March 4, 2013, New York – As part of its ongoing lawsuit to force public access to documents in the court-martial of PFC Bradley Manning, Center for Constitutional Rights v. United States, CCR today filed a supplemental declaration from Kevin Gosztola, a journalist who has been covering the proceedings and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The declaration describes the continuing problems journalists have had covering the proceedings in the four months since final arguments were made in the case before the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the military’s highest appeals court, which has not yet issued a ruling. The declaration also describes problems with the batch of court orders finally released by the Army last week in response to a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the media and pressure from CCR’s lawsuit.
The declaration notes that the court-martial’s rulings continue to be announced not by providing the press with a written order, but by the judge reading her orders out loud. According to those present, she spent two hours straight reading one decision last week, speaking at 180 words per minute as journalists trying to write about the decision that evening were forced to frantically take notes.
Said CCR President Emeritus Michael Ratner, “Some of the lengths to which the military has gone to prevent journalists and the public from following the trial of one of the greatest whistleblowers in our nation’s history have bordered on the absurd. The entire arrangement could not be better calculated to diminish media coverage of Private Manning’s case.”
Despite the FOIA release last Wednesday of 84 of the trial court’s orders, most of the parties’ briefs have still not been released – over 400 other documents – nor have transcripts of the arguments in court been released. More important, as the case goes forward there is no indication that the trial court intends to let journalists have access to motions before they are argued in court, or to the judge’s orders as they are released and while they are still newsworthy.
The Army did not release two significant recent orders: the judge’s ruling, seven weeks ago, finding that Manning was unlawfully held in harsh conditions of confinement and granting him a sentence reduction, and the speedy trial order that the judge read out loud last week at top speed
The versions of the documents that were released contain redactions attorneys characterized as ridiculous – for example, the name of the trial judge is redacted from all 84 documents. In one document, information helpful to Manning’s defense that was freely discussed several months ago in open court – the fact that the Apache gunship videos were not classified at the time of their release – is blacked out entirely.
Continued Ratner, “The last four months have simply served to reemphasize the urgent need for the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to rule that ordinary First Amendment standards for public access to trials – the same rules that apply in non-military criminal trials – should apply to court-martials as well.”
A ruling would apply not only to Manning’s case but to a number of upcoming military trials that are likely to draw widespread media attention, including those of accused Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, and of Robert Bales, accused of massacring 16 Afghan civilians outside Kandahar.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights v. United States case page
Jonathan Hafetz, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, is co-counsel on the case.