Following multiple FOIA requests from journalists and pressure from human rights group, the Pentagon Wednesday published 84 judicial orders and rulings from the court-martial proceedings for Bradley Manning.
Up until now the only access to these documents has come second-hand. As the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington described it, the refusal to publish the documents, “has led to an Alice in Wonderland world where [presiding military judge Denise] Lind has read out documents in court, which are then reported in the media.”
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.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) had sued to obtain access under the First Amendment to these and other documents in the Manning proceedings, gaining the support for their legal petition from 47 news organizations, spanning the mainstream (New York Times, Washington Post) to the independent journalists and publications that have been unmatched in their coverage of the Manning case (notably Firedoglake’s Kevin Gosztola and independent journalist Alexa O’Brien).
Following the Pentagon’s announcement Wednesday, CCR issued a statement noting:
The publication today by the Army of a number of court orders, provoked by our lawsuit and many FOIA requests by journalists, is a long-overdue step towards transparency in the military court proceedings against Bradley Manning. However, the delays up to this point and the redactions make it difficult to trust that the military will provide meaningful access to the court’s rulings on an ongoing basis.What the Army released falls far short of what we are seeking in our lawsuit. The First Amendment requires that the press and public have access to the court’s orders, the government and defense filings, and transcripts or audio files of the daily proceedings in open court. Today’s release only provides some of the court rulings. Other than a small number of defense briefs published by the defense counsel on his blog (with heavy redactions by the government), the rest of the materials connected to the trial are not available to the public in any way, despite the fact that the vast majority of this material is not classified or otherwise sensitive. And some of the documents contain absurd redactions; for example, the name of the trial judge is redacted throughout.What is more, some of these orders are over a year old and are only now being published in written form despite the fact that many had been read out loud in open court. We have no commitment from the military that it will make court orders available to journalists and the public on a timely basis going forward.
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Natasha Lennard.