The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 35 media organizations submitted a brief in federal court in Baltimore in support of an effort to get greater access to the documents filed in the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks.
“There can be little doubt that the issues at stake in this case are profound: national security and its relation to wartime operations and intelligence reports; the military’s treatment of service members; the governmental response to military members accused of committing crimes; and the role of journalism and whistleblowing in an increasingly digital society,” the Reporters Committee brief argued. “Yet the overwhelming majority of records filed in Manning’s court-martial have remained shielded from public view, even though the actual proceedings are largely open to the public….
“This secrecy has extended to the court’s docket. Reporters covering the high-profile event are often unaware of what is occurring and when,” the brief continued.
“Regardless of whether one views Manning as a hero or a villain, the criminal prosecution of an American service member for the alleged leak of the largest amount of classified information in U.S. history is a matter of intense public interest and controversy…,” the brief noted. “[T]he pervasive secrecy underlying the Manning prosecution has reinforced and indeed fueled a theory that the U.S. government keeps far too many secrets in an attempt to evade public oversight.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights is seeking an injunction in U.S. District Court after a military court ruled that it had no jurisdiction to decide whether the documents should be released. The Reporters Committee filed a brief supporting the release of documents, and later called for congressional action to ensure military courts function with the same transparency as civilian courts.
“The obstacles to reporting in this case would be unthinkable outside a military courtroom,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown. “Reporters covering the trial can’t even get reliable access to the daily docket. The military should welcome the transparency because it gives the public the kind of confidence in its institutions that only comes from openness.”
About the Reporters Committee
Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.
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