A federal judge dismissed a petition by Chelsea Manning’s lawyers for a proper hearing on the punitive measures imposed against her. The detention and the economic sanctions imposed on her are set to continue. Manning will now spend more than a year in detention, and will pay an exorbitant fine of USD 1,000 for every day she spends imprisoned.
The unprecedented punitive measures are a coercive tactic to push Manning to testify before a federal grand jury that is currently probing the case of Julian Assange and Wikileaks under the Espionage Act. Manning has consistently refused to testify any further on the matter, contending that she has nothing more to add to her testimonials in her 2013 court martial. She has also raised concerns about the secrecy around the investigation itself.
Manning has been under detention almost continuously since March 8, when she first refused to testify, stating moral objections, before the first grand jury convened as part of the Wikileaks investigation. She was released after 62 days of detention, following the expiry of the term of the grand jury. After barely two weeks, she was subpoenaed again by federal prosecutors to testify before a new jury on May 16, to which she refused again.
In response to her refusal, Judge Anthony Trenga of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced her to be remanded indefinitely. Along with the detention, an exorbitant fine of USD 500 a day was also imposed for the first 30 days, which was to go up to USD 1,000 a day after that.
Over the span of her detention, Manning has suffered a severe financial crisis. By the middle of June, she had to lay off the employees at her small business establishment, effectively closing it, relinquish her apartment, and move her furniture into a garage. This was because she could no longer earn anything while in prison. Summarizing her predicament, her official page on Twitter posted July 21, “She can pay the USD 500 daily fines for 11 days before she is flat broke.”
Legal measures of coercion are employed by courts at the behest of the prosecutors when there are probable chances that it can push the witness to testify. If the courts are convinced that no amount of coercion will acquire a testimonial, the witnesses are not pursued any further.
Manning’s lawyers had petitioned Judge Trenga for a fair trial, pointing out that the sanctions have had a crippling economic implication on her and hence have become more punitive than coercive. The judge nevertheless ignored Manning’s financial situation. He decided, by solely citing her past income, that the sanctions were “… not so excessive as to relieve her of those sanctions or to constitute punishment rather than a coercive measure.”