Why is information from the grand jury kept secret?

No cooperation with grand jury: Chelsea Manning arrested

Chelsea Manning (@xychelsea) has been back in jail since Friday. Known internationally for her disclosure of thousands of documents about US war crimes in the Middle East and later convicted, the whistleblower had refused to testify in a secret trial before a grand jury in the United States. Although she had been granted immunity, that did not change the activist's decision. She refuses to work with a secret court in principle, reports her support network.

On March 8, Manning was asked to comment on her failure to testify two days earlier, in a secret session before a grand jury in Virginia. In terms of content, it was about events from 2010, about which the former member of the army had already testified in the course of her own legal proceedings in 2013. She passed on secret military documents in 2010, was charged the same year, held in solitary confinement for months during the trial and ultimately sentenced to 35 years in prison by a military court under the Espionage Act.

At its core, today is a secret investigation by the US Department of Justice into Wikileaks and the military documents published on the platform. At least that much Manning could say about the interview last week. In 2013, however, she had already given detailed written information to the court.

What is particularly noteworthy about the current investigation is the fact that it is apparently intended to proceed with Wikileaks against the publisher of the documents. That affects the freedom of the press. In the United States, there is currently no precedent for opposing the publishing platform itself rather than whoever may have disclosed the classified material in contravention of the law. No publishing director or editor has been prosecuted for this, for example not even the renowned New York Times, which also reported on the secret documents in 2010.

Do not cooperate with a secret court

For her conviction that she would not cooperate with a secret court and that she would not testify behind closed doors, Manning had already announced before the appointment on March 8th. And so it happened: she was arrested on Friday for refusing to testify. The court said Manning would remain in custody until she gave her testimony or the grand jury finished their work. The term of imprisonment could be up to 18 months plus a further six months as an additional penalty. There is, however, a third way of escaping imprisonment: if the appeals Manning's legal team are trying to appeal are successful.

After all, Manning is the source of journalists and also of Wikileaks, who with a new testimony would be obliged to testify against their former confidential cooperation partners. So maybe the chances are not so bad that legal appeal against incarceration could be successful. Since this is a secret process, much of the content of the investigations and hearings is not certain, but rather speculation. In such preliminary proceedings, a grand jury decides whether or not charges will ultimately be brought against the accused.

Before the election of Donald Trump as US President, one of the last official acts of the outgoing Barack Obama was to commutate and commutate Chelsea Manning's remaining sentence in January 2017, so that the whistleblower and current human rights activist could leave prison a little later .

During her imprisonment, the many letters she received had, according to her own statements, strengthened her back under very stressful circumstances. Manning supporters are again calling for mail to be sent to the Virginia jail. The letters must be handwritten on white paper. Cards or parcels are not allowed, nor are any paintings on the envelope. The adress is:

Chelsea Elizabeth Manning
William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center
2001 Mill Road
Alexandria, VA
United States

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About the author


Constanze Kurz has a doctorate in computer science, author and editor of several books, most recently on cyber war. Your column "From the engine room" appeared from 2010 to 2019 in the features section of the FAZ. She is an activist and volunteer spokesperson for the Chaos Computer Club. She carried out research at the Humboldt University in Berlin at the chair “Computer Science in Education and Society” and was an expert on the “Internet and Digital Society” commission of inquiry of the Bundestag. She received the Werner Holtfort Prize for civil and human rights engagement, the Tolerance Prize for civil courage and the Theodor Heuss Medal for exemplary democratic behavior.Contact: constanze (at) netzpolitik.org (PGP).
Published 03/11/2019 at 1:33 PM