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CCR Calls on Manning Court-Martial Judge to Uphold Right to Open Trial
Press and Public Must be Given Immediate Access to Documents and Information Filed in Manning Case
NEW YORK - March 22 - Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sent a letter to the judge presiding over the court martial of alleged Wikileaks leaker Private Bradley Manning, requesting immediate public and press access to all documents, motions, briefs and information related to the proceedings. CCR represents Wikileaks and the media organization’s publisher, Julian Assange. Relying on the First Amendment, military law and common law, which mandate public criminal trials and court martial proceedings, the letter condemns the failure to grant access to filed court documents, noting what CCR called a pattern of troubling secrecy surrounding the Bradley Manning proceedings. The letter urged the court to respect what CCR says is the interest of the public and the media to transparent and fair legal proceedings.
“The proceedings were very difficult to understand, even for a lawyer, because the legal papers were not made available before the hearing. Nor could I read them after the hearing,” said CCR President Emeritus Michael Ratner, who signed the letter and attended last week’s arguments at Ft. Meade on various motions in the Manning hearings. “In addition, substantive legal matters were argued and decided in secret. It’s shocking that secrecy should be the order of the day in one of the most important cases of the last half-century.”
The letter reads, in part:
As Circuit Judge Damon Keith wrote in Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft, 303 F.3d 681, 683 (6th Cir. 2002): “Democracies die behind closed doors.” We urge the Court to take the action required by military law and the Constitution. …[To] date this court-martial reflects – and indeed compounds – the lack of openness experienced in Pfc. Manning’s prior Article 32 hearing. Documents and information filed in the case are not available to the public anywhere, nor has the public received appropriate prior notice of issues to be litigated in the case… Without access to these materials, the Manning hearings and trial cannot credibly be called open and public. We do not understand how a court-martial proceeding can be deemed to comply with the UCMJ or the Constitution unless its proceedings are accessible in a timely fashion.
The letter further argues that Mr. Assange in particular has a substantial legal interest in obtaining access to documents and information filed in Manning’s case. Last month, as series of leaks published from the private intelligence corporation Stratfor indicated that the United States Department of Justice has issued a secret, sealed indictment against Assange, presumably based on information obtained from the Manning proceedings.