(CN) – After months of fighting for more transparency in court-martial proceedings against Pfc. Bradley Manning, a lawyer for the alleged WikiLeaks source made a push to maintain the status quo in which it works with the government to redact defense filings before publicly publishing them.
The public record is less transparent for stateside courts-martial than it is for military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Manning, 24, could face life imprisonment if proven to have shared hundreds of thousands of files exposing secrets of U.S. diplomacy and warfare.
His attorney David Coombs agreed in early April that the briefs he would post online would obscure any name of a government employee not involved in the case, any word prosecutors uttered in court, and any line of text from government briefings or judicial rulings.
“Since April 2012, the defense has made redactions in utmost good faith – and has in fact redacted more than it considers necessary so as to avoid any litigation over the issue,” Coombs wrote in a new brief. “The government has not once expressed any concerns with the defense’s redactions.”
But now the government says that the process of reviewing defense redactions in a 30-day window has gotten “overly burdensome,” Coombs explained.
“Apparently, the government is prepared to abdicate that duty because it’s just too hard on them,” he wrote.
Coombs countered that the three-lawyer prosecution team, aligned with multiple government agencies, should be up to the task.
“The defense submits that with a prosecution team the size of a starting football lineup, the government should be able to keep on track of redactions (conveniently highlighted in yellow) and prepare for argument and ensure the accused gets a fair trial,” the brief states.
Instead, prosecutors have allegedly made a “not-so-veiled threat” that keeping up with defense brief redactions would force it to postpone trial.
So far, Manning has been in pretrial detention for more than 780 days, more than six times the 120-day limit imposed by speedy trial restrictions.
Coombs claims that prosecutors have an ulterior motive.
Once it stops authorizing defense filings, the government can later accuse the defense of leaking sensitive information, the brief states.
“Once one gets past the silly ‘this is just too hard for us’ argument, one is left to wonder why the government would want to allow the defense the ability to post motions on its own, without an review or input from the government,” Coombs wrote. “The answer is obvious: the government is waiting for a ‘gotcha’ moment, where it can claim that the defense has violated a protective order and caused grave and irreparable damage to the United States.”
Coomb says the prosecutor’s request “shows the hypocrisy of the government’s litigation positions in this case.”
“The government often makes the-world-will-end-if-this-happens arguments, undermining the government’s credibility in the eyes of the court and the public at large,” the brief states. “For instance, the government argued that the defense should have to prepare all of its motions (classified and unclassified) from a trailer on Fort Meade – any other order would compromise national security and cause grave danger to the United States. This latest motion shows just how much credence the Court should give to these types of arguments.” (Parentheses in original.)
Though it is dated July 6, Coombs received authorization to publish the brief in redacted form on Thursday night.
On Friday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), joined by various news outlets and journalists, released a new brief in their ongoing lawsuit to gain contemporaneous access to records and transcripts in the Manning case.
The government has allegedly justified denying media access to Manning records by citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Nixon v. Warner Communications, which barred disclosure of the Watergate tapes.
In that case, the Supreme Court found that releasing the infamous tapes would sensationalize the Senate hearings.
The CCR rejects the prosecution’s apparent claim that more press access could taint Manning’s jury pool and turn the trial into a circus.
“Far from turning this trial into a circus, public access to the briefs, orders and transcripts should increase the amount of respect and legitimacy accorded to the proceedings,” the brief states.
The government also claimed that the “word-for-word detail” that came out about certain court proceedings made official transcripts unnecessary, according to the brief.
The CCR took this as a veiled reference to reporter Alexa O’Brien, who has posted rough transcripts of pretrial proceedings on WLCentral.com. The rights group ridiculed the idea that “the fact that Ms. O’Brien took such excellent notes … should overcome the First Amendment right of access.”
Other people following the trial have joined O’Brien’s effort to fill the gaps in the public record.
On Twitter, Bradley Manning supporters announced plans to make their own transcripts by pooling their handwritten notes.
The Bradley Manning Support Network says it did not spearhead the transcript-making idea but “strongly endorses” the effort.
“If the military refuses to provide a transcript, the people in attendance will have to create one themselves,” Support Network spokesman Nathan Fuller told Courthouse News. “There’s no excuse for keeping the most significant whistle-blower trial of this generation shielded from the public’s view.”
Fuller acknowledged that “with only a pen and paper, we can’t hope to write down every word,” but he said the group will try its best to produce one collectively.
“The lengths we have to go to for a simple transcript highlight the absurdity of the military’s aggressive persecution of Bradley Manning,” he said.
The next round of Manning’s pretrial hearings, and the first phase of group stenography, starts today (Monday), and may continue until the end of the week.