When Chelsea Manning appeared before a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, she invoked her constitutional rights to refuse to answer questions about Wikileaks. But instead of receiving those protections, the former Army intelligence analyst landed in federal custody on March 8 by order of District Court Justice Claude M. Hilton, who found Ms. Manning in contempt of court.
“While Americans are afforded protections under the first, fourth and sixth amendments, these protections are often not expanded to the classified information that Chelsea divulged,” said Taso Pardalis, an attorney in Manhattan.
Ms. Manning’s detainment this month comes after former President Obama commuted the 31-year-old’s original sentence of 35 years in 2017 for her role in releasing more than 700,000 classified documents to Wikileaks.
Wikileaks, which did not respond to PacerMonitor News’ request for comment, states on its website that it specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption.
“There was nothing in particular which was leaked that was strategically bad,” said Kevin Duong, a Manning sympathizer and assistant professor in the political studies program at Bard College. “The perceived danger had more to do with the sheer quantity of information that was released and the audacity of Chelsea to do so in explicit defiance to the American government’s ability to monopolize how information is distributed or not distributed about its actions.”
Ms. Manning, who is transgender, is cooling her heels in federal custody at the William G. Truesdale Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia, and her release date is unclear.
“It is our understanding that Chelsea can be detained for as long as 18 months or the life of the grand jury, whichever comes first,” said Andy Stepanian, a volunteer with Ms. Manning’s support committee Chelsea Resists, which is made up of friends and fellow organizers, adding that “Chelsea has access to post-surgery treatments and medication.”
Wikileaks is the brainchild of Australian computer programmer Julian Assange, who has reportedly been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid arrest.
Although Mr. Assange agreed to be extradited to the U.S. in 2017 if then-President Obama granted clemency to Manning, the controversy over Wikileaks is bigger than Ms. Manning, according to Mr. Duong, and has nothing to do with the content that she released electronically.
“It’s a wider political struggle over the monopolization of public information and who gets to decide what becomes public and what doesn’t and the state’s decision to prioritize security interest over, for example, military action abroad,” Mr. Duong said.
The fact that Ms. Manning was imprisoned again indicates the U.S. government’s interest in Wikileaks is far from finished. While prosecutors have refused to confirm an indictment, it is possible that Mr. Assange has already been formally but secretly charged.
“Federal prosecutors likely have a sufficient amount of evidence against Mr. Assange and are interested in working with Ms. Manning to strengthen the case,” Mr. Pardalis told PacerMonitor News. But Ms. Manning is committed to the cause.
“Chelsea has clearly stated her moral objection to the secretive and oppressive grand jury process,” according to a statement released by Chelsea Resists. “If Judge Claude M. Hilton and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg believe that subjecting Chelsea to more punishment will change her mind, they are gravely mistaken.”
In 2015, Ms. Manning brought a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) federal cause of action in the District of Columbia District Court against the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, seeking records related to her case, which she alleges are improperly being withheld since she has already been convicted at a court-martial for the underlying conduct investigated.
According to Chelsea Resists, this is also one reason Ms. Manning refused to divulge any more information earlier this month before Judge Hilton:
“Chelsea has already served prison time for standing up against government secrecy and revealing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. We reject the logic that Chelsea should comply and answer questions regarding events for which she has already provided ample testimony.”
But like Judge Hilton, Federal Justice Amit P. Mehta ruled against Ms. Manning in his January 2017 decision.
“This has everything to do with who Chelsea Manning is,” Mr. Duong told PacerMonitor News. “She is unabashedly hostile to the moral authority of the state.”
Further adding to the controversy is the alleged disappearance of a cyber security expert connected to Wikileaks named Arjen Kamphusis while he was on vacation in Norway. According to media reports, the Dutch citizen checked out of his hotel on August 20, 2018, and was expected to fly back to the Netherlands on August 22 but has not been seen since.
“While it is difficult to speculate, it can be inferred that the disappearance of Arjen Kamphusis was related to his close ties to WikiLeaks,” said Mr. Pardalis.
To avoid being in Ms. Manning’s shoes, he advises the following:
- Avoid discussing ways to instill terror in Americans because it appears disloyal to America
- Refrain from talking about anything that may appear to betray America or undermine the U.S. government
- Refrain from transmitting such information in any form including electronically
- Abstain from googling topics such as “how to stage a terrorist attack” or “how to plan a mass shooting.” Because they are problematic, don’t entertain or discuss in any context
- Don’t pledge allegiance to extremist groups
- Never renounce American citizenship