Chelsea Manning’s legal team went into damage-control mode Thursday after a headline by The Daily Beast suggested that prosecutors had accused her of lying or mistakenly giving false testimony during her 2013 court-martial.
Citing an unsealed court filing, the Beast reported that prosecutors believe Manning may have given “false or mistaken testimony” when recounting the events surrounding her 2010 disclosure of classified material to the anti-secrecy organisation WikiLeaks.
A former US Army intelligence analyst, Manning did not testify during her court-martial but did address the Ft Meade military court regarding her motives for leaking some 700,000 classified documents, saying she intended to “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military” and US foreign policy in general “as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan”.
Manning was arrested and confined earlier this month after being held in contempt for refusing to answer questions before a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia.
In a motion filed on March 1, her legal team stated that during “preliminary discussions, the prosecution indicated that they had reason to believe that Ms Manning may have made statements inconsistent with her prior testimony”.
“At most, we know that the grand jury probably relates to the 2010 disclosures, and related people and organisations,” the attorneys wrote.
“And despite repeated requests by Ms Manning’s legal team for information about the nature of the expected grand jury questions, the prosecutor has only generally revealed that he believes some of Ms Manning’s statements at the court-martial were either false or mistaken, and that the grand jury would benefit from hearing more details about Ms Manning’s contacts and communications with respect to the 2010 disclosures.”
A spokesperson for Manning issued a statement following the Beast’s report, clarifying: “At no point in the Court’s record have prosecutors accused Chelsea Manning of providing ‘false or misleading’ testimony. Headlines indicating otherwise are misleading.”
The allegation, in other words, had not been heard by the judge until it was raised by her attorneys.
It’s not uncommon for defence attorneys to preemptively refute allegations made by prosecutors outside of the courtroom. (Doing so is usually a sign the defence believes the accusations can be easily shot down, damaging the prosecution’s credibility.) It is also not uncommon for news outlets to publish stories based on what one side of a case claims the other has said privately.
Following the statement, The Daily Beast altered its original headline — “Chelsea Manning May Have Given False Testimony in WikiLeaks Trial, Say Prosecutors” — to focus on allegations raised by her legal team about “unlawful surveillance”.
The motion stated that she’s experienced “all manner of intrusive surveillance” since her release from prison in 2017, including “surveillance vans parked outside her apartment, federal agents following her, and strangers attempting to goad her into an absurdly contrived conversation about selling dual-use technologies to foreign actors”.
Manning has stated that her refusal to testify in the case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is an act of protest against the use of grand juries in general.
“I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has been historically used to entrap and persecute activists for protected political speech,” she said.