The Pentagon has acceded to pressure from news organisations and human rights groups protesting secrecy surrounding the prosecution of the WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, releasing 84 previously unpublished rulings and orders into the public domain.
The Pentagon’s decision to post on the internet scores of rulings made by the presiding judge, Colonel Denise Lind, and other judges involved in the court martial process, provides the first crack in the army’s approach to public information in the trial. Previously, the US government refused to release any documents coming out of the trial other than often heavily redacted motions from the defence lawyer, David Coombs.
The lack of public access to court papers has been in contrast to the fact that the media and public have been allowed to attend the pre-trial hearings at Fort Meade. The duality has led to an Alice in Wonderland world where Lind has read out documents in court, which are then reported in the media, yet those same documents have not been published. In Tuesday she spent two hours reading a ruling on whether Manning’s rights to a speedy trial had been violated, yet this document has not been published.
The extent of the military authorities’ resistance to public access to documents was so extreme – observers pointed out that it is more stringent than at the Guantánamo military commissions hearing the 9/11 trials – that it prompted a legal petition from the civil rights organisation the Center for Constitutional Rights calling for greater media access. The legal action had the backing of 47 news organisations including the Washington Post, New York Times, CBS, NBC, Firedoglake and individual journalists covering the trial such as Alexa O’Brien.
The case has reached the army court of criminal appeals, which could issue a ruling at any time. The Department of Defense’s action has pre-empted such a ruling, which may not be coincidental.
The 84 documents released by the army include court rulings on defence and government motions, and orders that set the scheduling of the trial that is currently earmarked to begin on 3 June. But the batch constitutes only a tiny portion of the huge mountain of paperwork that has already been generated in the proceedings, including some 500 documents stretching to 30,000 pages.