As City Paper reported this week, the case in which the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), joined by media organizations, including Wikileaks, The Nation, and Democracy Now!, asked for a court order to end pervasive secrecy surrounding the court-martial proceedings against U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, landed in Maryland federal court on Monday.
Late yesterday, U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander ruled that the group’s claims of unconstitutional secrecy do not merit her intervening in the trial of Manning (who in 2010 released a trove of classified material to the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks) with an order governing public disclosure of court documents.
“In light of the actions taken by defendants after this case was filed—to release documents, to commit to expedited release of documents going forward, and to permit unofficial transcription of proceedings by privately retained stenographers—I do not see a substantial likelihood of irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction,” Hollander wrote in a 42-page opinion, docketed two days after the June 17 oral arguments in the lawsuit.
“I am mindful of the keen public interest in the court-martial, the right of public access to such proceedings, as well as the extraordinary nature of the relief plaintiffs seek,” Hollander continued. But the plaintiffs – New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), along with several journalists and media organizations, including Wikileaks, The Nation, and Democracy Now! – “ask this Court to intervene collaterally in an ongoing court-martial and issue dictates to the military judge conducting the proceedings, in regard to the management of public disclosures. In light of the measures that defendants have taken to provide the press and the public with access to the ongoing court-martial proceedings, such preliminary, equitable relief is not warranted here.”
The defendants – military leaders in charge of the proceedings against Manning – had cautioned Hollander against intervening in the Manning court martial, questioning whether a U.S. District Court judge had jurisdiction over a military tribunal. Hollander disagreed with that notion.
While the federal court “is obliged to tread gingerly” when reviewing a military tribunal’s rulings, Hollander wrote, “it cannot ignore its responsibilities to uphold federal rights,” which in this case involve “fundamental constitutional values of openness of court proceedings.” She added that “such access is vital in our democracy, and helps to inspire public confidence in the integrity of such proceedings,” but in rejecting the plaintiff’s case, decided that sufficient public access to the Manning court martial is currently in place, even if it may not have been when the lawsuit was filed on May 22.