The New York Times has published a fascinating article that exposes many fundamental flaws in what is supposed to be a public pre-trial hearing of Pfc Bradley Manning.
Manning is awaiting trial for leaking thousands of documents to whistleblowing platform WikiLeaks. After having spent nearly 1,000 days in custody, Manning’s trial has finally reached the courts however the fact that cameras and recording equipment has been banned from the court house, means that reporters are struggling to do their jobs properly.
The New York Times article argues that basic information has been withheld from the public, including things like dockets of court activity and transcripts of the proceeding. It states; “A public trial over state secrets was itself becoming a state secret in plain sight.”
After persistent efforts and several Freedom of Information requests from numerous media outlets, the court did finally agree to release 84 of approximately 400 documents that were filed in Manning’s case. This was not the full access that the media had hoped for, but it represented some progress and allowed for some public scrutiny. However, the article points out that of the 84 released documents, there were several redactions which were “mystifying at best and at times almost comic.” It states that one redacted detail included the name of the judge – who has sat in open court for months now!
This withholding of information from the DOJ has huge implications and is restricting what is an incredibly important public debate; “People can disagree about what should happen to government employees who do the leaking, but it makes sense that such a fundamental question be debated with as much sunlight as possible.”
Reporters are able to attend the court hearing, but without access to the documents that are available in most other cases, they are struggling to do their jobs properly and are often left furiously trying to scribble down what is going on at a frantic pace.
The article cites the example of Colonel Lind’s 20,000 word denial of the request from Bradley Manning’s lawyers looking for a dismissal of the charges, stating that it had been prepared days before the hearing and took more than 2 hours to read. Yet reporters had only pen and paper to attempt to capture it and relay it to the public because they were denied access to a written copy and prohibited recording equipment.
It quotes president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, who states; “It’s ironic in a trial that is about the government keeping secrets that they aren’t providing documents that are not classified and should be public…I was in the hearing and heard the judge read that order, so it’s a public document.”
The New York Times argues that it is paramount that the media is given the opportunity to accurately convey the proceedings of the Bradley Manning case to the public, it states; “The secrecy, redactions and delays in release of information mean that the public does not have contemporaneous access to the proceedings, a fundamental component of a public trial. And given that Private Manning is confronting a life sentence, news media coverage and the public interest are one of the core protections provided to him by the First and Sixth Amendments.”
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