The New England First Amendment Coalition has joined other right-to-know and news media groups seeking access to documents in the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who’s charged with giving classified information to the website WikiLeaks.
NEFAC is among the 32 organizations represented in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The groups seek access to government motions, court orders, dockets and transcripts of proceedings in Manning’s closely watched military trial.
Rosanna Cavanagh, NFAC’s executive director, said the brief refers to a standard essential for the public’s trust.
“Since the Pentagon papers, the Supreme Court has recognized the proposition that a free and unrestrained press serves an essential function of preventing government deception, particularly in cases of national security,” she said.
“The current approach of complete secrecy with regards to proceedings and related documents in the name of public safety is over-broad and should be ruled unconstitutional.”
The brief acknowledge that although “various interests, including the need to protect national security information, may justify sealed records, it is hard to fathom that all the documents in this case – and all portions of those documents – consist of information of such a confidential nature that no part of them can be publicly disclosed.”
It argues further that the “effects of such secrecy are particularly significant in a case that has ignited debate worldwide about whether the U.S. government keeps too many secrets. . . . If the public is to have any faith in its government generally and the justice administered by military tribunals specifically, it needs to have confidence that the system is operating in the open, where potential misconduct may be exposed.”
Gregg P. Leslie, RCFP interim director, said “there is plenty of legal precedent stating that courts martial proceedings must follow the rigorous standards set by the civilian courts for closing any courtroom records or proceedings,” Leslie added. “For journalists, access to court filings is crucial to providing the background and understanding required for comprehensive reporting.”