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In Rejecting Chelsea Manning’s Appeal, Court Essentially Ignores All Arguments For Release From Jail

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal from Chelsea Manning, which challenged a district court’s order that found her in civil contempt.

On March 8, a federal district court jailed Manning for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks. She was held in prolonged solitary confinement for around 27 days before authorities at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center moved her to general population.

Judges for the appeals court offered no explanation [PDF] as to why they believed a lower court committed no error in finding Manning in civil contempt. They also provided no reasons for why it was justified to keep Manning in jail.

“Appellant Manning argues on appeal that the district court improperly denied her motion concerning electronic surveillance, failed to properly address the issue of grand jury abuse, and improperly sealed the courtroom during substantial portions of the hearing,” the appeals court acknowledged.

“Upon consideration of the memorandum filed on appeal and the record of proceedings in the district court, the court finds no error in the district court’s rulings and affirms its finding of civil contempt,” the appeals court added. “The court also denies the appellant’s motion for release on bail.”

Manning reacted, “While disappointing, we can still raise issues as the government continues to abuse the grand jury process. I don’t have anything to contribute to this, or any other grand jury.

She mentioned she missed home, but added, “They can continue to hold me in jail, with all the harmful consequences that brings. I will not give up. Thank you all so very much for your love and solidarity through letters and contributions.”

Manning alleged the government engaged in “intrusive surveillance” against her “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.”

As Manning’s attorneys argued, Judge Claude Hilton did not “seem to even consider the possibility that the government might have an obligation to disclose whether or not surveillance occurred, despite Fourth Circuit law supporting that proposition.” He essentially ignored the motion on electronic surveillance.

Additionally, Manning argued the government sought to “re-question” her about 2010 disclosures “about which she had already testified truthfully and exhaustively at her court martial” in 2013.

“As her testimony would be identical,” Manning’s attorneys contended, “it would in fact run contrary to the government’s theory of any case involving anyone besides Ms. Manning—who cannot herself be re-prosecuted for any offenses of which she was already convicted.”

“This situation therefore gives rise to an incentive for the government to use the grand jury to prepare for trial by undermining her as a defense witness,” her attorneys added. “Thus, Ms. Manning effectively raised substantiated concerns that the subpoena was motivated by an improper purpose, that it was intended as a mechanism of exposure and harassment, and that it was being used as a vehicle for trial preparation.”

Yet, the appeals court did not bother to address these arguments. They merely issued an order that generally mentioned why Manning believes she should be released from jail immediately.

When Manning filed her appeal, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange was still in the Ecuador embassy in the United Kingdom. The government of Ecuador had not expelled him and allowed the British authorities to arrest and haul him out to a police van at the request of the United States government, which indicted Assange and filed an extradition request.

Assange’s expulsion and arrest on April 11 was the clearest confirmation yet that the government is targeting him for information WikiLeaks published in 2010, which was disclosed by Manning.

“The indictment against Julian Assange unsealed today was obtained a year to the day before Chelsea appeared before the grand jury and refused to give testimony,” Manning’s attorneys declared later that day.

“The fact that this indictment has existed for over a year underscores what Chelsea’s legal team and Chelsea herself have been saying since she was first issued a subpoena to appear in front of a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia—that compelling Chelsea to testify would have been duplicative of evidence already in the possession of the grand jury, and was not needed in order for U.S. Attorneys to obtain an indictment of Mr. Assange.”

“Grand juries may not be used for the sole and dominant purpose of preparing for trial, including questioning potential trial witnesses. Since her testimony can no longer contribute to a grand jury investigation, Chelsea’s ongoing detention can no longer be seriously alleged to constitute an attempt to coerce her testimony. As continued detention would be purely punitive, we demand Chelsea be released,” her attorneys stated.

The appeals court’s order flagrantly dismissed these concerns that involve the due process rights of a citizen, and in doing so, it further demonstrated how oppressive and feudal the grand jury system is in the United States, which is one of two countries in the world that still relies on grand juries for developing indictments.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."