The legal team of whistleblower and ex-military intelligence officer Chelsea Manning has filed a new motion seeking her release and relief from the sanctions imposed by a district judge. On February 19, Manning’s defense team led by Moira Meltzer-Cohen filed the motion based on new evidence that includes personality profiling by experts and a recent report by UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer which condemns the sanctions against her.
The sanctions imposed on her by judge Anthony Trenga of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia have not only led to her detention, but also include an exorbitant daily fine that can potentially bankrupt her. The intent of the sanctions has been to coerce Manning into testifying in the indictment of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
While sanctions of such kind by a federal judge are permitted by law towards a “recalcitrant witness” who can be held to be in contempt of court, Meltzer-Cohen pointed out that they are only permissible in cases where they make cooperation possible. “If compliance is impossible, either because the grand jury is no longer in existence, or because the witness is incoercible, then confinement has been transformed from a coercive into a punitive sanction, and thus is in violation of the law,” Meltzer-Cohen claimed.
Manning and her legal team have argued that she can not be coerced into compliance through the sanctions. In their new motion, they have also submitted a expert report by Dr. Sara Boyd, who has attested to the fact that Manning “is … incapable of acting against her principle” to testify. Thus it is not possible to attempt to coerce her, the lawyers argued.
Manning had refused to testify before the grand jury after she was subpoenaed for a federal investigation into Wikileaks. She has been in near continuous detention since March 8, 2019, when she first refused to testify. She has also been sanctioned with an exorbitant fine of USD 1,000 a day since May 17, 2019, when she refused to testify for the second time. According to her lawyers, the fines have accumulated to a total of over USD 230,000 so far.