Chelsea Manning Jailed for Refusing to Cooperate with Wikileaks Grand Jury
Chelsea Manning said her testimony before her court martial is all she has to say, standing by her resistance to secret grand juries as her activist ancestors did before her. Kevin Gosztola, Managing Editor of Shadowproof, discusses the case
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us.
Chelsea Manning went before a grand jury today, and was jailed for refusing to testify. When asked questions, she simply said, “I object to the question,” and refused to answer on the grounds that the question is “in violation of my First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendment, and other statutory rights.” Judge Claude Hilton then had Manning jailed on the charge of contempt. She’ll be jailed for as long as she refuses to testify, or as long as this grand jury is empaneled. She’s vowed not to cooperate with the grand jury at all, even though prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia granted her immunity from testimony. And as we all know, she was tried and sentenced to 35 years in prison after sharing classified documents. with WikiLeaks in 2010. President Barack Obama commuted her sentence to seven years after a long struggle, with people demanding her release.
She said in a statement that “all of the substantive questions pertain to my disclosures of information to the public in 2010; answers I’ve provided in extensive testimony during my court martial in 2013.” She went on to say that she objects to the secrecy of the grand jury process, and already revealed everything she knows at her court martial. She said prosecutors have granted her immunity for her testimony, which eliminates her ability to invoke the Fifth Amendment against self incrimination, which is why she was jailed. And Kevin Gosztola is joining us. He’s managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast Unauthorized Disclosure, and coauthored with Greg Mitchell Truth and Consequences: The U.S. v. Bradley Manning.
And Kevin, welcome. Good to have you back with us here at The Real News.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Thank you for having me.
MARC STEINER: So let’s start this off by watching what Chelsea Manning had to say on her way into court.
CHELSEA MANNING: I’m pretty confident that we have a basis and a grounds on which to oppose this.
SPEAKER: And you said in your statement you’re prepared to go to jail for this?
CHELSEA MANNING: If it comes to that, yeah. If it comes to that, you know, it comes to that. If it comes to going–I might not leave here today free.
SPEAKER: What’s the message that, if you’re not able to come outside after this and tell us something, what’s your message?
CHELSEA MANNING: We’re going to put out a statement.
SPEAKER: But if you wanted to say something before, with your face on camera, and tell the world why you’re in jail, if you do go to jail after this?
CHELSEA MANNING: We’re going to put out a statement.
MARC STEINER: Kevin, did you talk to Chelsea before she went to the grand jury? Did you know she was going to do this? Were you aware of all this before it happened?
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Well, It was clear from a statement that was put out by her own people that she was going to go ahead and challenge this grand jury process.
MARC STEINER: So I’m also curious, you know, that you wrote in your piece that she could have taken the easy way out. Talk a bit about what you wrote there, and what that means.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Part of the piece was quoting a CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou-
MARC STEINER: Who went to jail.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Who went to jail, and served time in prison. And so anyways, we were both speaking to, really, I think, is that she could have gone before, she could have said that she didn’t recall, or she could have plain answered questions. But what she chose to do is to on principle go before the grand jury, invoke First, Fourth, Sixth Amendment rights under the Constitution, and say she didn’t have to answer the questions. And she really is calling into question this whole process, the whole grand jury process, saying that it’s entirely flawed, what you’re doing. And I believe that she’s really criticizing and going after the whole idea of this investigation into the WikiLeaks organization.
MARC STEINER: So just quickly here, I mean, one of the things that–I’ve interviewed Chelsea a number of times, I’ve met her a number of times. And she clearly was traumatized from her prison experience. And she went through a lot; denied healthcare, battling for her transformation, and more. And so, I mean, so many people are really worried about what could happen to her being jailed again, because this actually, when you refuse to testify in front of a grand jury, can almost be an indeterminate sentence, depending on how long this process can last.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: That’s right. So as we know, it’s up to 18 months that she could be in jail. Of course, the grand jury wasn’t recently empaneled this week, so it could be less than 18 months. The grand jury, maybe it gets an extension, or maybe it resumes in another iteration, and so then she could remain in jail. There are ways to coerce her into testifying, whether the government would admit it or not, or describe it as intentional. The fact is that while she’s in prison she’s going to have difficulty obtaining access to health treatment, mental health evaluations, psychological meetings. You know, if she wants to meet a psychiatrist to get help with anything; if she wants access to anything she’s getting because she’s a transgender woman–and I don’t know if she’s done transitioning completely, or she’s still getting any-.
