Whistleblower Chelsea Manning spent 62 days in jail for refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena to testify in the investigation of WikiLeaks. Although she was released after the first grand jury expired last week, she was immediately ordered to return to appear before another grand jury today, May 16.
According to Manning’s attorneys, it’s conceivable that she will be held in contempt and jailed when she refuses to testify once again. Manning has made her position on the matter clear: She will never cooperate with a grand jury. Freedom of the Press Foundation recently submitted a letter to the judge in Manning’s case arguing that further detention serves no purpose at all — at this point, it’s cruel and punitive.
“The only permissible purpose for confinement under the civil contempt statute is to attempt to coerce a witness to comply with the subpoena, or ‘purge’ their contempt,” Manning’s attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen wrote in a motion to Manning’s judge last week. “If it is no longer possible to purge the contempt, either because the grand jury is no longer in existence, or because the witness is un-coercible, then confinement has been transformed from coercive into punitive, in violation of the law.”
As Freedom of the Press Foundation wrote in April, Manning’s testimony is unnecessary, considering WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange has already been charged and Manning was questioned extensively about her disclosures of military information back in 2013.
Manning’s bravery is commendable. First, she revealed countless stories of great public interest, at immense personal cost. Now, she stands firm in her principles and refuses to comply with an investigation into a publisher protected by the First Amendment, in solidarity with activists across the country that have also faced grand jury subpoenas.
The WikiLeaks investigation is particularly concerning to those who care about press freedom. As Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg said two months ago, “Chelsea Manning is again acting heroically in the name of press freedom… An investigation into WikiLeaks for publishing is a grave threat to all journalists’ rights, and Chelsea is doing us all a service for fighting it.”
At the same time, the legal costs of her resistance continue to mount. Although one grand jury investigation expired, another has been reconvened, and she could be jailed for up to 18 months for her courage. You can contribute to Manning’s legal defense fund here.
“I believe this grand jury seeks to undermine the integrity of public discourse with the aim of punishing those who expose any serious, ongoing, and systemic abuses of power by this government, as well as the rest of the international community…” Manning wrote. “The idea I hold the keys to my own cell is an absurd one, as I face the prospect of suffering either way due to this unnecessary and punitive subpoena: I can either go to jail or betray my principles. The latter exists as a much worse prison than the government can construct.”