Solidarity with Chelsea Manning and Against Grand Juries

“I’d rather starve to death than change my position in this regard.”
Image of Chelsea Manning looking into the camera

Last week, courageous whistleblower Chelsea Manning was jailed for the second time in three months for resisting a grand jury, saying “I’d rather starve to death than change my position in this regard.” In 2010, she was court-martialed and imprisoned for releasing documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan that were published by Wikileaks, and released in 2017 when President Obama commuted her sentence.

Grand juries are secret panels called by a prosecutor to investigate alleged crimes and issue indictments. The usual rules of evidence do not apply: there is no judge; no defense attorneys are allowed; and anything a witness says may be used against them and their movement. These are “fishing expeditions” to learn about social movement connections, build criminal cases, bring false charges or make use of political differences – all towards the goal of draining movement resources, causing and exacerbating conflict, and locking up movement leadership. Refusal to cooperate with a grand jury can result in being jailed for contempt for the life of the grand jury, up to 18 months. The jail time is meant to be coercive–to force people to testify against themselves and others.

After recently serving 62 days in jail for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigating Wikileaks, Manning was re-arrested for resisting a second grand jury empaneled on the same subject. Her steadfast resistance, especially in the face of repeated incarceration, is a lesson to all of us who oppose this death-dealing administration – our dissent is being criminalized daily and we will be asked to stand up in ways we may not have been required to before.

Like other grand jury resisters before her, Manning’s principled refusal to testify before these grand juries is based on an understanding of the role they play in attempting to disrupt radical movements. They have historically been used to harass, intimidate and destabilize movements led by people of color, anarchists and environmental activists, and more recently Indigenous resistors such as the water protectors at Standing Rock, and people resisting white supremacists.

It is precisely because of the secrecy and dangerous nature of the grand jury that it is important to refuse to cooperate, in the long tradition of grand jury resisters. And it is equally important to concretely support those who, like Chelsea Manning, are taking personal risks to stand up to this kind of repression designed to silence dissenters. In defending them, we defend our ability to resist and to fight for the world we need.

Click HERE to learn about how you can support Manning.

To learn more about grand juries and ways to prepare to resist state repression in general, see Catalyst’s  A Troublemakers’ Guide: Principles for Racial Justice Activists In the Face of State Repression

Click HERE to learn more about the history of grand jury resistance.