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Legal Team Files Motion to Release Chelsea Manning

Alexandria, VA — Today, attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen filed a Motion to Release Chelsea Manning, based on evidence, including an expert’s assessment of Chelsea’s personality profile, and a public condemnation of her “coercive confinement” by Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 

Ms. Manning has now been incarcerated at Alexandria Detention Center for nearly a year, due to her principled refusal to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the publishers of her 2010 disclosures. She may be held for up to 18 months or until she agrees to cooperate. She is also fined $1,000 for each day she refuses to testify, those fines now total approximately $230,000.

According to Moira Meltzer-Cohen, Ms. Manning’s attorney:

“A witness who refuses to cooperate with a grand jury subpoena may be held in contempt of court, and fined or incarcerated. The only permissible purpose for sanctions under the civil contempt statute is to coerce a witness to comply with the subpoena. If compliance is impossible, either because the grand jury is no longer in existence, or because the witness is incoercible, then confinement has been transformed from a coercive into a punitive sanction, and thus is in violation of the law.”

As Ms. Manning explains: 

“My refusal to testify continues, predicated on my long standing belief that grand juries, as they function in the contemporary era, are often used by federal prosecutors to harass and disrupt political opponents and activists through secrecy, coercion, and jailing without trial. 

“My own current confinement reinforces my belief in their tendency to be abused in practice. I cannot agree to participate in such a process. No matter how much you punish me, I will remain confident in my decision. I have been separated from my loved ones, deprived of sunlight, and could not even attend my mother’s funeral. It is easier to endure these hardships now than to cooperate to win back some comfort, and live the rest of my life knowing that I acted out of self interest and not principle.” 

Today’s filing includes a personality assessment by Dr. Sara Boyd, suggesting that Ms. Manning is constitutionally incapable of acting against her conscience. “Ms. Manning exhibits long standing personality features that relate to her scrupulousness, her persistence and dedication, and her willingness to endure social disapproval as well as formal punishments,” it reads. “Ms. Manning … has not wavered in this decision-making regarding cooperation for the past [eleven] months and she did not make any statements indicating that… there was any information that could be provided to her that would change her mind.” This report provides yet more evidence that Ms. Manning will not be moved by confinement, and must therefore be released. 

Also included in the brief is a letter dated November 1, 2019, from U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, who concludes that the practice of coercive confinement constitutes “torture” in violation of international laws ratified by the United States. S.R. Melzer recommends that Chelsea be released “without further delay” and that her fines be “cancelled or reimbursed” since they are impermissibly punitive, being “disproportionate to the gravity of any offence she may have committed.”

“The key issue before Judge Trenga is whether continued incarceration could persuade Chelsea to testify,” said Ms. Meltzer-Cohen. “Judges have complained of the ‘perversity’ of this law: that a witness may win their freedom by persisting in their contempt of court. However, should Judge Trenga agree that Chelsea will never agree to testify, he will be compelled by the law to order her release.

“The evidence overwhelmingly supports the claim we have made from the beginning: Ms. Manning cannot be pressured into betraying her principles. If her confinement is not having a coercive impact, it has exceeded its permissible scope, and Ms. Manning must be released.”

Many organizations have come out in support of Chelsea and her principled stance, including: Amnesty International, Fight for the Future, Internet Archive, Defending Rights & Dissent, Media Alliance, Oakland Privacy, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Queerious Labs, Demand Progress, RootsAction, and Lucy Parsons Labs. Likewise, many friends and family made public statements or submitted letters of support to the judge in her case, Judge Anthony Trenga, including:  Daniel Ellsberg, Michael Stipe, Thurston Moore and many others.

As of the time of this statement, a petition launched by Fight for the Future at demanding that Chelsea be released has garnered a significant demonstration of public support, with more than 60,000 signatures

For more information, Frequently Asked Questions, Legal Precedents, and a complete archive of statements from Chelsea, including her letter to Judge Anthony Trenga explaining the history of Grand juries and her objections to them, see the new website at

A Note to Editors

Chelsea Manning is represented by Moira Meltzer-Cohen, appellate attorney Vincent Ward, and local counsel Chris Leibig and Sandra Freeman.


Motion to Release Chelsea Manning

More than 60,000 people call for judge to release Chelsea Manning, Press Release

What’s the difference between coercive and punitive incarceration?

How does a judge determine whether a witness is incoercible?

What factors are used by the judge to make an “individualized determination” regarding the intransigence of the witness?

How have grand juries and contempt sanctions been used or abused in the past?

Chelsea Manning Responds to United Nations Rapporteur’s Call For Her Release – UN Special Rapporteur on Torture: Release Chelsea Manning immediately, January 2, 2020

Letter to the US Government: Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, by Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, November 1, 2019

Executive Summary: Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Release, by Kelly Wright (Motion filed May 6, 2019)

Organizations Supporting Chelsea Manning

Individuals Supporting Chelsea Manning