The Torture of Chelsea Manning is Payback for Having Revealed US War Crimes
As Julian Assange’s Hearing Continues Chelsea Manning Continues to be held in Coercive Custody
Today I attended a noisy demonstration by a few hundred people outside the combined institution of Belmarsh prison and magistrates court. Belmarsh court is contained within Woolwich court.
Here is the strange thing. It was actually Westminster magistrates court, which was where the proceedings were originally brought, which is sitting. All the judges are from Westminster. Why then hold it at Belmarsh? Because it is an ‘anti-terrorist’ court although Assange is not charged with terrorism.
To the State what Assange did, in leaking their secrets, was worse than terrorism. It threatened the security state with letting in some sunlight.
High steel railings surround the complex and the atmosphere is one of a siege. The demonstrators outside the security ring and the Defendant inside.
There is an excellent report of what happened by Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan. Your Man in the Public Gallery – Assange Hearing Day 1. Murray wrote of the presiding magistrate that:
Murray wrote of Horthy ‘Baraitser makes zero pretence of being anything other than in thrall to the Crown, and by extension to the US Government.’
Baraitser’s intention is to humiliate Assange, and to instill in the rest of us horror at the vast crushing power of the state. The inexorable strength of the sentencing wing of the nightmarish Belmarsh Prison must be maintained. If you are here, you are guilty.
It’s the Lubyanka. You may only be a remand prisoner. This may only be a hearing not a trial. You may have no history of violence and not be accused of any violence. You may have three of the country’s most eminent psychiatrists submitting reports of your history of severe clinical depression and warning of suicide. But I, Vanessa Baraitser, am still going to lock you up in a box designed for the most violent of terrorists. To show what we can do to dissidents. And if you can’t then follow court proceedings, all the better.
Murray described the Prosecutor James Lewis QC addressing the majority of his remarks, not to the Court but to the Press. He even handed out copies of the speech to the press.
James Lewis QC made the opening statement for the prosecution. It consisted of two parts. The first and longest part was truly remarkable for containing no legal argument, and for being addressed not to the magistrate but to the media.
His original statement was provided in cut and paste format to the media. His contradiction of it would require a journalist to listen to what was said in court, understand it and write it down. There is no significant percentage of mainstream media journalists who command that elementary ability nowadays. “Journalism” consists of cut and paste of approved sources only. Lewis could have stabbed Assange to death in the courtroom, and it would not be reported unless contained in a government press release.In other words the average MSM journalist was too stupid to understand for example that Baraitser had pointed out to Lewis that his statement that Assange’s prosecution could mean any journalist could be extradited for having published material covered by the Official Secrets Act or the American equivalent was simply not reported.
Press prostitutes are not very good when confronted with such detail as Lewis was forced to admit, contrary to his press release, that anyone publishing US secrets concerning their war crimes could be extradited.
There were also about a dozen gilet jaune protesters who had travelled from Paris overnight to join the demonstration.
According to the report in the Guardian the demonstration was clearly heard in the court. However Craig Murray suggests that was not true but that this was an excuse for that the magistrate Baraitser used to explain why Assange couldn’t hear. The real reason being the bullet proof cage he was held in.
Baraitser had previously refused to accede to a request to postpone proceedings because Assange had had difficulty preparing his case or even gaining access to his lawyers.
Prior to November the Judge in the case had been Lady Emma Arbuthnot, the Westminster chief magistrate who is enmeshed in a conflict of interest. Her husband Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom, a former British defense minister, “has financial links to the British military establishment, including institutions and individuals exposed by WikiLeaks.” Her ladyship had also received gifts “including from a military and cybersecurity company exposed by WikiLeaks.”
In other words this was the British Establishment at its corrupt worst. But although Baraitser has taken over the case, according to the UK courts service, the chief magistrate is ‘responsible for… supporting and guiding district judge colleagues.’”
See Consortium News 16.11.19. Arbuthnot Out as Assange’s Judge, Says WikiLeaks Lawyer Jen Robinson
The Torture of Chelsea Manning
However I want to focus not on Julian Assange but Chelsea Manning who isn’t receiving the same attention. This incredibly brave woman has been locked up for most of the past 2 years for refusing to testify before an institution known as a Grand Jury.
