Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Military Intelligence Officer convicted of whistleblowing back in 2013, has released a statement to The New York Times revealed her decision to fight against a grand-jury subpoena demanding her testimony in an undercover case potentially relating to Wikileaks founder and her former associate Julian Assange. Under the subpoena, publicly released by The Times, Manning runs the risk of incarceration for failing to testify against the secret jury’s newly chosen target. As of this week, Manning was unable to quash the demands outright as her legal teams prepare another litigation.
As a former military analyst turned alternative media source, Manning was previously sentenced to 35-years in a maximum-security prison for leaking secret military and diplomatic documents to the Wikileaks platform, resulting in their exposure of countless war crimes documented throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This was only reversed once she was granted clemency by former U.S. President Barack Obama — now marking her name as a divisive icon for press freedoms throughout the United States. Force such a character to partake in a secret court procedure, only enforced through implied imprisonment, and you’ll begin to raise her red flags.
As reported by journalist Charlie Savage, the subpoena doesn’t disclose even basic details regarding the contested offence, the offender, the accused or the types of questions Manning is expected to answer before the court. If we’re to use some deductive reasoning, however, there are reasons why her concerns of a Wikileaks investigation are valid. For starters, the document was issued through the Eastern District of Virginia — the very same district prosecutors accidentally revealed charged Assange under a sealed indictment during November of last year—while the Assange prosecutorial team was there during Tuesday’s hearing. This leaves little for hyper-sceptics wanting to explain away putting two and two together.
By Friday, Manning and her legal team filed a motion to quash the grand jury’s subpoena based on constitutional grounds of the First Amendment, arguing that coercive means of obtaining testimony would violate her fundamental rights. “I object strenuously to this subpoena, and to the grand jury process in general,” Manning explained bluntly. “We’ve seen this power abused countless times to target political speech. I have nothing to contribute to this case and I resent being forced to endanger myself by participating in this predatory practice. Given what is going on, I am opposing this. I want to be very forthright I have been subpoenaed. I don’t know the parameters of the subpoena apart from that I am expected to appear. I don’t know what I’m going to be asked.”
Another Assange associate, David House, also told The Washington Post he was forced to testify before the very same grand jury. “They wanted full insight into WikiLeaks, what its goals were and why I was associated with it,” House said. “They wanted explanations of why certain things occurred and how they occurred. It was all related to disclosures around the war logs,” referencing the Iraq war documents released to the public by Manning and the Wikileaks platform. “This is not an investigation borne out of a concern for national security,” he continued. “It is an investigation borne out of retribution and revenge against Mr. Assange over the  leak that he precipitated, and how this leak impacted the careers of politicians in Washington, D.C.”
Any prosecution on these grounds, particularly against the news organisation and its editors, would raise grave implications against the First Amendment and the free press which the Trump administration happily names “the enemy of the people”. When discussing ‘the people’, however, we should ask whether the president means the average citizens witnessing the truth or his government’s new aristocracy set on manufacturing consent. When he’s not playing to the crowd and screaming “I love Wikileaks”, Trump can be found tweeting how their source is an “ungrateful TRAITOR” who “should never have been released from prison.” Through this new grand jury subpoena, could the whistleblower face the jail-time treatment all too similar to governments past?
This case would likely thread through her time at Baghdad where she conducted her work overseeing Iraq and Afghanistan intelligence. In her previous court testimonies, Manning described the military as being “obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists” while raising her concerns of the lack of critical suspicion against the Iraqi Federal Police (IFP) now notorious for their crackdowns on free speech. The final straw came in the video Wikileaks simply titled “Collateral Murder”, showcasing footage of two Apache helicopters directing cannon fire onto a crowd of 10 innocent men in Baghdad, including two Iraqi war correspondents for Reuters. None of the men in the video were ever prosecuted.
She was eventually charged with leaking 227 documents from the military network. A review from the Defence Intelligence Agency found the leaked material was only a “moderate to low risk” while 116 were later declassified during her time in prison. The rest remain under lock and key for no specified reasons. Multiple news investigations have not located any sources overseas threatened or killed as a result of the data release either. Simply, the scandal only resulted in embarrassment for the military and U.S. State Department handling the inhumane conduct their soldiers conduct. To the surprise of no one, Americans opted to shoot the messengers instead of pass reforms.
This time, however, a grand-jury procedure involves the same interrogation practice without allowing access from the free press, the sceptical public and the legal counsel representing the subpoenaed — leaving the door open for a harmful kangaroo court among bureaucrats and their worst enemies. “While the federal grand jury purports to be a simple mechanism for investigating criminal offences,” said civil rights attorney and Manning representative Moira Meltzer-Cohen speaking with The Intercept, “it can be — and historically has been — used by prosecutors to gather intelligence to which they are not entitled, for example about lawful and constitutionally protected political activity.”
Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas, told The Independent the charges against Assange are likely being pursued based on the 10-year statute of limitations on unlawful possession or publication of national defence information. “There’s nothing else that would make sense,” he explained. “The heart of the controversy is, there’s never been a successful prosecution for publishing classified information. There has always been the spectre of a First Amendment defence.”
Governments just haven’t gone after the press quite like President Trump, the supposed protector of freedom of speech. Under Obama, Justice Department officials had decided not to pursue charges against Assange and WikiLeaks by concluding it would be a First Amendment violation which would harm mainstream organisations, such as The Times and The Post, who have also published the exact same classified information in their reports. This president has no regard whether it harms the entire news industry — if the swamp wants a secret, whether it’s unrelated to securing the nation, it must remain so. Such a precedent would fundamentally destroy investigative journalism, and it’s being cultivated one subpoena at a time.
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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