The last time we heard from Chelsea Manning she was stuck in a jail cell on a charge of contempt for refusing to answer questions before a grand jury that’s reportedly looking into the activities of Julian Assange and Wikileaks. (See note on pronoun usage at the bottom of this article.) It’s been more than a month now, and Manning remains both defiant and behind bars. That’s unlikely to change any time soon because the latest attempt by her legal team to secure her release just went up in flames. (The Hill)
In an affidavit filed by her attorneys in the Eastern District of Virginia, Manning condemned grand juries as “outdated tools used by the federal government to harass and disrupt political opponents and activists in fishing expeditions.”
“After two months of confinement, and using every legal mechanism available so far, I can – without any hesitation – state that nothing that will convince me to testify before this or any other grand jury for that matter,” she said.
She also claimed that she was housed separately from the general population during the initial weeks she was in prison, causing significant harm to her mental health. And Manning said she is unable to receive proper treatment and medical care after undergoing gender confirmation surgery in October.
The last appeal to secure Manning’s release was rejected, so now they’re attempting a new approach. This may be rather hard to follow, but here’s how the logic breaks down. The judge is saying that she has to stay in jail until she agrees to answer questions before the grand jury. But her attorneys say that she’s considered the request and isn’t going to answer any questions. Therefore, keeping her behind bars is an invalid decision because it’s not going to result in her testifying.
Isn’t that sort of like a convicted murder arguing that they shouldn’t be kept in prison because there’s no way they could kill anyone while they’re behind bars? That’s a rather inexact analogy, but there really aren’t many other parallels in our legal system to jailing someone on contempt of court charges.
At this point, it’s just a waiting game, really. The judge can’t keep Manning in jail past the date when the grand jury is dismissed. Some of them can certainly go on for a long time, but this one has already been empaneled for many months. They’re going to have to let them go eventually, and then Manning will be free again. The complicating factor is the question of how long it will take to extradite Julian Assange from London, assuming we ever get our hands on him. If he stands trial here, Manning could be called on to testify and this entire circus could repeat itself.
A note on pronoun usage. Up until now, I have typically referred to Manning using male pronouns because, well… he’s a dude. But when it comes to the transgender community I’ve long held to a personal rule of dealing with such things. While firmly “believing” you are of the opposite gender doesn’t change your sex, I’ve maintained that if any adult is so committed to the idea that they were willing to let a doctor mutilate their genitals just to prove the point, that was enough of an irreversible decision that I would toss them an incorrect pronoun just as a nod to their sheer bloodymindedness. While I somehow missed the news previously, this article from The Hill pointed out that Manning had the “gender confirmation surgery” in October of last year. While that doesn’t make her a woman or delete her Y chromosome, I’m still sticking with tradition and will refer to her with female pronouns from here on out.