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 from late last year accusing the United States of submitting Manning to treatment that is tantamount to torture.
It does not take a U.N. expert to recognize the current conditions of Manning’s incarceration as a form of torture. 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. If she is released at the end of the current grand jury, she will owe the state nearly $500,000 — an unprecedented punishment for grand jury resistance. And 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.