Chelsea Manning is arguing that her continued incarceration in an Alexandria, Va., jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Julian Assange is pointless, especially now that the WikiLeaks founder has been charged with violating the Espionage Act.
“She is suffering physically and psychologically, and is at the time of this writing in the process of losing her home as a result of her present confinement,” her lawyers wrote in a motion filed Friday in federal court. “She has made clear she prefers to become homeless rather than betray her principles. Her intransigence, at this point, is not reasonably in question. What is in doubt, however, is the government’s need for her testimony.”
Barring release, Manning asked Judge Anthony J. Trenga to lift hefty fines he imposed earlier this month for her continued recalcitrance.
When serving as an intelligence analyst in the Army, Manning shared with Assange hundreds of thousands of secret war logs and cables that WikiLeaks then published. That relationship formed the basis for the 18-count indictment filed against Assange last week, accusing him of soliciting classified information and publishing it in ways that endangered lives.
Assange is currently jailed in the United Kingdom, where he was arrested in April after seven years in asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy. Once the United States has made a formal extradition request, the Justice Department cannot file new charges against Assange without jeopardizing the case and the country’s relationship with Britain.
But extradition law does not constrain the grand jury from gathering more evidence, and prosecutors have at past hearings argued that Manning’s testimony remains relevant.
In their motion, Manning’s lawyers say she “has no useful information” about anyone other than Assange: “She reasonably believes that the government does not actually require her testimony.”
Manning herself served seven years in prison for her leaks before being released by President Barack Obama. She apologized for what she did but has refused to testify before the grand jury investigating Assange, saying she opposes the closed proceedings on principle.
Prosecutors maintain, according to court filings, that Manning was not entirely forthcoming in her military trial, during which she was never cross-examined.
In a letter to Trenga, Manning elaborated on her objections to the grand jury process, calling it a “rubber stamp” for prosecutors that gives their cases “unearned legitimacy.”
“I refuse to participate in a process that has clearly transformed into something that violates the spirit if not the letter of the law,” she wrote. “I object to this grand jury in particular as an effort to frighten journalists and publishers, who serve a crucial public good.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia would not comment on the matter.
For her refusal to testify, Manning has spent over two months in jail, with a brief break when one grand jury disbanded and another was called. Earlier this month Trenga ordered that she pay a fine of $500 per day if she does not testify within 30 days and raised the fine to $1,000 per day if she does not testify within 60 days.
Witnesses cannot be held in civil contempt for more than 18 months, and the incarceration is meant to be coercive rather than punitive. However, a witness who still refuses to testify can be found in criminal contempt.