ACLU, Amnesty International, Open Society Justice Initiative, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Center for Democracy & Technology, File Amicus Briefs on Critical Components of Chelsea Manning’s Case
Today, Chelsea Manning’s Legal Defense Team released the text of the unclassified portion of the 250-page appeal filed with the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals yesterday. In the appellate brief, her counsel urges the court to dismiss the case, or at a minimum, reduce the unprecedented thirty-five year confinement term to ten years. The appeal presents several reasons Chelsea’s case should be dismissed or the confinement term reduced, including that she was placed in solitary confinement for almost one year while awaiting trial, the government failed to produce significant evidence that Chelsea’s disclosures actually harmed the United States’ national security or diplomatic interests, the military judge considered improper aggravation evidence at sentencing, and several of the charges lacked evidence or violated constitutional or other legal principles. Finally, the appeal points out that Chelsea’s sentence is the harshest in history for a whistleblower, and should be reduced out of fairness.
Read the appeal brief here.
“There is no question that Chelsea Manning’s sentence is incredibly excessive—wildly disproportionate to the reality of the situation and precedent—as it represents the most severe punishment received by any other whistleblower in American history,” said attorney Vincent Ward, co-counsel for the Chelsea Manning Legal Defense team. “Chelsea was struggling with the mental and emotional effects of gender dysphoria at a time when there was little national dialogue about transgender issues, without receiving the support from the US Army to which she was entitled or the whistleblower protections that should be offered. We hope that this court will take her harsh treatment into account and use its jurisdiction to adjust Chelsea’s sentence fairly.”
In its amicus brief, Amnesty International Ltd. contends that the military judge erred in concluding that Chelsea Manning “was not held in solitary confinement.” In fact, Manning was held for nine months before trial in a 6’ by 8’ cell for 23 to 24 hours a day. That is prolonged solitary confinement as defined by the Nelson Mandela Rules, which the United States sponsored and the United Nations unanimously adopted. Thus, the conditions of Manning’s pretrial detainment violated United States and international law, as discussed in detail in Amnesty International's amicus brief.
"A war against whistleblowers is being waged in this country and this case represents how this country treats anyone who reveals even a single page of classified information,” added attorney Nancy Hollander, lead counsel for the Chelsea Manning Legal Defense team. “We need brave individuals to hold the government accountable for its actions at home and abroad and we call upon this court to overturn the dangerous precedent of Chelsea Manning’s excessive sentencing.”
Capt. Dave Hammond at the U.S. Army Defense Appellate Division is co-counsel for Chelsea Manning on this appeal and co-authored the brief.
In their amicus brief, the Open Society Justice Initiative argues that the 35-year sentence imposed on Manning far exceeds international legal norms and should be reduced. Drawing on a survey of law and practice in 30 countries, it notes that the sentence is "far higher than the penalties that our closest allies would consider proportionate" in this case. In the U.K, for example, the crimes of which Manning was found guilty carry a maximum penalty of 2 years in jail. Several countries have developed jurisprudence requiring that the aggregate sentence for multiple offenses, especially where related–for instance, as in Manning’s case, disclosures made to the same person – should not be unduly harsh, and generally should not exceed the maximum penalty for a single offense. More here.
In addition to the Espionage Act, under which there have been few prosecutions considering its vague and unconstitutional provisions, charges were also leveled against Chelsea Manning under the antiquated Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984—a statute usually applied to hackers—and the unproven claim that her disclosures caused any specific harm.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s amicus brief, focusing on the First Amendment, argues that Manning’s conviction under the Espionage Act should be overturned because the prosecution was unconstitutional. The Espionage Act is unconstitutionally vague when it is used against government whistleblowers or leakers because it gives the government too much leeway to engage in selective prosecution of disfavored speakers, leaving some leakers alone and sending others to prison, even if they all revealed similarly classified information. The law also violates the First Amendment because it results in prosecutions where a court gives no consideration to the public interest in the disclosures, including whether any of the information reveals government illegality or misconduct. More here.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), joined by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Center for Democracy & Technology, filed a brief asking the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals Wednesday to overturn Chelsea Manning’s conviction for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), arguing that the law is intended to punish people for breaking into computer systems—something Manning didn’t do. EFF told the court that violating a written policy, which restricted Manning from using unauthorized software to access a State Department database, is not a crime under the CFAA. More here.
For interviews with Chelsea Manning Defense Team counsel, please contact Christina DiPasquale, 202.716.1953 or firstname.lastname@example.org.