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Chelsea Manning pushes for release from jail, with support of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Chelsea Manning leaves U.S. district court March 5 in Alexandria, Va. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Update: On Thursday, Chelsea Manning was moved out of administrative segregation and into the general population at the Alexandria Detention Center, according to her support team.

A spokeswoman for the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office said she could not discuss housing assignments but that such decisions are made “in the interest of safety and security.”

Chelsea Manning is urging an appeals court to let her out of jail while she fights a contempt ruling, a challenge that won support Tuesday from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Manning was jailed three weeks ago by an Alexandria federal judge for refusing to participate in a grand jury investigation of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy website with which she shared classified information in 2010. Like other high-profile inmates, including Paul Manafort, she has been separated from the rest of the jail population and is confined to her cell for all but a couple hours a day.

She is now seeking to be released both from jail and from the requirement to testify.

“Solitary confinement is torture,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Chelsea is being tortured for whistleblowing, she should be released on bail.”

Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne said that Manning’s segregation is for “safety and security reasons” and that jail staff is ready to address any of her concerns.

“To infer that she is being tortured is a discredit to the care that staff have put into her well-being,” he said.

Manning asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last week to overturn U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton’s finding that she is in contempt of court.

Officials have confirmed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has already been charged under seal, a case inadvertently exposed by a prosecutor’s mistake. Manning argues that her testimony would not bolster the case against Assange and would be no different from what she told a court-martial about her crimes in 2013 — that she alone chose to leak State Department cables and war logs.

She suggested that prosecutors are seeking to undermine her credibility as a possible defense witness and have spied on her to do so.

“The government’s allegation that she made statements inconsistent with her court-martial testimony lead Ms. Manning and counsel to believe that she has been and is subject to illegal electronic surveillance,” her lawyers wrote to the appeals court. “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.”

The response from prosecutors is due April 9.

On Monday, Manning asked to be released on bail until the panel makes a decision.

“Ms. Manning is not a flight risk,” her lawyers wrote. “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.”

Her lawyers added that no amount of time in jail will induce Manning to cooperate in the WikiLeaks probe. Civil contempt is meant to be coercive, not punitive.

“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,” they wrote.

The lawyers said Manning’s recent gender transition surgery, as well as her history of solitary confinement, makes incarceration particularly difficult for her. Manning served seven years of a 35-year prison sentence before being released by President Barack Obama in 2017. Manning had attempted suicide twice and gone on a hunger strike while struggling to get treatment behind bars for gender dysphoria.

“It is clear that while the jail has bent over backwards to accommodate Ms. Manning’s health needs, it may simply be impossible for them to confine her in a manner that does not constitute punishment,” they wrote.

This article has been updated.

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