In 2013, Chelsea Manning, a former US army intelligence analyst was convicted of violating America’s Espionage Act and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. In January 2017 Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to end in May 2017.
Manning was responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of documents relating to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. 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, killing a father and severely wounding two of his children to the whoops of delight of the murderers, who of course were not prosecuted.
In March 2019, Manning was compelled to testify to the WikiLeaks grand jury. She refused to do so. It was as she later explained a matter of principle. Consequently, she was imprisoned. She was released on May 9th, but re-arrested a week later for refusing to testify before a new Grand Jury and returned to jail. She was fined $1,000 a day and gaoled for the duration of the new Grand Jury’s term. Manning commented:
I have been separated from my loved ones, deprived of sunlight, and could not even attend my mother’s funeral. It is easier to endure these hardships now than to cooperate to win back some comfort, and live the rest of my life knowing that I acted out of self-interest and not principle.
The Institution of the Grand Jury
The institution of the Grand Jury is unique to the United States and Liberia. Countries that have abandoned it include England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Belgium, Japan and Sierra Leone.
On May 28 2019 Chelsea Manning wrote to the Judge who had imprisoned her about how:
Early grand juries acted independently… Now, the grand jury process means the prosecutor decides what the grand jurors see – and what they don’t see. The grand jury imagined by the drafters of the fifth amendment – which did not involve a prosecutor – bears no resemblance to what we see today, where more than 99.9% of indictments sought are granted.
Grand juries have been historically used against activists, They are an institution that is used to undermine due process ‘even when used as intended.’ They have now become an
unbridled arm of the police and prosecution in ways that run contrary to the grand jury’s originally intended purposes. …
She described them as institutions which ‘could indict a ham sandwich.’
The second problem with grand juries is that ‘they don’t indict law enforcement.’ This was vividly demonstrated in November 2014 when a grand jury refused to indict police officer Darren Wilson for having killed Michael Brown, an unarmed youth in Ferguson, Missouri, for the crime of being Black. Historically grand juries
were used to indict abolitionists, but not people capturing and re-enslaving people seeking freedom from bondage. They were used to indict reconstructionists, while actively protecting lynch mobs. Both the ‘ham sandwich’ statement and selective indictment happen because of grand jury secrecy….
The original grand jury was more than an investigator; they were supposed to protect citizens not just from unjust indictments but from unjust laws. In England, grand jurors who even allowed a prosecutor to come into the grand jury room were seen as having violated their oath….
In 2019, the federal grand jury exists as a mockery of the institution that once stood against the whims of monarchs. It undermines the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantees of due process…..
Even the Department of Justice released a report acknowledging that “grand juries are notorious for being ‘rubber stamps’ for the prosecutor for virtually all routine criminal matters.”
Manning observed that ‘it is more than six times as likely that you will be struck by lightning than that a federal grand jury will decline to indict.’
in the Antebellum South, grand juries routinely indicted anti-slavery activists for sedition, while those in the North sometimes refused — but charges would re-presented to new grand juries until they stuck.
Manning wrote that the Grand Jury
bears far more resemblance to the Court of the Star Chamber than to its intended role as a bulwark against arbitrary state power. Apart from the fact that the grand jury itself does not impose punishments, the biggest difference between the grand jury and the Court of the Star Chamber is that Star Chamber proceedings were in fact largely open to the public…
The investigative grand jury as we know it was developed in the wake of McCarthy, during the Nixon years. It was developed purportedly to battle organized crime, but was promptly used to subpoena members of anti-war groups, the women’s movement, and black liberation groups.
Chelsea Manning ended her letter by saying that
I understand the idea that as a civil contemnor, I hold the key to my cell – that I can free myself by talking to the grand jury. While I may hold the key to my cell, it is held in the beating heart of all I believe. To retrieve that key and do what you are asking of me, your honor, I would have to cut the key out, which would mean killing everything that I hold dear, and the beliefs that have defined my path.
Manning’s lawyers have issued a motion, arguing that their client is incoercible and so should be released. Coercive confinement is considered a violation of international law.
An investigation by Mark Curtis and Matt Kennard has revealed extensive links between former home secretary Sajid Javid, who signed the US extradition request, and leading US political figures who called for the murder of Assange.
