Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who served seven years in prison for violating the Espionage Act by leaking an enormous amount of classified (or otherwise sensitive) military and diplomatic documents, will be held in jail either until she testifies in front of a grand jury, or until said grand jury is no longer operating, according to a federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia.
To be clear, Manning has not been accused of committing any new crimes.
“I’ve found you in contempt,” Judge Claude M. Hilton said when he ruled on Friday. “Either until you purge yourself or the end of the life of the grand jury.” Though most of the hearing was sealed, Hilton’s ruling was open to the public.
Why was Manning called to testify? Basically, she refused to comply with a subpoena that called for her to testify against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in front of a grand jury.
WikiLeaks is the anti-secrecy website made famous to the general public when Manning, an Army private at the time, published military documents she’d illegally downloaded, which revealed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other horrors. While she was initially sentenced to 35 years in prison, then-President Barack Obama commuted her in 2017.
Before the hearing on Friday, Manning clarified, “These secret proceedings tend to favor the government. I’m always willing to explain things publicly.”
In a statement released after she was taken into custody, Manning stated, “I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has been used to entrap and persecute activists for protected political speech.”
Her point is that she objects to the secretive nature of the grand jury process. Manning alleges that she’s already shared everything she knows at her court-martial. She also notes that prosecutors have given her immunity for her testimony, which comes with a complication. This immunity negates her option to invoke the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination.
tomorrow i’m facing a sealed contempt hearing for refusing to testify at a secret grand jury over my 2010 disclosures
— Chelsea E. Manning (@xychelsea) March 7, 2019
In a statement, her support committee explained:
“By resisting this grand jury, Chelsea has made the same sacrifice as dozens of activists before her, who have opposed the grand jury system at the expense of their own freedom. Chelsea has already served prison time for standing up against government secrecy and revealing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know, and so does the government, that she will not turn tail and allow this shadowy grand jury to eclipse her legacy of speaking truth to power.”
How long could Manning be kept in jail at this point? According to Moira Meltzer-Cohen, one of Manning’s lawyers, there’s “no event” under which she could be held for longer than 18 months.
In a statement caught by News2Share journalist Ford Fischer, Meltzer-Cohen noted, “Chelsea has tremendous courage…Our primary concern at this point is her health while she is confined and we will be paying close attention.”
Manning's attorney confirmed that she's been taken into custody, told me that the max time she could be held in contempt is the term of the grand jury, no more than 18 months.
"Chelsea has tremendous courage. Our primary concern at this point is her health while she's confined." pic.twitter.com/Sh48aHfS6B
— Ford Fischer (@FordFischer) March 8, 2019
As reported by the Associated Press, Manning’s lawyers initially requested that she be confined to her home instead of going to jail due to medical complications. Hilton denied that request, using the argument that U.S. marshals can handle her medical care instead.
While it’s unclear what precisely the medical care in question is, Manning has openly identified as a woman since back in 2013, and has credited hormone therapy for keeping her alive.
Though the WikiLeaks case is still sealed, prosecutors did reveal aspects of the case last year. Most notably, unspecified criminal charges against Assange, which were supposed to be sealed, have been inadvertently exposed.
There’s no explicit indication that this particular investigation is related to the Mueller investigation. It’s worth noting, however, that WikiLeaks is an increasingly more visible part of the Mueller investigation, as it’s explored whether President Donald Trump’s campaign knew Russian hackers were going to send stolen emails from Democratic organizations to WikiLeaks. Most famously, of course, this included information from then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Raise your hand if you thought that the Alexandria jail would hold Maria Butina, Paul Manafort, and Chelsea Manning, all at the same time. https://t.co/jVKrRkRwXa
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) March 8, 2019