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Constitutional Rights Attorneys, Media Challenge Secrecy of Manning Court Martial in Civilian Court

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CCR new lawsuit in civilian court is last option to open trial

press@ccrjustice.org

May 22, 2013, New York Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a complaint and motion for preliminary injunction asking a federal district court in Baltimore to order the military judge in the court-martial of Bradley Manning to grant the public and press access to the government’s filings, the court’s own orders, and transcripts of the proceedings, none of which have been made public to date. In addition, the lawsuit challenges the fact that substantive legal matters in the court martial – including a pretrial publicity order – have been argued and decided in secret. 

The plaintiffs include CCR itself and journalists Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill, Kevin Gosztola, Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange, and Chase Madar.
 
The same group brought suit last May in the military courts of appeals seeking the same relief. However, after a year of litigation, the highest court in the military system, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, ruled 3-to-2 that it lacked the power to hear claims by media petitioners seeking access to courts-martial. Under that ruling a military judge could close the courtroom itself and the press and public would have no recourse to the military courts. Because Congress has narrowly limited appeals from the military courts to the Supreme Court, the ruling cannot be challenged directly in the Supreme Court.
 
“The federal civilian courts are now our last option,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Shayana Kadidal. “If this lawsuit fails, Manning’s trial will take place under conditions where journalists and the public will be unable as a practical matter to follow what is going on in the courtroom. That ensures that any verdict will be fundamentally unfair, and also that we can expect similarly poor access to the Nidal Hasan and Robert Bates military trials later this year as well.”
 
Manning’s trial is expected to start on June 3, 2013.
 
“Secret trials are commonplace in dictatorships, but have no place in this country. The Obama administration conducts unconstitutional dragnet surveillance of journalists to uncover protected sources, and targets whistleblowers with unprecedented use of the espionage act,” said Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!. “Access to court documents and proceedings in the court martial of Bradley Manning is vital to the public's right to know to what lengths their government will go to keep secret their conduct of wars and occupations abroad.”
 
“The culture of extreme secrecy that has defined both the Bush and Obama presidencies does a disservice to our democratic society. By unnecessarily cloaking these proceedings from public view or scrutiny, the government is undermining the most basic principles of transparency and freedom of the press, both of which are vital components of the democratic and judicial process,” said journalist Jeremy Scahill,National Security Correspondent for The Nation. “When viewed in the context of the recent Justice Department actions against journalists and media outlets, the secrecy surrounding the trial of Bradley Manning sends an ominous message about how far the state is willing to go to prevent oversight of its actions.”
 
Today’s filings are available here. Jonathan Hafetz, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, and William J. Murphy and John J. Connolly of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP in Baltimore are co-counsel on the case.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.