Military decrees media access to Manning’s hearing is a privilege, not a right

By Nathan Fuller. April 10, 2013.

Protesters outside Ft. Meade criticized the lack of press access to Bradley Manning's hearing.

Protesters outside Ft. Meade criticized the lack of press access to Bradley Manning’s hearing.

Announcing new restrictions on the press covering Bradley Manning’s court-martial trial at Fort Meade, MD, a military spokesperson said, “This media operation center is a privilege, not a requirement. Privileges can be taken away.” She also announced that cell phones would no longer be allowed in the Ft. Meade media center, which broadcasts a live video feed from the courtroom.

“To say the judge wasn’t happy with what happened is an understatement,” she said. “Police yourselves. If there is another violation, everyone feels the pain, not just certain individuals.” The announcement comes in response to last month’s publication of an audio recording of Bradley Manning’s statement in court taking responsibility for releasing documents to WikiLeaks.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), called the idea that media access isn’t a right “one of the more foolish and dangerous propositions I have ever heard.”

He continued:

It’s one I would have hoped we would never hear in this country regarding press and public access to criminal cases. Calling access a “privilege” is to say it can be taken away at the whim of the judge. That befits a dictatorship not a democracy. Access to criminal proceedings including pretrial hearings is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, a right that can be limited only in the most extreme of circumstances.  The Manning trial is already a travesty of First Amendment violations. This just compounds its utter unfairness.

Judge Denise Lind also addressed the audio leak upon coming on the record this morning. “To date, I have not ordered persons to be screened for phones and recording devices,” she said. “I hope I don’t have to.” But as of today, those in the media center have been banned from bringing cell phones inside.

The new rule needlessly constrains a press increasingly frustrated with extremely limited access to Manning’s case, with several reporters complaining that these proceedings are more restrictive than military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. No court rulings or motions are available to the press and public, forcing journalists to type what they hear in court as it happens. This makes contemporaneous coverage difficult like no other case.

Last year, the CCR legally petitioned the military to make all rulings, motions, and filings in Manning’s case public, contending that the First Amendment requires contemporaneous access to these records. Without officially responding to that suit, the Department of Defense released 84 documents in late February 2013. Since then, they’ve only released one more document – Manning’s statement.

Bending to public pressure today, in a first for Manning’s case, the military provided printed copies of two of Judge Lind’s rulings. A military legal subject-matter expert explained that these rulings were released because they were “procedural,” they were already clean-typed copies, and the defense and government didn’t object to their release. There’s no indication that this means we’ll continue to get same-day access to these filings from now on. But there’s no reason why we can’t: the military has a court reporter who could type up the rulings, and it can redact any sensitive information (as it here redacted Manning’s social security number).

These rulings are a promising start, but they don’t counter the months of secrecy and choked-off access that those covering Manning’s case have endured. The First Amendment should afford full and timely access to these documents – a free press and fair coverage of Manning’s trial depend on it.



23 thoughts on “Military decrees media access to Manning’s hearing is a privilege, not a right

  1. Of course the procedure befits a dictatorship and not a democracy. Americans who still believe the US is a democracy and not a dictatorship disguised as democracy may just as well believe in Santa Claus

  2. In public schools and even in R.O.T.C college courses of which I’ve attended at Ohio State University the concept of going against an unlawful order is taught as “unique to American troops” – “we are not unthinking Nazi soldiers”. In practice however, as a non-com six year (with reserve component) honorably discharged U.S. army veteran I realize that is not the case. The oath sworn too upon induction is drilled as superior to your own beliefs and subservant to fellow soldiers welfare. God is left out of actions. Bradley Manning’s trial despite being in a “closed military environment” should be subject to public scrutiny as it relates directly to the public. If there is (are) documents hindering “National Security”(to my understanding this is categorically denied by Manning) and has been used as a catch all reason without proof in news media coverage in the past makes me very skeptical, then they could be blocked from media coverage. I urge the military to give the American Public they serve “the privalege” to witness this trial.

  3. Our military has apparently never read our Bill of Rights. There could be no more blatant example of abridging freedom of the press than barring the media from this trial. The military is grossly out of line here, and those officers responsible for this outrage must be relieved of duty.

