Chelsea Manning Jailed for Refusing to Testify Against WikiLeaks

A federal judge ordered Chelsea Manning to prison Friday morning for an indefinite period of time, after the former Army private refused on principle to answer any questions before a secret grand jury investigating the media organization and its founder Julian Assange.

U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton told Manning that she would remain in federal custody “until she purges or the end of the life of the grand jury,” a statement from her representatives said.

“This ain’t my first rodeo,” Chelsea told her lawyer before she was taken into confinement.

The brief hearing before Judge Hilton was the only part of the court proceedings involving Manning that was open to the public. Hilton rejected the argument by Manning’s lawyers that confining her to house arrest would better serve her medical needs. She has received gender reassignment surgery and requires complex medical attention. Hilton said the US Marshals Service would provide adequate care.

“I’ve found you in contempt,” Hilton declared, ordering Manning to jail immediately. The imprisonment in a federal facility in Alexandria, Virginia would continue indefinitely, he said, “either until you purge yourself [agree to testify] or the end of the life of the grand jury.”

The grand jury has been empaneled to bring espionage and conspiracy charges against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Manning revealed that the questions she had refused to answer on Thursday all concerned her interaction with the organization, which receives documents delivered to it anonymously and avoids learning the identity of contributors in order not to undermine their security.

Manning provided WikiLeaks with over 700,000 sensitive documents which she exfiltrated from military and government archives while serving as an army intelligence analyst in Iraq during the US military occupation, in 2009. The classified materials showed extensive war crimes in both Iraq and Afghanistan, including the notorious gun-camera footage of a US Apache helicopter gunning down unarmed civilians, including two Reuters reporters, later published by WikiLeaks under the title “Collateral Murder.”

Manning was arrested in 2010, convicted in a 2013 court martial and sentenced to 35 years in prison. She was released early in May 2017 upon serving a total of seven years, after her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama three days before he left office.

Federal prosecutors subpoenaed Manning to testify before the grand jury and gave her immunity for her testimony, in the hopes of using it against Assange and WikiLeaks. But Manning has refused on principle to collaborate with the secret grand jury. She answered each question posed to her by invoking her rights under the First, Fourth and Sixth amendments to the US Constitution.

“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,” she said.

A statement issued by Manning after being sent to prison reads:

“I will not comply with this, or any other grand jury. Imprisoning me for my refusal to answer questions only subjects me to additional punishment for my repeatedly-stated ethical objections to the grand jury system.

“The grand jury’s questions pertained to disclosures from nine years ago, and took place six years after an in-depth computer forensics case, in which I testified for almost a full day about these events. I stand by my previous public testimony.”

The statement concludes with Manning’s courageous declaration that she “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.”

Manning’s lawyer, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, told the World Socialist Web Site after the decision, “Chelsea’s actions speak for themselves. She is a person of tremendous honor and courage, and this latest struggle is just the most recent in a long serious of principled stands she has taken.”

Asked if she is concerned about the conditions Chelsea will face in jail, Meltzer-Cohen said that the government has made assurances that her health needs will be taken care of, but that “we all need to be vigilant that those assurances are made good on.”

Manning’s lawyers said they expected to file an appeal of Hilton’s order jailing Chelsea, citing in particular the fact that jailing for refusal to testify can only be coercive, not punitive. In other words, if they can demonstrate that Manning will never agree to testify, no matter how long she is jailed, the court cannot simply keep her in prison to punish her for her silence.

The jailing of Chelsea Manning is a particularly outrageous attack on democratic rights, carried out by a federal judge who is a byword for reactionary pro-government, pro-police and pro-employer bias, and a longtime collaborator with the national security state.

Hilton was one of a relative handful of federal judges selected by Chief Justice William Rehnquist to serve on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, the special judicial panel set up to secretly rubber-stamp requests for spying authorizations for the FBI, CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies. The court is notorious for approving 99.9 percent of such requests. Hilton was on the panel from 2000 to 2007, during the period when the Bush administration set up secret CIA torture camps and enormously escalated the NSA spying on telecommunications and the internet.

Appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan in 1985, Hilton proved his value to the military-intelligence apparatus early in his career, with a 1989 decision that cleared CIA operative Joseph Fernandez, charged with four criminal counts in the Iran-Contra affair, after the CIA refused to release documents required for the prosecution of the case. In effect, the intelligence apparatus ensured impunity for its own criminal operations by refusing to cooperate with the investigation by Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh, a legal dodge approved by Judge Hilton.

According to the website “The Robing Room,” which allows lawyers and litigants appearing before federal judges to rate their demeanor, legal knowledge, and bias, Hilton routinely incorporates prosecution and government briefs into his legal “opinions,” almost never rules in favor of individuals suing their employers, the police or the government, and frequently sleeps through oral arguments by defense attorneys.

One attorney, posting on the site, called Hilton, “The most prejudiced judge with regard to average and below average income United States citizens that I have ever observed. This judge has no sense whatsoever of the search for Truth and Justice and he clearly avoids any reasonable search for Truth and Justice, especially if a large corporation or the federal government is the defendant!”

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* This article was automatically syndicated and expanded from World Socialist Website.

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