Manning is a recipient of many awards, including the Guardian’s Person of the Year and the Sean MacBride Peace Prize
See Bid to free Manning launched as explosive new evidence threatens to end Assange extradition 22 February 2020
Chelsea Manning Spent Most of the Last Decade in Prison. The U.N. Says Her Latest Stint Is Tantamount to Torture.
The Intercept 2 January 2020
It is the very definition of torture to submit a person to physical and mental suffering in an effort to force an action from them. Since May, Manning has been held in a Virginia jail for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury…
On New Year’s Eve, as personal reflections on the last decade flooded in, Chelsea Manning’s account tweeted that she had spent 77.76 percent of her time since 2009 in jail. That same day, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer publicly released a letter accusing the USA of submitting Manning to treatment that is tantamount to torture.
“Such deprivation of liberty does not constitute a circumscribed sanction for a specific offense, but an open-ended progressively severe measure of coercion.”
It is the very definition of torture to submit a person to physical and mental suffering in an effort to force an action from them. Since May, Manning has been held in a Virginia jail for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning has not been charged with or convicted of a crime. And her imprisonment on the grounds of “civil contempt” is explicitly coercive: If she agrees to testify, she can walk free. If she continues to remain silent, she can be held for the 18-month duration of the grand jury or, as the U.N. official noted, “indefinitely with the subsequent establishment of successive grand juries.”
Each day she is caged, Manning is also fined $1,000. Manning has made clear, she would “rather starve to death” than comply with the repressive grand jury system, a judicial black box historically deployed against social justice movements.
“Such deprivation of liberty does not constitute a circumscribed sanction for a specific offense, but an open-ended progressively severe measure of coercion,”
Melzer’s November letter stated that Manning’s imprisonment fulfills “all the constitutive elements of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and “should be discontinued or abolished without delay.” The letter asks that the U.S. government provide factual and legal grounds for Manning’s ongoing imprisonment and fines, “especially after her categorical and persistent refusal to give testimony demonstrates the lack of their coercive effect.”
Manning’s supporters and legal team have long stressed that no such legal grounds exist. Manning has proven again and again that her grand jury resistance is unshakeable; the coercive grounds for imprisonment are thus undermined and her jailing is revealed to be purely punitive. Federal Judge Anthony Trenga, who ordered Manning’s torturous incarceration, should be compelled to release her as a point of law, regardless of U.N. censure. This is not to say, however, that coercive incarceration is defensible in cases where it works to compel testimony — it is not. Manning’s resistance has highlighted the brutality of the practice tout court.
In a statement from jail, Manning said, “I am thrilled to see the practice of coercive confinement called out for what it is: incompatible with international human rights standards.” The grand jury resister is, however, under no illusions about the U.S. government’s willingness to flout its purported human rights obligations. As she put it, “even knowing I am very likely to stay in jail for an even longer time, I’m never backing down.”
“I am thrilled to see the practice of coercive confinement called out for what it is: incompatible with international human rights standards.”
Indeed, as the U.N. special rapporteur noted, his predecessor wrote a number of appeals to the U.S. government from 2010 onwards regarding the cruel and torturous treatment to which Manning was subjected prior to and during her confinement in military prison. Yet her 35-year sentence was not commuted until 2017 by President Barack Obama. Manning noted in her New Year’s Eve tweet that she spent 11.05 percent of the last decade in solitary confinement and over half of her years behind bars “fighting for gender affirming care.” She attempted to take her own life twice during her time at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
If Melzer’s letter fails to sway the government, it should, at the very least, serve as a public reminder to support a political prisoner. Though the last decade of Manning’s life has been marked by torture, she has responded with fierce resistance and struggle for liberatory social justice at every turn. In the tweet tabulating her last 10 years, Manning ended by noting that she devoted “0.00%” of her time “backing down.” The U.N. special rapporteur’s recognition of her refusal to be coerced is welcome. Our solidarity is more than deserved.
(This article has been edited)
Natasha Lennard is a contributing writer at The Intercept. Her work covers politics and power and has appeared in Esquire, The Nation, and the New York Times opinion section. Her book “Violence,” with Brad Evans, will be released this year.