Why is Chelsea Manning still in jail?



Whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been held in jail for more than a month since bravely refusing to comply with a subpoena to testify in a grand jury investigation of WikiLeaks. Given that its publisher, Julian Assange, has already been indicted and charged, Manning’s testimony is unnecessary. Her ongoing detention is punitive and cruel, and she should be released immediately.

Manning’s legal team has filed an appeal to the order to testify and a motion that she should be released on bail. As her attorneys argued, she has already provided any relevant information that she might have about her disclosures to WikiLeaks when she testified in 2013, at which time she was cross-examined by the military.

“The government is seeking Ms. Manning's testimony nearly a decade later despite the fact that it has unfettered access to hundreds of thousands of pages of documentary evidence and the sworn testimony of ninety witnesses (including Ms. Manning herself) presented in 2013 and found by a military judge to constitute proof beyond a reasonable doubt of Ms. Manning's central role in the 2010 disclosures,” reads the March 1 motion to quash the grand jury subpoena. “Ms. Manning cannot give the government or this grand jury information anywhere near the quality and quantity of that presented at her court martial in 2013.”

In a statement released April 11, Manning’s support team pressed that her confinement has been purely punitive more than about producing information useful to the investigation.

“The fact that this indictment has existed for over a year underscores what Chelsea’s legal team and Chelsea herself have been saying since she was first issued a subpoena to appear in front of a Federal Grand Jury in the Eastern District of Virginia — that compelling Chelsea to testify would have been duplicative of evidence already in the possession of the grand jury, and was not needed in order for US Attorneys to obtain an indictment of Mr. Assange.”

In 2010, Manning was sentenced to an unprecedented 35 years in prison for leaking secret military files to WikiLeaks. The documents formed the basis of thousands of important stories on global affairs worldwide, and exposed war crimes by the United States — such as the gunning down of civilians. While WikiLeaks originally published the material, and has received the bulk of media attention due to Assange’s indictment in recent weeks, these records became public thanks to Manning.

President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence just before he left office, but the seven years she spent in detention were marked by cruelty. Before her trial, more than 250 legal scholars said her treatment by the U.S. military amounted to torture. While held in a men’s prison, she was denied important medical treatment and subjected to stretches of solitary confinement. The Army punished and threatened her with more solitary for LGBTQ reading materials and possession of an expired tube of toothpaste. She also faced the threat of even more charges when she attempted to take her own life.

In response to the recent grand jury subpoena, Manning is taking a principled stance against the grand jury process itself, which is shrouded in secrecy and susceptible to abuse and overreach. They have been used as fishing expeditions against activist communities, and many activists have refused to engage in this coercive process for decades.

“All of the substantive questions pertained to my disclosures of information to the public in 2010—answers I provided in extensive testimony, during my court-martial in 2013,” Manning said in a statement after refusing to testify, but before she was detained. “In solidarity with with many activists facing the odds, I stand by my principles.”

The investigation in which Manning refuses to testify could have serious press freedom implications, according to numerous civil liberties and journalist rights organizations. As Pentagon Papers whistleblower and Freedom of the Press Foundation co-founder Daniel Ellsberg said last month, “Chelsea Manning is again acting heroically in the name of press freedom, and it’s a travesty that she has been sent back to jail for refusing to testify to a grand jury.”

Since being held in contempt in March, Manning has spent the bulk of her time in jail in solitary confinement, a practice that, when prolonged, a former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has said is not only cruel, but may constitute torture. It was announced last week that Manning had finally been moved into the regular population, but she should never have been jailed in the first place.

The U.S. government imprisoned and tortured Chelsea Manning for years before releasing her in 2017. It is reprehensible that it is doing the same thing again. There is nothing — no leniency, no release on bail — that can rectify the time she has served, but she should be released immediately and allowed to live her life in peace.

You can contribute to Manning’s legal defense fund here

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the year of Manning's court-martial.

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