Months ago, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) submitted a challenge, a petition for extraordinary relief, to hopefully force the judge in the court martial proceedings against Pfc. Bradley Manning to grant the press and public access to court filings. I signed on to the lawsuit as a plaintiff. Other people who signed on as plaintiffs were Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, The Nation magazine, Nation national security correspondent Jeremy Scahill, WikiLeaks, publisher Julian Assange and author of The Passion of Bradley Manning and contributing editor to The American Conservative, Chase Madar.
A military court, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA), issued a one sentence denial when we requested the court hear our lawsuit. The lawsuit moved up to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF). The government responded to filing of the suit. The response doubled-down on a patently absurd idea: the press and public should not have access to records in the court martial because they have the ability to submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for such records.
A key problem posed by this argument against transparency is journalist Josh Gerstein of POLITICO has filed FOIA requests. His requests were denied. He requested documents that included “defense filings relating to speedy trial.” The Army denied Gerstein’s request in its “entirety on the grounds that they might interfere with law enforcement proceedings and deny the defendant a fair trial,” which is “truly astonishing” given that “many of the documents requested were filed by the defense.”
Nonetheless, the government has made this argument. They’ve also suggested that, since plaintiffs have not submitted FOIA requests for the records, they do not deserve to have a court remedy the situation by forcing Judge Army Col. Denise Lind to grant access. So, I am going down the rabbit hole. I wholly reject this idea that journalists who wish to cover Manning’s court martial in great detail must submit FOIA requests in order to have access, but if that’s the secrecy game the government wants to play, I will call their bluff.
I will be submitting multiple FOIA requests that specifically target sets of records that I know exist because I personally heard them read or referenced during court proceedings. These sets are judge’s decisions, defense motions, government motions and judge’s orders. (There are no transcripts, only audio recordings of proceedings.)
The first request, which will be officially submitted on Thursday, will seek judge’s decisions. I am asking for decisions the judge read word-for-word into the record in front of credentialed media and the public during Manning’s March, April, June and July pretrial motion hearings.
Firedoglake has launched a campaign to support this initiative. Nearly four thousand people have signed on in support so far—a fact that will be mentioned in the FOIA request to help prove there is public interest in the records being requested.
The government would really like to be able to prosecute and convict Manning in secret. Most media companies or organizations happen to oppose the government’s position against openness that might ensure Manning had a fair trial.
With public support for FOIA requests and a lawsuit filed in a military court, the government will either be forced into handing over records by a judge, concede it must provide responsive records to FOIA requests or once again be proven to have an absurd and appalling penchant for secrecy. Let’s hope for the accused’s sake that the government does not choose the latter.