Lawyers for former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning are renewing efforts to get her released from a northern Virginia jail.
Manning’s lawyers filed court papers Friday asking a federal judge to reconsider his decision to send Manning to the Alexandria jail for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.
The motion argues that a new indictment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on espionage charges makes Manning’s testimony irrelevant.
“What remains to be seen is whether the government can claim with a straight face to have an ongoing need for her testimony,” lawyers Moira Meltzer-Cohen, Sandra Freeman, and Christopher Leibig wrote in their motion, which says Manning is suffering physically as a result of her incarceration and is in the midst of losing her home because of the financial effect it is having on her.
Manning has been jailed for civil contempt since May 16. She could remain in jail for up to 18 months — the length of the grand-jury term. Judge Anthony Trenga also ordered fines of $500 a day to kick in after 30 days of confinement and $1,000 a day after 60 days.
This follows a two-month jail term earlier this year for refusing to testify to a previous grand jury.
Manning’s lawyers say the fact prosecutors have obtained a superseding indictment under the Espionage Act against Assange is particularly significant. In particular, they say it is unlikely that any additional charges against Assange will be filed because the U.S. faces a June 12 deadline for finalizing its extradition request for Assange to Great Britain, and bringing new charges after that deadline could complicate the effort to obtain his extradition.
“After the submission of the extradition packet, the need for Ms. Manning’s testimony will diminish … precipitously,” the lawyers wrote.
Joshua Stueve, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia, which is prosecuting Assange and seeking Manning’s grand-jury testimony, declined comment Friday.
Under federal law, a recalcitrant witness can only be jailed for civil contempt if there is a reasonable belief that incarceration will coerce the witness into testifying. If the jail time has no coercive effect and is purely punitive, the recalcitrant witness is supposed to be released.
Manning has said she believes grand juries in general are an abuse of power and that she would rather starve to death than testify. Judge Trenga, in sending Manning to jail, said there is no dishonor in testifying to grand juries, which are referenced specifically in the U.S. Constitution, and that he hoped time in jail would allow Manning to reflect on that.
Manning, in response, penned a lengthy letter to the judge reiterating her rationale. She included a lengthy history on the use of grand juries around the world, and says that many Western countries have abandoned the system because it operates in secret and in a one-sided fashion to the benefit of prosecutors against those accused.
“I am positive that the founders never intended the grand jury to function like those we see today,” Manning wrote.
Manning spent seven years in a military prison for delivering a trove of classified information to Assange. Her 35-year sentence was then commuted by then-President Barack Obama.