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Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

WikiLeaks trial criticized as opaque and "chilling" to freedom of speech



Pfc. Bradley Manning (pictured above) admitted to releasing roughly 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks in reportedly the largest intelligence leak in history. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

New York Times media critic David Carr blasted the United States military’s “eyedropper” approach to releasing information about Pfc. Bradley Manning’s public pretrial in a column on Sunday, March 24. Chronicling the hurdles reporters have faced covering the trial, Carr observed, “A public trial over state secrets was itself becoming a state secret in plain sight.” 

According to Carr, the military has released only 84 documents out of nearly 400 requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents released were so redacted the critic wrote they were “mystifying at best and at times almost comic.” Carr also noted that the court did not provide written transcripts from the proceedings. 

The secrecy surrounding Manning’s case is so extreme that a reporter covering the trial for the Guardian interviewed by Carr suggested that the military commissions at Guantanamo were more transparent

In response to the court’s refusal to release transcripts of court proceedings, something Carr claimed was “routinely available” during public trials, the Freedom of the Press Foundation posted the audio from Manning’s court statement explaining why he passed the information to WikiLeaks. 

Manning admitted to releasing roughly 700,000 classified documents to the anti-secrecy organization and pled guilty to 10 lesser charges in court on Feb. 28, according to The New York Times. 

Despite his plea, the military decided to proceed with a court martial and a harsher sentence that could include life in prison without parole. The military has accused Manning of “aiding the enemy.” His court martial is scheduled for June 3, according to the Times. 

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication released a statement saying that the government’s heavy-handed approach to Manning's case would have a “chilling effect on a democracy's requisite freedom of speech and the press.”

Despite its claim as the “most transparent administration in history,” the Obama White House has come under fire from freedom of information activists for its aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers



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