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UN official tries to butt into Chelsea Manning case

As we previously discussed here, Chelsea Manning remains in jail over her refusal to comply with a federal subpoena and testify before a grand jury in Virginia. Manning is racking up massive fines that are quickly mounting up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, but now she’s found a new ally in the ongoing battle. Nils Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, has accused the United States of “torturing” Chelsea Manning by keeping her locked up in a jail cell. And he plans to urge the United Nations to “take action” of some sort to put an end to it. (The Hill)

A United Nations official says the U.S. is torturing Chelsea Manning with detention, in a letter to the U.S. government released Tuesday.

Nils Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, accused the U.S. of torture by holding Manning in “civil contempt” of court for refusing to testify in front of a grand jury, in a letter sent in November.

Melzer says in the letter that the former Army intelligence analyst is being subjected to “an open-ended, progressively severe measure of coercion fulfilling all the constitutive elements of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Melzer would like our government to “provide factual and legal grounds for detaining Manning, explain how the alleged coercive measures align with international human rights laws and clarify the efforts to ensure Manning’s physical and mental wellbeing.”

First of all, I’m not sure what business it is of the UN to come poking their beak into a domestic criminal case. But even if it were, the vaunted “special rapporteur on torture” seems to have some curious ideas about what constitutes torture.

To my knowledge, Manning is being kept in a jail cell just like anyone else who gets in trouble with the law. Other people also run up fines in various circumstances. If she was being denied medical care (as some have claimed, but the jail denies) or in any way being physically abused, I would protest her confinement just as loudly. But that doesn’t appear to be the case at all.

If we are to accept Melzer’s definition of torture, then anyone who is locked up for any period of time or hit with fines is being tortured. So would the United Nations like us to simply empty all the prisons and eliminate incarceration as a punishment for lawlessness? Perhaps everyone should be let off with a strongly worded letter. (Wait, I probably shouldn’t be giving them ideas.)

I was discussing Manning’s case with a friend on Twitter just this week and even I’ll admit that it’s problematic. It’s been a very long time now and it should be obvious that Chelsea Manning has zero intention of relenting and agreeing to testify before the grand jury. Frankly, I believe she’s enjoying the resurgent attention from the press and her fans. So if the incarceration and fines aren’t sufficient motivation to bring her into compliance, is there a point in keeping her locked up indefinitely?

Perhaps not for Manning specifically, but what about everyone else who may be considering defying a subpoena? What message are the courts sending if they just send her home and cancel the fines? That’s basically telling everyone else that if you just grit your teeth and stick to your guns long enough you can violate the law and get away with it. There doesn’t seem to be a good solution here.

Of course, if we fail to get Great Britain to extradite Julian Assange (which is still a possibility), this may all have been for nothing. This entire case is a mess currently, but Manning is bringing all of this business on herself. For what it’s worth, I’ll close with the statement that Manning issued in response yesterday.

“My long-standing objection to the immoral practice of throwing people in jail without charge or trial, for the sole purpose of forcing them to testify before a secret, government-run investigative panel, remains strong.

“Nearly every other legal system in the world condemns coercive confinement, and long ago replaced secret grand juries with public hearings. I am thrilled to see the practice of coercive confinement called out for what it is: incompatible with international human rights standards. Regardless, even knowing I am very likely to stay in jail for an even longer time, I’m never backing down.”