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Chelsea Manning's lawyers found a legal loophole that might get her out of jail

On Wednesday, the legal team of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning filed a motion to release her from the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia, where she has been incarcerated since last May for refusing to testify before a grand jury. Per The Intercept, the motion to release, known as a Grumbles motion, builds on the legal framework that if a witness is unable to be coerced into cooperation — that is, if the threat (and in Manning's case, reality) of jail time or fines is not enough to motivate a witness to testify — then detaining them becomes illegal. Manning’s legal team stipulates that she is steadfast in her belief that grand juries are undemocratic because they operate behind closed doors and without the presence of a judge, and thus she will never comply with her subpoena to appear; they also note that the promise of freedom in exchange for her grand jury testimony has not swayed her to date, so there's little reason to believe it ever will.

In 2010, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, including reports of how the U.S. government refused to investigate incidents of abuse by Iraqi police as well as evidence that the U.S. military had killed a dozen people in Baghdad. Manning ultimately released 480,000 Army reports concerning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A transgender woman, Manning was sentenced to serve time in a federal men’s prison and subjected to solitary confinement, which the United Nations considers to be torture.

In 2017, President Barack Obama commuted her sentence; Manning only served seven years in federal prison. But in January 2019 she was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury regarding a likely investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, though the subpoena did not specify what questions she would be asked. She refused and was jailed that March. After her release in early May 2019, she was once again jailed for refusing a subpoena to appear before a new grand jury, until she either agreed to testify or until the grand jury term ended in 18 months.

Manning’s case ignited a national conversation about the U.S. Army’s role in starting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reports she released revealed how much the American public wasn't being told about U.S. military overseas, and the case sparked a debate over the public’s right to classified materials. The American Civil Liberties Union and trans activists additionally balked at Manning’s initial harsh sentence.

In addition to her freedom, Manning's legal team is seeking that she be absolved from the debt of over $250,000, a sum that she has accrued as part of her sentence via $1,000 daily fines for refusing to testify.

In a 2016 letter to the public published by The Guardian, Manning wrote about the use of solitary confinement, and how her experience helped to illuminate its horrifying qualities. "In the time since my confinement at Quantico, public awareness of solitary confinement has improved by orders of magnitude," she wrote. "People all across the political spectrum — including some who have never been in solitary or known anyone who has — are now beginning to question whether this practice is a moral and ethical one."