Whistleblower and activist Chelsea Manning has been ordered to appear at a contempt hearing this Friday for refusing to answer questions about her 2010 disclosure of classified material to WikiLeaks before a federal grand jury in the US state of Virginia.
Manning, 31, was subpoenaed last month to appear behind closed doors this week to answer questions as part of the ongoing criminal investigation into Julian Assange. An indictment against the WikiLeaks founder was inadvertently leaked by prosecutors in a court filing in November. The nature of the charges against him remain unclear; however, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed US officials, that the case is unrelated to the 2016 American presidential election.
Although Manning was granted immunity in exchange for testimony—a device commonly used to increase witness cooperation—she declined to answer any of the government’s questions, citing the First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments of the US Constitution, among other statutory rights. Manning said all of the questions related to information she’d previously disclosed during her 2013 court martial.
“On Friday, I will return to federal court in Alexandria, Virginia for a closed contempt hearing. A judge will consider the legal grounds for my refusal to answer questions in front of a grand jury. The court may find me in contempt, and order me to jail,” Manning said in a statement.
There is a possibility that Manning could be remanded into custody as a recalcitrant witness and confined in an effort to coerce her compliance. The law allows for the confinement of resistant witnesses in cases where they are unable provide just cause—such as insufficient time to prepare for testimony or questions that lie outside the bounds of an immunity agreement.
A witness held in contempt cannot be confinement for more than 18 months and confinement may not exceed the life of the grand jury itself. Jail time, however, is only one possible outcome.
“In solidarity with many activists facing the odds, I will stand by my principles. I will exhaust every legal remedy available,” Manning said. “My legal team continues to challenge the secrecy of these proceedings, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.”
Earlier this week, her attorneys had filed motions trying, unsuccessfully, to quash the subpoena or otherwise make the full record of her testimony public.
Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, leaked more than 725,000 classified US government documents to WikiLeaks following her deployment to Baghdad in 2009, including diplomatic cables, battlefield reports, and five Guantanamo Bay detainee profiles. At trial, she cited her growing concerns over the U.S. military’s collaboration with torturers and the “seemingly delightful bloodlust” of US aerial weapons teams as primary motivation for the leak.
In a letter following her arrest, Manning stated she believed the public was incapable of deciding what US military policies and actions were justifiable “if they don’t even know the most rudimentary details about them and their effects.”
Acquitted of aiding the enemy, she was convicted under the Espionage Act for leaking portions of 227 documents in 2013. The harsh treatment she received during her pre-trial detention was condemned internationally as torture.
Manning, who at trial expressed remorse that her actions “hurt the United States,” was sentenced to 35 years in prison—more time than anyone has ever received for disclosing classified US government records.
While the leaks, which came to be known as the Afghan and Iraq War logs, were embarrassing for the military and the US State Department, a US Defense Intelligence Agency review later found they posed only a moderate to low risk to the nation. As of 2013, there were no known incidents of intelligence sources being harmed as a result of the leaks.
In one of his last acts in office, then-President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence in 2017.
Featured image: Getty / Sean Gallup