Defense Lawyers: ‘Only Possible Conclusion’ Is That the Gov’t Illegally Spied on Chelsea Manning

Attorneys for Chelsea Manning believe the government has recently conducted illegal surveillance operations against their client.

The former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who served 7 years of a 35-year prison sentence after leaking thousands of documents to WikiLeaks was arrested again in early March after refusing to testify in front of a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia.

On Monday, Manning’s legal team filed a motion to secure her release from jail pending an appeal filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The appeal seeks to overturn the contempt finding issued by U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton three weeks ago.

The appeal notes Manning’s belief that an unlawful surveillance operation was recently run against her by federal agents:

The government’s allegation that she made statements inconsistent with her court-martial testimony leads Ms. Manning and counsel to believe that she has been and is subject to illegal electronic surveillance. The only possible conclusion is that the government has intercepted, misunderstood, and misattributed electronic communications. Ms. Manning firmly denies that her prior testimony was false.

Manning unsuccessfully argued that being forced to testify was a violation of her First Amendment rights. Manning additionally told Judge Hilton that she has been subject to “intrusive surveillance” and harassment from both “federal agents” and “strangers.”

While the nature of the case Manning refuses to aid is technically a secret at this stage, the legal machinery in motion is widely believed to be based on a sealed charge filed against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange–the existence of which was only reported in the first place after federal prosecutors in the EDVA mistakenly made some evidence of the secret proceedings public knowledge.

According to the Washington Post, officials have confirmed such speculation regarding the focus of the grand jury empaneled in the Eastern District–and Manning reportedly hopes to appear as a possible defense witness should the charges against Assange be pursued.

By way of her attorneys, Manning has suggested that federal prosecutors are engaged in an effort to catch her in a perjury trap so that her potential testimony in defense of Assange could be tarnished.

During her court-martial in 2013, Manning told a military judge that she acted on her own accord when she provided several thousand diplomatic cables and war logs to Wikileaks after initially approaching several news organizations who were apparently not interested in the documents. Manning, however, declined to take the stand in her own defense and was never cross-examined by the case’s prosecutor.

“It would appear that the government may harbor an interest in undermining her previous testimony since it doesn’t inculpate anyone else who might be a target,” Manning’s lead attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen said at a closed hearing in early March.

The government has promised to immunize Manning from any additional charges should she testify, but Meltzer-Cohen dismissed the offer because she believes prosecutors might simply accuse her of perjury anyway “in order to undermine her as a potential defense witness.”

Meltzer-Cohen argued that Manning should be released pending the result of her appeal and said her client is motivated by her personal sense of justice.

“Ms. Manning is not a flight risk,” the appeal notes. “She believes in taking a principled stand for what she believes in, and also in taking accountability for her actions. No bond would be necessary to secure her reappearance in court.”

The filing also reiterated that Manning was simply not going to give in.

“While she will certainly exhaust her legal avenues in order to legally justify her decision not to cooperate, her continued noncooperation is a foregone conclusion, regardless of the legal outcomes,” the filing said.

Manning is presently incarcerated in the Alexandria Detention Center under the auspices of “administrative segregation,” which is effectively a form of solitary confinement.

[image via Jack Taylor/Getty Images]

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