Refusal to testify against WikiLeaks is costing whistleblower Chelsea Manning over $400,000 in fines and another year in jail, after a federal judge ruled that she must pay for what he called contempt of court.
Manning was jailed for refusing the subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury seeking additional charges against WikiLeaks and its co-founder Julian Assange, currently imprisoned in the UK. To compel testimony, the government also fined the whistleblower $500 a day, going up to $1000 after 60 days.
Judge Anthony Trenga of the federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia shot down Manning’s motion to reconsider sanctions on Monday, the final chance to contest the steep fines.
After a review of “a substantial number of financial records documenting her assets, liabilities, and current and future earnings,” the court found “that Ms. Manning has the ability to comply with the Court’s financial sanctions,” Trenga wrote in his ruling.
Though Manning is now deeply in debt and unable to work while in jail, the judge nonetheless concluded the fines were payable and therefore amounted to “coercive” sanctions allowed to compel cooperation or testimony, rather than being a purely punitive 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.
She insisted that the fines were in fact punitive, because her inability and unwillingness to pay rendered any “coercive” aspect moot. She has already spent 147 days behind bars and owes $38,000 in fines as of August 7. If she remains jailed for another year, Manning could end up owing $441,000 to the government.
Manning was the US Army intelligence analyst who in 2010 leaked the classified US military material to WikiLeaks, including the Afghan and Iraq war logs – hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, revealing thousands of unreported civilian casualties, as well as the Collateral Murder video, which depicts a pair of American helicopters gunning down a group of Iraqi journalists. This remains the largest leak in US military history.
She was convicted under the Espionage Act and spent seven years in military prison – often in solitary confinement – until the sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama. She was subpoenaed in March, and then again in May, as part of a US grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder.
Assange spent nearly seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, having sought asylum to avoid arrest and extradition to the US over the 2010 disclosures. After his asylum was revoked by Ecuador, Assange was arrested by British authorities in April, and jailed for a year for skipping bail. A hearing on his extradition to the US is still pending, as he is in poor health.