WASHINGTON — Chelsea Manning on Monday lost her appeal to get out jail after she refused to testify before a grand jury about WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.
The fact that Manning is still in jail is one of the clearest signs that federal prosecutors are still investigating Assange and WikiLeaks and mulling additional charges. Assange was arrested by United Kingdom authorities on April 11 at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, in part because he faces an indictment in the United States that charges him with conspiring with Manning to hack into US Defense Department computer systems in 2010.
In a two-page order on Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld a lower court judge's ruling in March finding Manning in contempt and ordering her jailed until she complied with the subpoena. The three-judge appeals panel didn't provide any detailed analysis, only writing that they had found "no error in the district court's rulings." The court also denied Manning's request to be released on bail.
In a statement released by her legal team, Manning said she "will not give up."
"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. While I miss home, they can continue to hold me in jail, with all the harmful consequences that brings," Manning said.
Being jailed for contempt isn't the same as being incarcerated after an arrest or conviction — it's not supposed to be punishment, but rather an incentive to comply with a subpoena. The only way Manning can continue to be held is if the government still needs her testimony, which means there's still an active investigation by US law enforcement into Assange and WikiLeaks.
Assange has vowed to fight the US government's efforts to have him extradited from the UK to face criminal proceedings in a US court, a legal fight that could take years to resolve. The US has until mid-June to submit formal extradition paperwork to the UK. Until that happens, the Justice Department can file more criminal charges against Assange. Once they submit the extradition package, however, they can only proceed with the charges they have on record. The current indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in March 2018, but wasn't unsealed until after Assange's arrest.
Manning, a former military intelligence analyst, has been in jail since March 8, when a federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, found her in contempt for refusing to answer questions before a grand jury. Grand jury proceedings aren't public, and prosecutors and grand jurors are required by law to not reveal any information, but witnesses can publicly discuss their experiences. Manning's support team announced that prosecutors wanted to question her about "the release of information she disclosed to the public in 2010," when she leaked hundreds of thousands of military documents to WikiLeaks.
A military court found Manning guilty in 2013 of violating the Espionage Act for the WikiLeaks disclosures, and she was sentenced to 35 years in prison. In January 2017, however, former president Barack Obama commuted her sentence and she was released.
Manning appealed the judge's contempt finding to the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Her lawyers argued that the government was abusing the grand jury process, since she'd already disclosed everything she knew during her court-martial proceedings years ago. Following Assange's arrest, her legal team released a statement saying that holding her in jail any longer "would be purely punitive."
Manning also argued that the government should be required to reveal if they had her under surveillance, and that the district court judge had wrongly sealed parts of her contempt hearing in March. According to Manning's court briefs, a prosecutor told her lawyer that the government believed Manning gave false, contradictory, or incorrect testimony during her court-martial, and Manning's lawyers took this to mean the government had "intercepted, misunderstood, and misattributed electronic communications."
The 4th Circuit rejected all of her arguments. Manning can now ask a full sitting of the 4th Circuit to reconsider the three-judge panel's decision, or she could petition the US Supreme Court to take her case — the press release from Manning's legal team on Monday indicated she was considering both options.
"We are of course disappointed that the Circuit declined to follow clearly established law, or consider the ample evidence of grand jury abuse," Manning's attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen said in a statement.
Manning had been held in "administrative segregation," also known as solitary confinement, for nearly a month after the contempt finding, which her lawyers protested. Her support team tweeted from her account on April 4 that she'd been moved into general population at the Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
Updated with comment from Chelsea Manning and her attorney.