RICHMOND, Virginia - Former U.S. Private Chelsea Manning who leaked classified U.S. military documents which exposed atrocities during the Iraq War has had her appeal against her contempt of court charge denied.
Manning who leaked documents to WikiLeaks had been asked to give evidence against that organizatioon and its founder Julian Assange, in March. When she refused to do so, the judge jailed her for contempt. She has been in prison since.
The three-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia on Monday rejected Manning's lawyer’s arguments that she was being wrongfully held in contempt and should be granted bail at least while the contempt order was appealed.
Critics say she is being subjected to what is, in effect, arbitrary detention in order to compel her to testify against Assange, who himself is now in a London prison awaiting extradition to the United States, after being forcibly dragged out of the Ecuador embassy earlier this month on 11 April, despite the country granting him political asylum.
"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," Manning said in a statement released by her lawyers on Monday. "While I miss home, they can continue to hold me in jail, with all the harmful consequences that it brings. I will not give up."
Manning had her extraordinarily high 35-year sentence commuted by President Barack Obama shortly before he left office, after Manning had spent seven years of the 35-year term in prison.
She has been back in jail since 8 March when she refused to testify before the grand jury. She will now be held in prison indefinitely unless she changes her mind and testifies or the grand jury’s term expires.
"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 defense lawyer Moir Meltzer-Cohen said in a statement.
"It is improper for a prosecutor to use the grand jury to prepare for trial. As pointed out in Ms. Manning’s motions and appeals, since her testimony is not necessary to the grand jury’s investigation, the likely purpose for her subpoena is to help the prosecutor preview and undermine her potential testimony as a defense witness for a pending trial."
"We believed that the Appeals court would consider this, as it is strong evidence of an abuse of grand jury power that should excuse her testimony," Meltzer-Cohen said.
Manning’s lawyers argued she had already told prosecutors everything relevant to her interactions with WikiLeaks during her court martial in 2010. She cited her First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights - to free speech, against unreasonable searches and seizure and against self-incrimination - as a justification for defying the grand jury.
Her lawyers also argued her detention is unreasonably cruel, since the jail is not equipped to provide Manning with necessary medical attention in connection with her gender reassignment surgery.
John Pilger, a long time activist for human rights and a world renowned journalist said Tuesday: "The rejection of Chelsea Manning's appeal against her imprisonment for contempt is a sign of lawless America."
"Manning had the constitutional right to remain silent and not collaborate with the notorious Virginia grand jury's corrupt indictment of Julian Assange. But the U.S. Constitution, and its amendments, exalted by American historians as inviolable guardians of freedom and justice, are now openly flouted by U.S. courts as America's lawlessness abroad is reflected in its institutions, notably the judiciary. The appeal rejection is a clear indication of the injustice awaiting Julian Assange should British courts allow his extradition."
Assange is facing a 2 May extradition hearing. He is being held in the high-security Belmarsh Prison, known as the UK’s Guantanamo Bay. He was arrested for jumping bail over charges brought by Sweden, which were dropped some time ago.