Reporters Without Borders condemns the shutdown of public access to important legal documents in the court-martial of Bradley Manning, the Army private who is accused of leaking government secrets.
The free press organization is responding to a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which rejected media organizations’ demand for access to legal filings and decisions from the pre-trial phase of the case. The court, in an April 17 decision, said it did not have jurisdiction to consider the issue – creating a worrisome precedent for coverage of legal proceedings.
“It is now up to Congress – which created the military appeals court and defined its jurisdiction – to take steps to ensure transparency in the court’s proceedings”, Reporters Without Borders said. “Manning faces a possible life sentence, which makes open access to legal documents in the case all the more important.”
The organization cited the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press, and the Sixth Amendment, which requires public trials for all defendants.
Manning is scheduled to go to trial on 3 June at Ft. Meade (Maryland). The appeals court ruling followed another move that is likely to hinder news coverage of the proceedings. The trial judge has banned mobile phones, as well as all recording equipment, from the courtroom and the press room while court is in session. That decision followed internet dissemination of a 28 February courtroom statement by Manning which had been recorded covertly in violation of court rules.
A 25-year-old military intelligence analyst, Manning stands accused of having transmitted to WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of secret military documents concerning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq between November 2009 and May 2010. Indicted on 22 counts, he faces life in prison for aiding the enemy, the most serious of the charges against him.