissed. The grand jury just ended. That suggests to me that there are no further indictments. That means there’s no additional charges against Julian Assange. There’s no charges against any other associates or staffers of WikiLeaks, no individuals who were related or involved to any of this … involved with any of these leaks. And so, that suggests to me that if you’re a part of WikiLeaks and the legal team representing WikiLeaks, that you might breathe a sigh of relief.

And for people who are concerned about the implications for press freedom that Julian Assange’s case poses, you breathe a sigh of relief that it isn’t expanding to other people who were involved in this work in publishing the information. But you know that the focus now becomes this extradition case in the United Kingdom and upcoming, we have this hearing for three weeks where witnesses will be called for the defense and for the prosecution or for the people and the crown prosecution service that are going to be arguing for the extradition and that they are going to have this major hearing.

And so, all of the focus now has to be on a Julian Assange’s case and what’s at stake for press freedom and journalists throughout the world as the United States government, even though Chelsea Manning is out of jail, even though Jeremy Hammond is out of jail, even though they may have abandoned the grand jury investigation that they are still pressing onward with this case that has dangerous implications for press freedom.

Greg Wilpert: Okay. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. Of course, we always continued to follow this story. I was speaking to Kevin Gosztola, writer and publisher for the website, shadowproof.com.

Thanks again, Kevin, for all of this information and for having joined us today.

Kevin Gosztola: Thank you.

Greg Wilpert: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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