Blow to Assange extradition after Chelsea Manning is freed and grand jury disbanded

A picture of Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange
Tom Coburg

War crimes whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been released from prison for refusing to testify before the WikiLeaks grand jury, which has been disbanded. This is not good news for the US government, which is hoping to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in part, on charges linked to Manning.

Freedom

On 11 March 2020, news emerged that Manning had attempted suicide and was hospitalised. The next day it was announced that judge Anthony Trenga, who was overseeing the WikiLeaks grand jury, had ordered the release of Manning from prison.

Manning was imprisoned in March 2019 for refusing to co-operate with the WikiLeaks grand jury. After two months she was released, but then re-arrested and imprisoned in May.

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Courage

In February 2020, Manning’s lawyers filed a motion arguing that their client was incoercible and so should be released.

This motion was crucial and stated that Chelsea Manning’s declaration (Exhibit A):

articulates her perceptions and the moral basis for her recalcitrance. Her solemn patience during eleven months in jail without having been accused, let alone convicted of a crime, speaks for itself.

The motion referred to a psychological assessment by Dr Sara Boyd (Exhibit B [under seal]) that:

identifies and explains the characterological attributes from which Ms. Manning’s persistence and morals spring, and those attributes that function to entrench and fortify those morals.

There was also support from Nils Melzer, UN rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, whose letter (Exhibit C):

not only casts serious doubt on the permissibility of coercive sanctions, but provides profound moral support for Ms. Manning’s self-perception.

Other material included a petition supporting Manning signed by 60,000 people (Exhibit D) that provided:

compelling evidence of Ms. Manning’s wide social support, and the kind of impact the withdrawal of that support would have on Ms. Manning, were she to change her position.

The motion concluded:

No realistic possibility remains that continued confinement or other sanctions will bring about Ms. Manning’s testimony. Further confinement cannot attain its stated coercive purpose, and therefore will be not simply futile, but impermissibly punitive.

The motion clearly worked.

War crimes

In 2013, Manning, a former US army intelligence analyst, was convicted of violating America’s Espionage Act – along with other offences – and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. She was responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of documents relating to the invasion of Iraq and the Afghanistan conflict. These were subsequently published by WikiLeaks.

Manning’s most infamous war crime exposé was the video of a US Army helicopter in Baghdad firing on civilians, including a Reuters photographer and his driver. The crew also fired on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men.

Manning is the recipient of many awards, including the Guardian’s Person of the Year and the Sean MacBride Peace Prize.

In January 2017, former US president Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to end in May 2017.

Implications

With the release of Manning the WikiLeaks grand jury has been disbanded:

Manning’s release could directly affect the outcome of the extradition hearing against Assange, due to resume in May. Indeed, the US authorities would no doubt have regarded Manning’s testimony in regard to the initial charge of “Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion” against Assange as pivotal.

Manning’s continued silence may weaken the case generally against Assange, given she is referred to numerous times in the additional charges relating to the Espionage Act.

The extradition farce should end now and Assange be released.

Meanwhile, Manning desperately needs help to pay off her punitive court fines, which amount to $256,000.

Featured image via Time Travers Hawkins – Wikipedia / Cancillería del Ecuador – Flickr

 

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