And so that likely is something they could withhold from her in order to coerce her into testifying. This is really real. And I think, you know, I exchanged letters with her while she was in prison. One of the things I have to just share here is that she had said to me, “I can’t be myself. Every time I try to assert my existence or to find myself on my own terms, I get beat up by the world. I’m really scarred, bloodied, and bruised at this point.” And I share that to just point out how traumatizing her incarceration in military prisons was, and that she–you know, to remind people that she went through cruel and inhuman treatment while she was at Quantico, and was in conditions of solitary confinement. And so, you know, getting back into this jail, what is that going to do to her, and how is that going to affect her ability to maintain her resistance?
MARC STEINER: So take us back to the beginning here. Who empaneled this grand jury, and why did they call Chelsea?
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Yes. So, I mean, I want to keep it brief. But the WikiLeaks grand jury started back in 2010. It started just months after these disclosures were being published by WikiLeaks. And we’re talking about, to be specific, because there’s a lot of publications from WikiLeaks in the last eight or nine years, we’re talking about the disclosures from Chelsea Manning; the Iraq war logs, the Afghanistan war logs, the collateral murder video, the diplomatic cables. Those publications. And you know, what’s important is that Barack Obama’s administration recognized that they had a problem with this grand jury, that the Justice Department could not go through this kind of investigation and haul people before it and put together charges, because even if they came up with charges, they’d be doing something really deeply troubling.
And they would be–they called it the “New York Times problem.” This was how the Washington Post reported it. Which is that if they had charges, they were going to be targeting journalists, potentially, that are involved in this kind of work every single day; that they would be opening up the Washington Post reporters, the New York Times reporters, to potential prosecutions. So they largely abandoned it. But the Trump administration has come back to this with renewed vigor, and actually has nothing to do with, so far we know based on recent reporting, they’re actually not investigating anything that has happened in the last two to three years.
MARC STEINER: Who convened this grand jury, and why?
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: The Justice Department. It’s in Alexandria, Virginia. The woman who’s overseeing it is Tracy McCormick, or that’s the person who’s been on record as being involved in handling it. This is a name that I’m familiar with because Tracy McCormick was involved in this back as early as 2010. And so it’s the same thing of wanting to go after WikiLeaks because of what happened. They’re embarrassed. All of these officials who had to deal with the backlash from these leaks, they want somebody that they can haul in, whether it involves extraditing Julian Assange from the UK, or whether it involves finding some other staff members and trying to get them there. I mean, they haven’t just gone after Julian Assange. We found out in the last week and a half that Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who was a partner until they had a falling out, that he was questioned, or that the jury was interested in getting testimony from him. And we also had David House, who had been involved with the Manning Support Network, who had been hauled before the jury, as well. So we know that they really would like to get somebody for what happened back in 2010.
MARC STEINER: But this grand jury was convened under the Trump administration to go back to WikiLeaks, to unearth what they think they need to know beyond what Chelsea Manning, as you said, already testified when she was in her court martial. And I think just very quickly as we conclude, because we will follow this very closely to see what happens to Chelsea in the coming days, but there’s a whole history here where she doesn’t–she says she opposes the secrecy of the grand jury. She does not want to cooperate with that. There’s a whole history in this country of the secretiveness of the grand juries, what they’ve done to our freedoms. And a lot of constitutional lawyers, a lot of legal minds, really oppose even having these grand juries in secret.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Yeah. I mean, when she goes before this grand jury she’s not allowed to have her attorney present with her. So she wouldn’t have been able to rely on counsel when she even answered the questions, if she had cooperated. And then, yeah, there’s this long history. It stretches all the way back to the time when abolitionists were fighting slavery, that there have been people constantly who were targeted, and decided that they didn’t want to recognize what the grand jury was doing. You know, Daniel Ellsberg is a supporter of Chelsea Manning. When the Pentagon Papers were released, the Nixon administration wanted to go after the New York Times reporters who were involved. And they also subpoenaed people who were with a left-wing antiwar organization called the Institute for Policy Studies. And those people, of course, did not want to comply, either, with this kind of an investigation.
And what we’ve seen here, just to put a button on this, is an escalation in the war on whistleblowing. And what they want to do is–you know, it seems like the Trump administration knows the issue with charging someone over publication. And so what they’re doing is they want to try to criminalize the gathering process. So the reason why Chelsea Manning is hauled in is because they want to see if she can give information about Julian Assange soliciting the leaks from her, and enticing her to provide information. She’s refused. She’s just not going to participate.
MARC STEINER: Well, we’ll follow this very closely. And Kevin Gosztola, thank you for your work, and thank you for joining us today. Appreciate your being with us. And we’ll follow what’s happening to Chelsea Manning and this grand jury. Take care. Have a good weekend.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Thank you.
MARC STEINER: Hope Chelsea can, as well. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us. Take care.