    The conduct of Judge Lind is equally outrageous. She has repeatedly found that the government has broken laws and violated the Constitution in its treatment of Manning, but in each case has concluded that no penalty need be exacted, in effect declaring that the government is not subject to the law. She is unfit to serve as a judge and must be removed.

    Secret justice is no justice at all.

    • I am pretty sure judge Lind is simply taking orders. If she refused it would be an inspiration but she would just be replaced by another obama-bot.

  4. We already live in a facist state ! To think it’s a real Demacracy is a delusion. It’s called inverted totalitarianism.
    We tried the German’s at Nuremberg for making up a pretense for war. We tried them for crimes against humanity. Read Shoot anything that Moves by Nick Turse ! Who will be there to to make us stand trial ?

    • I am afraid you are right.

      The most recent example of suppressed news — of which I learned firstly, from Reuters, then confirmed by Colbert!! is the ability of an American corporation to block coverage of major disasters.

      For example, consider this order from the FAA to airmen, which prohibits overflight over Mayflower Arkansas on 01 Apr 2013:

  5. The people in charge of this trial are an embarrassment to our Country. This is not justice American-style, this is justice Totalitarian-style. To bar the media because of national security reasons is a lame excuse. “National Security” is the term they use to protect the despicable acts of our “Leaders”.

    Secret justice is no justice at all. (Well said, Mark Lloyd Baker)

  6. Privilege? Isn’t the whole military apparatus, it is my understanding, subservient to the civil commonwealth in the first place?

  7. Manning defied the authority of The State. (The State is now far separated from The People.) The State wants its revenged here, just as it wanted its revenge against Aaron Swartz. Nothing personal, it just needs to project power to preserve it, according to the rules of Machiavelli.

  8. The American Constitution, The American public, Bradely Manning and all other political prisoners are in the hands of “Home Grown Terrorist” in the hands of Judge Lind, The Military and the US Legal Dept.

  9. It is A RIGHT and it is our right!!!… maybe her rights to spew garbage out of her mouth should be taken away, so we don’t have to hear that BS statement. Think before you speak… or in this case write.

  10. If the American people and the government fail to acknowledge and give credit to Bradley Manning’s courageous effort to inform us about the true nature of this outrageous, immoral and illegal war then shame on all of us.
    50 years ago while in boot camp at Fort Ord ,California; I almost volunteered to go to Vietnam but I had the benefit of learning from an African at Michigan Stater University about the Independence Movement in what was then called third world. I was suspicious about the Vietnam War from the very beginning.
    In June of 1963, I arrived at Fort Meade as a young 24 year old medic and when the Buddhist monks began sacrificing themselves in an effort to end the war that summer, I knew that war was wrong. And here we are again! Damn.

  11. Translation:
    “I’m angry about someone recording Manning’s statement and now that I’m all angry & sh*t I’m gonna’ continue to deny all 300+ million American citizens the privilege of knowing what’s going on in this very important trial that affects all of them tremendously.”

  12. The 1st Amendment to the Constitution protects free expression through speech or press against suppression by the government: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” All 50 state constitutions contain guarantees of free expression similar to those in the U.S. Constitution.

  13. The way to reign in any bureaucracy is to attack funding. Historically, I have favored a strong military, but waste, corruption and arrogance have convinced me that we need to drastically cut military appropriations and we need to start tossing incumbent politicians, sidelining Dems & Repubs alike and replacing them with independents.

  14. The “enemy” which was “provided aid and comfort” was the American Public

    PFC Manning has been held for three years as a hostage, as a “message” to all the currently active duty members who are probably disgusted and angry over the moral decline of the US military in the past ten years.

    Who owns this country? For whom does the government work? Just consider this: special privileges afforded another foreign state — an “ally”

    Who owns this country? For whom does the government work? Why would the FAA issue this NOTAMS for Mayflower, Ark [ site of a massive tar sands oil spill] for 01 Apr 2013??

  15. Free the nation from Fascism and free Bradley and all other whistleblowers. Then, let’s use those empty cells and unused waterboards for banksters, Wall Street racketeers and war criminals.

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