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Reporters Committee supports access to court filings, docket in Manning court-martial

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  1. Court Access
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by 31 news media organizations, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by 31 news media organizations, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking for access to documents filed in the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking classified documents to the website WikiLeaks.

“There can be little doubt among all parties involved in this case that the issues at stake are profound,” the 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.”

Further, the brief stated, ”This secrecy has extended even to the court’s docket, meaning that reporters covering the high-profile event are often unaware of what is occurring therein.”

“Even considering the legitimate national security concerns involved in this case, such wholesale withholding of court records cannot be tolerated,” said Reporters Committee Interim Executive Director Gregg P. Leslie. “More than 30 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is a presumptive right of access to criminal trials, and military courts have adhered to that.

“There is plenty of legal precedent stating that courts martial proceedings must follow the rigorous standards set by the civilian courts for closing any courtroom records or proceedings,” Leslie added. “For journalists, access to court filings is crucial to providing the background and understanding required for comprehensive reporting.”

The brief also noted that the “effects of such secrecy are particularly significant in a case that has ignited debate worldwide about whether the U.S. government keeps too many secrets. . . . If the public is to have any faith in its government generally and the justice administered by military tribunals specifically, it needs to have confidence that the system is operating in the open, where potential misconduct may be exposed.”

About the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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.