Last week, a little turn of events in Bradley Manning’s trial was missed by many, given the hype generated by the leak of NSA surveillance. However, what happened at Bradley Manning’s trial may be very significant for the public and those who assert their right to information.
In short, the court and the prosecutor at Manning’s trial allowed the presence of two public stenographers crowdfunded by the Freedom of Press Foundation to transcribe the trial. Though it did not happen without its fair share of drama, this small incident is a big victory for freedom of information.
On June 4, Boing Boing first reported that the prosecutor and the court at Manning’s trial did not object to the presence of the stenographers and indicated they could continue. This was important for the freedom of journalism as the military court does not allow any audio or video recording or transmission.
On the very first day of the trial, the Freedom of Press Foundation submitted their letter requesting the Military District of Washington to “issue two press passes to allow professional court stenographers access to the media room.”
The letter by FPF was signed on to by media organizations including the Los Angeles Times, McClatchy Newspapers, the New York Times, Bloomberg News and others. The letter asserted that if the stenographers were denied access then the public would not be able to “understand the process and decisions made by this court.”
The stenographers did not receive access initially and in reaction Forbes, The Guardian and the Verge applied for an extra slot, so they could give their credentials to the stenographers. Their application was denied.
On Monday, this week, the defense said the military would be issuing “access passes” and not full press credentials to the stenographers.
Judge Army Col. Denise Lind said that court-martials were not meant to “provide contemporaneous access to a transcript.” However, she later recognized that the production of an unofficial transcript would “further Manning’s right to a Sixth Amendment trial and further public’s First Amendment right.”
While even the Guantanamo Military Commission is providing transcripts, in the case of Manning’s trial, until now, the authorities are not known to have arranged for keeping transcripts beyond audio recordings – which are usually unavailable.
Of course, where there is transparency, leaks are meaningless – and it is great to see the American public asserting their right to information by crowdfunding the stenographers at Manning’s trial.