Chelsea Manning was released today from the Virginia jail where she spent 62 days for refusing to testify about her past association with WikiLeaks before a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Attorneys for Manning said the release came after the grand jury’s term expired on Thursday. Her legal team has already been served another subpoena. It demands she appear before a different grant jury on May 17. Manning has vowed not to answer any questions and, therefore, could be returned to custody as early as next week.
“Chelsea will continue to refuse to answer questions, and will use every available legal defence to prove to District Judge Trenga that she has just cause for her refusal to give testimony,” her lawyers said.
Manning was jailed on March 8 for contempt, a process crime, for which she is not being punished; rather, her time in jail is intended to coerce her into cooperating. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a motion filed by her legal team to have her set free last month.
On Monday, Manning attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen filed another motion: It declaring that she would never be convinced to cooperate and that any further confinement would, therefore, serve no legal purpose. In March, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton said the former soldier-turned-leaker-turned-activist would remain confined “until she purges.” Her lawyers hope to convince a new judge that this will never become a reality.
Manning’s refusal to testify is an act of protest, she’s said, against grand juries in general, which she asserts have been used historically to “entrap and persecute activists for protected political speech.”
Immunity is forced upon grand jury witnesses, negating their privilege against self-incrimination, and stripping them of any “right to remain silent.” There are no judges present during the testimony and the juries, comprised of 16-23 individuals, are not screened for personal biases. The rules of evidence do not apply.
During her 2013 court martial, Manning confessed to leaking more than 725,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks following her deployment as a U.S. Army intelligence analyst to Iraq in 2009. The documents, acquired from a classified database known as CIDNE, included military reports, State Department diplomatic cables, and Guantanamo Bay detainee profiles, including the profiles of the Tipton Three, a group of British Muslims who were imprisoned at the facility between 2001 and 2004.
Manning was eventually charged by the military with leaking only portions of a couple hundred documents. She was acquitted of aiding the enemy. Her 35-year sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama in one of his final acts of office.
Julian Assange, the anti-secrecy site’s founder, was himself arrested on April 11 after living for nearly seven years under asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The U.S. government has requested that Assange be extradited by the U.K. to face a felony charge of conspiracy to commit computer crimes related to Manning’s 2010 leak.
Assange appeared in court via livestream to decline voluntary extradition to the U.S, where he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. A London court found him guilty of jumping bail in 2012 and sentenced him this month to 50 weeks in prison.
Manning, meanwhile, faces no new criminal charges and has not been accused of doing anything illegal that she hasn’t already served time for in prison.
When she arrived in March at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, she was held in solitary confinement for nearly a month—a practice that, while widely in use U.S., is roundly condemned by international human rights groups as a form of torture. (Medical and psychiatric research has shown prolonged solitary may do irreversible psychological harm.)
Manning was ordered into custody by U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton, who in March said that the former soldier-turned-leaker-turned-activist would remain in jail “until she purges.”
Manning is expected to release a statement later tonight. We’ll update when she does.