pose threat to free
flow of information
Pfc. Bradley Manning in his military uniform. Click image to enlarge.
AFTER A FLURRY OF HEADLINES when Pfc. Bradley Manning was found guilty of most of the 22 charges brought against him, there has been an almost total media blackout of the trial.
The sentencing phase has continued all week, but the headlines have been sparse.
This case is of vital importance, not just for the effect it will have on one person, but for the chilling impact is will have for years to come on reporting of government misdeeds.
Manning could face spending the rest of his life in prison; a total of 90 years is possible under a Tuesday ruling by the presiding judge.
THE USE OF ANONYMOUS SOURCES to uncover government wrongdoing is a proud journalism tradition going back at least as far as the Pentagon Papers case in 1971, then peaking with the Washington Post’s Watergate revelations which brought down a sitting president for the first time in history.
This tradition is under frontal attack in the Manning trial, and one would think that reporters and editors everywhere would be paying closer attention, if only for this reason.
The web site Firedoglake is providing the most comprehensive coverage of the Manning case. Click image to enlarge.
The only comprehensive source of detailed coverage I could find was at the blog Firedoglake which is live blogging every twist and turn in the sentencing phase.
In its report on the proceedings on Thursday, Kevin Gosztola notes the absence of media, with one exception.
“There are few press here today, but the New York Times did decide to send someone today,” Gosztola writes. “… outrage from the public and editorials by public editor, Margaret Sullivan, appear to be the key factor in their decision to send reporters on days when there are no guarantees that major news will occur in the trial.”
Indeed, The New York Times, which played a central role in disseminating the data Manning provided to WikiLeaks, did have a story today on page A9 of the National Edition about the proceedings.
In Witness in Manning Case Says Leaks Could Help Al Qaeda Emmarie Huetteman writes that “Commander Aboul-Enein, an expert on terrorism and the ideology of Al Qaeda, took the stand during the seventh day of the sentencing hearing.”
From Firedoglake, however, we learn that the “defense objected to most of Aboul-Enein’s testimony during government cross-examination because they deemed it cumulative, speculative, not relevant …”
Perhaps the lack of media attention is because much of the testimony given during the week was presented behind closed doors because it is about classified government data.
“But much of the second week of sentencing has happened behind closed doors, with four witnesses offering classified testimony,” Huetteman writes.
So the government is conducting a “secret” trial of a person accused of leaking government secrets. The irony is delicious, but the effect is anti-democratic in the extreme.
Throughout our history it has not been sufficient that justice “be done.” On many occasions, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it also must “be seen to be done.” In other words, trials must be conducted in public.
The Manning case is unusual in so many respects, and this is just another example.
It is unfortunate in the extreme that so much of the proceedings have been held in secret that the story has almost vanished from the news during a crucial phase of the trial.
Kudos to Firedoglake and The New York Times for doing what they can to keep the spotlight on the courtroom in Maryland.
Perhaps the rest of the media will pay attention when the sentence is pronounced. Ninety years behind bars for a 26 year-old whistleblower would be the biggest travesty of justice in recent American history, and a major blow to the free press in the U.S.
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