Chelsea Manning’s release last Thursday by order of Virginia District Court judge Anthony Trenga had an air of oddness to it. “The court finds Ms. Manning’s appearance before the Grand Jury is no longer needed, in light of which her detention no longer serves any coercive purpose.”
Her detention had never served any coercive purpose as such – she remained unwilling to testify before an institution she questions as dangerous, secretive and oppressive. She steadfastly refused to answer any questions relating to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. What her detention has done is disturb her health and constitute an act of State harassment that ranks high in the annals of abuses of power.
In March 2019, the former military analyst was summoned to appear and give testimony to the Grand Jury convened in the Eastern District of Virginia. As the New York Times put it at the time, “there were multiple reasons to believe that the subpoena [forcing Manning to testify] is related to the investigation of Mr Assange.” She challenged the legitimacy of the subpoena, though lost and was held for contempt. Having already been court martialled and sentenced, Manning saw little need having to go through another round of ear bashing interrogations. “Chelsea,” submitted her support committee in a statement, “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.”
In May that year, Manning was granted one week of freedom until the next grand jury was convened. Again, she was found to be in civil contempt and remanded “to the custody of the Attorney General until such time as she purges herself of contempt or for the life of the Grand Jury”. Her refusal to purge herself of contempt after 30 days duly incurred a fine of $500 per day, an amount that was increased to $1,000 after 60 days.
As Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment noted at the time, such limitations on Manning’s liberty did “not constitute a circumscribed sanction for a specific offence,