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Chelsea Manning ordered released from jail

Chelsea Manning prepares to enter the Albert V. Bryan U.S. District Courthouse on March 5, 2019, in Alexandria, Va.

JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASHINGTON POST

By RACHEL WEINER | The Washington Post | Published: March 12, 2020

Chelsea Manning was ordered released from jail Thursday after a federal judge determined that her testimony against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was no longer necessary.

The grand jury investigating the anti-secrecy group is no longer active, federal judge Anthony Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia said.

"Ms. Manning's appearance before the grand jury is no longer needed," he wrote. "Her detention no longer serves any coercive purpose."

Manning has been detained in the Alexandria Detention Center for 11 months in civil contempt for her refusal to testify. The judge's order comes a day after the former Army private tried to commit suicide in jail. Authorities said they stepped in before serious harm occurred.

In 2010, while serving as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning shared with WikiLeaks thousands of classified State and Defense Department cables. She was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison but was released by President Barack Obama after seven years behind bars.

Manning is still liable for $256,000 in fines levied by the judge for her refusal to testify.

Assange is now facing charges in Alexandria under the Espionage Act. Prosecutors contend that by soliciting the information from Manning and helping her crack a password, he went beyond the role of a journalist or publisher in disseminating the classified information.

Assange is fighting extradition from the United Kingdom to Alexandria, arguing the case against him is politically motivated. Attorneys from Virginia have been in London for those hearings in recent weeks.

Hacker Jeremy Hammond, who was also being held in civil contempt for refusing to testify before the WikiLeaks grand jury, was also ordered released by Trenga after five months of civil contempt. But he is still serving a 10-year prison sentence for cyberattacks on various government agencies and businesses.

Trenga disbanded the 18-month grand jury months early, rendering Hammond and Manning's arguments that they could never be coerced into testifying moot. The judge did not explain his reasons for doing so beyond saying that the grand jury's "business" has "concluded."

Yet prosecutors were still attempting to obtain information from both Hammond and Manning as recently as this week. Manning unsuccessfully fought an appearance before the grand jury Tuesday, and in a podcast interview, Hammond said he was also called in again this week.

Hammond said he was asked by prosecutors whether Assange had ever asked him to hack any websites, given him a list of targets, or agreed to publish material he provided. He said he did not answer any of the questions.

"What I did, I did on my own and chose to do it," Hammond said on the podcast.

Manning, likewise, has said that she has nothing to offer investigators and opposes grand juries on principle as lacking transparency and accountability. In a statement at her military trial, she said that "the decisions that I made to send documents and information" to WikiLeaks "were my own."

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