Chelsea Manning Heads Back To Jail

Not surprisingly, Chelsea Manning is headed back to jail for her refusal to answer questions before a Federal Grand Jury investigating Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

One week after being released from jail, where she was being held for contempt due to a refusal to testify before a Grand Jury reportedly investigating Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning is back in jail for the same reason:

Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who provided secret military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, was sent to jail again on Thursday after refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the organization, which publishes leaks online.

Ms. Manning was jailed for similar reasons in March, but was released last week when the term of the grand jury that had served her with a subpoena in January expired.

This month she was served with another subpoena to appear before a new grand jury. At a closed hearing on Thursday, she told a federal judge that she would not answer questions, and he ordered her to be sent back to Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia, either until she agrees to testify or until the grand jury’s term expires in 18 months.

The judge, Anthony J. Trenga of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, also ordered Ms. Manning to be fined $500 for every day she remains in custody after 30 days, and $1,000 for every day she remains in custody after 60 days.

“We are of course disappointed with the outcome of today’s hearing,” Moira Meltzer-Cohen, a lawyer for Ms. Manning, said in a statement. “But I anticipate it will be exactly as coercive as the previous sanction — which is to say not at all.”

Prosecutors have granted immunity to Ms. Manning for her testimony, but she has said that she had already answered pertinent questions during a court-martial in 2013, and will not cooperate with a grand jury no matter how long she is detained.

“As a general principle, I object to grand juries,” she said in a video statement after being released last week. “Prosecutors run grand juries behind closed doors and in secret without a judge present. Therefore, I declined to answer any questions.”

Prosecutors said the jail time was meant to persuade Ms. Manning to testify. After the hearing on Thursday, G. Zachary Terwilliger, United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said that Ms. Manning was being treated like any other citizen who might have relevant information, The Associated Press reported.

“All we want is for her to truthfully answer any questions,” he said.
But lawyers for Ms. Manning have argued that jail time is pointless and punitive because she refuses to answer questions no matter what.

“I would rather starve than change my principles in this regard,” Ms. Manning said to Judge Trenga on Thursday.

Both the subpoenas served to Ms. Manning by the Eastern District of Virginia this year came after prosecutors inadvertently disclosed in November that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, had been charged under seal in that district.

The investigation into Mr. Assange is part of a criminal inquiry that began during the Obama administration. Mr. Assange evaded the investigation for seven years by sheltering in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he continued his activities with WikiLeaks, including working on the release of thousands of Democratic Party emails stolen by Russian hackers during the presidential campaign of 2016.

But Ecuador suspended the citizenship it had granted him and kicked Mr. Assange out of the embassy last month. He was arrested to face allegations in the United States that he had conspired to hack into a Pentagon computer network in 2010.

This development was entirely predictable, of course. When Manning was released last week, it was not because the Court or the Grand Jury had reconsidered the idea of holding her due to her refusal to answer questions. It was because the Grand Jury that had subpoenaed her the first time had come to the end of its term and, under Federal law, a person held for contempt for refusal to cooperate with a Grand Jury must be released when the term of that Grand Jury comes to a close. Even as Manning was being let go for her short vacation from jail, the U.S. Attorney leading the Assange investigation made clear that a new Grand Jury seated last week would be asked to issue a new subpoena for Manning and that she would be held in contempt again if she refused to answer questions. Given that the initial decision to jail Manning was upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, there is no question that the same thing will happen this time around and that Manning is likely to remain in jail if she refuses to answer questions. In that context, it’s worth noting that the typical term of a Federal Grand Jury is eighteen months, meaning that this time Manning could be in jail until some time shortly after the 2020 election unless she either changes her mind or the court determines that keeping her in jail would be futile, which the Judge presiding over this case doesn’t seem inclined to do.

As I’ve said before, Manning is putting herself in an odd position here. Because of her conviction while a member of the military and the commutation of her sentence, Federal authorities are generally barred from bringing any charges against her for her contact with Assange or other WikiLeaks personnel. Additionally, the U.S. Attorney has granted Manning immunity for any potential crimes she may testify too that would not be barred by Double Jeopardy due to her military conviction. Given this, there is absolutely no possibility that she can incriminate herself, and she has no legitimate legal basis for refusing to answer the questions put before her in a Grand Jury proceeding.

Given that, Manning is certainly putting herself in an odd position. I suppose she really believes she is acting out of some broader principle, but this doesn’t seem to be the best way to stand up for those principles. Complicating this issue, of course, is the suggestion that many people close to her have made that her mental state may not be in the best shape irrespective of the fact that she was being held in jail for contempt. It was only a few years ago, in fact, that Manning posted some odd things on social media that made it seem as though she was suicidal. This came in the middle of her ill-fated campaign for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Maryland but appears to have raised real concerns among those close to her. Whether that is playing a role here or not is unclear. One assumes that jail officials are aware of events like these in Manning’s past and that she will receive appropriate counseling or medication if she wants and needs it, but the fact that she may not be entirely in her right mind makes one wonder if her decision to sit in jail for the sake of Julian Assange is really a cry for help.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I think she’s addicted to martyrdom.

  2. Kathy says:

    If she wants to move public opinion against grand juries, this is the wrong way to go about it. Otherwise, she’s just protecting the head of a Russian front group. I just don’t get it.

  3. Lounsbury says:

    What on earth would one have against Grand Juries? It’s …. bizarre as an objective.

  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well, I don’t disagree that she may be addicted to martyrdom. And, I suspect that she is anticipating questions that, while they can’t put her in jail, they can powerfully embarrass her or humiliate her publicly, and she doesn’t trust the process or the prosecutors. Maybe she still is protecting Assange, though I really don’t know why. I’m guessing she doesn’t think of him as “head of a Russian front group”. I think Assange may not think of himself that way.

  5. walt moffett says:

    FWIW, BLM and associated groups (Aljazerra) have been calling for the abolition of Grand Juries arguing they are used to let killer cops walk free.

    And in other news, the UK abolished the Grand Jury in 1948.