Top UN official accuses US of torturing Chelsea Manning

<span>Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A top United Nations official has accused the US government of using torture against Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst currently jailed in the US over her refusal to testify against WikiLeaks.

Nils Melzer, UN special rapporteur on torture, made the charge in a letter sent in November but only released on Tuesday.

In the missive, Melzer says Manning 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”.

Manning, who was detained on 16 May after refusing to testify before a grand jury, is currently being held at the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia until she agrees to give evidence or until the grand jury’s term expires in November next year. She also faces fines currently running at $1,000 a day.

In the letter, Melzer writes: “The practise of coercive deprivation of liberty for civil contempt … involves the intentional infliction of progressively severe mental and emotional suffering for the purposes of coercion and intimidation at the order of judicial authorities.”

Warning that “victims of prolonged coercive confinement have demonstrated post-traumatic symptoms and other severe and persistent mental and physical health consequences”, the UN representative said Manning’s detention “is not a lawful sanction but an open-ended, progressively severe coercive measure amounting to torture & should be discontinued & abolished without delay”.

Mannings’ lawyers have argued that her detention is “for refusing to comply with a grand jury is pointless, punitive, and cruel” and warned that she is not likely to change her mind.

In a letter released in March when Manning was first sent back to jail, her lawyers warned: “Chelsea has clearly stated her moral objection to the secretive and oppressive grand jury process. We are Chelsea’s friends and fellow organizers, and we know her as a person who is fully committed to her principles.”

They warned US authorities that if they “believe that subjecting Chelsea to more punishment will change her mind, they are gravely mistaken”.

Virginia prosecutors are determined to force Manning to testify in what they hope will be an eventual trial of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

Assange has been charged with conspiring with Manning to break into military computers to help her transmit a vast trove of US state secrets to the open information organization in 2010 which then published them, causing an international uproar.

Manning was subsequently sentenced to 35 years in military prison in 2011. Manning spent seven years behind bars before Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017.