Monday, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia denied whistleblower and one time U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning’s motion to reconsider sanctions imposed against her after she refused to testify against the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange before a grand jury. Manning now faces fines to the tune of $441,000 and a jail term of no more than 12-18 months for civil contempt.

“Manning has the ability to comply with the court’s financial sanctions or will have the ability after her release from confinement,” Judge Anthony Trenga ruled on Monday. “Therefore, the imposed fines of $500 per day after 30 days and $1,000 per day after 60 days is not so excessive as to relieve her of those sanctions or to constitute punishment rather than a coercive measure.”

“I am disappointed but not at all surprised. The government and the judge must know by now that this doesn’t change my position one bit,” Manning said in response to the judge’s decision.

U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton ordered Manning into custody back in March of this year due to her refusal to answer questions during a closed-doors hearing. Manning cited the First, Fourth and Sixth Amendment in her refusal to answer the government’s questions relating to information already disclosed in 2013 when she was convicted of 20 charges, including alleged espionage, computer fraud and theft.

Attorneys for Manning argued she has no intention of testifying, despite the amount of jail time imposed, but Judge Trenga shut down her attorney’s opportunity to continue arguing their case in court. Manning’s attorneys argued she is not able to work while incarcerated, and there’s no way she’ll be able to pay the fines the court plans to impose.

“Chelsea will remain confined for another year, and will face ongoing financial hardship, unless Judge Trenga or a higher court are convince of what Ms. Manning has always publicly maintained: that the sanctions imposed will never coerce her compliance and therefore are entire punitive,” her legal team said. “She has no personal savings, an uncertain speaking career that has been abruptly halted by her incarceration, and is moving her few belongings into storage, as she can no longer afford to pay her rent,” Manning’s attorneys added.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga disagreed with Manning’s legal team, writing, “In support of the Motion, Ms. Manning has proffered a substantial number of financial records detailing her assets, liabilities, and current future earnings. The Court has reviewed these records and concludes, based on the evidence proffered, that Ms. Manning has the ability to comply with the Court’s financial sanctions or will have the ability after her release from confinement.”

March 5, 2019, Manning leaving the Albert V. Bryan U.S. District Courthouse in Alexandria, VA. Photo Courtesy: JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASHINGTON POST

“Despite the fact that Chelsea is currently deeply in debt, and cannot work while incarcerated, Judge Trenga was able to conclude that fines totalling $441,000 fall within the parameters of a ‘coercive’ sanction, and do not intrude into the forbidden realm of the punitive,” attorneys for Manning stated.

Manning was held in civil contempt of court on May 16th, 2019, and the federal court imposed a fine of $500 a day after 30 days as well as a fine of $1000 a day after 60 days if she “persists in her refusal.”

Along with her attorneys, Manning presented her position in response to Judge Trenga’s decision in the form of a letter dated May 28, 2019.

“The tradition of using political grand juries to jail political dissidents and activists is long,” Manning wrote in the letter. “The concept of a grand jury in which prosecutors subpoena activists and jail them for refusing to comply with the subpoena stands in stark contrast to the institution contemplated in the Constitution.”

Judge Trenga’s order Monday ensures Manning will get time served for the two months she’s already been in jail on the previous contempt order issued by a separate judge, but the $1000 a day fine will continue to accrue throughout the length of her sentence.

As of August 7th, 2019, Manning has been in jail for 147 days and currently owes $38,000 in fines.

Haley Kennington
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