Chelsea Manning, an anti-secrecy activist and former U.S. Army intelligence analyst whose release of classified information to WikiLeaks in 2010 sparked worldwide controversy over transparency in the military and whistleblower protections, was taken into custody at a federal court on Friday after a federal judge found her in contempt of court for refusing to answer questions before a secret grand jury.
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In late January, Manning was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in a sealed case out of the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia -- the same district in which the government recently inadvertently revealed the existence of a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.
On Friday, after refusing to answer the grand jury’s questions, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton found Manning in contempt of court and ordered her to be held in jail until she decides to testify or until the grand jury concludes its work -- which could be up to 18 months, a lawyer for Manning said.
In a statement released earlier this week, Manning said she was “prepared to face the consequences” of her refusal to answer the panel’s questions.
“A judge will consider the legal grounds for my refusal to answer questions in front of a grand jury,” Manning said. “The court may find me in contempt, and order me to jail.”
Addressing reporters afterward on Friday, an attorney for Manning, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, suggested she may appeal the judge’s ruling.
“I think it’s quite likely,” Meltzer-Cohen said. “This is an appealable order.”
Manning’s latest incarceration drew ire and concern from Meltzer-Cohen, who called the decision "an act of tremendous cruelty” and expressed concern for Manning’s health and safety in the Alexandria, Va., detention center.
But during Friday’s hearing – most of which was conducted in secret, although reporters were allowed to enter for part – the government prosecutor assigned to the case, Tracy McCormick, assured Manning’s defense counsel that Manning would receive proper medical attention and privacy, adding that Manning could free herself by cooperating with the court.
“The government does not want to confine Ms. Manning,” McCormick said. “She could change her mind right now and decide to testify."
Meltzer-Cohen thanked the government, which she said "bent over backwards to accommodate [Manning's medical] needs."
In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the unauthorized disclosure of classified materials made public by WikiLeaks in 2010. The leaks included millions of diplomatic cables and a video from July 2007 of a U.S. helicopter in Baghdad firing on a group of civilians that killed two Reuters photographers and wounded two children.
Her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017.