Manning Judge Rules Crowd-Funded Stenographers Should Be Given Permanent Court Access


Executive Director

As Kevin Gosztola reported yesterday, Bradley Manning’s defense lawyer David Coombs brought up our crowd-funded stenographers in court during the morning session of Manning's trial, and we’re happy to say, once and for all, that the judge ruled the government must make permanent accomodations for the stenographers.

The stenographers were in the media room yesterday on press passes borrowed from other media organizations, so the full transcript of the judge's remarks can be read here.

After the judge acknowledged the letter signed by over twenty major news organizations requesting the court issue to permanent press passes to the stenographers because of the limited public access to the trial, the defense argued the stenographers furthered Manning's First and Sixth Amendment rights:

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MR. COOMBS: We believe that this enforces PFC Manning's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial and also impacts on a First Amendment right for the press to accurately keep track of what happens in the court-martial. Our understanding is that the government now is assuring that the stenographers will have access during non-peak times, and then during peak times they are looking into whether they'll have access at the MOC or not. It appears that regardless of whether it's peak or non-peak they're going to be given an access pass instead of credential passes.

And then I know that we still have an outstanding issue on whether or not the government can accommodate the requests to have one of the stenographers come in at 0700 and another come in during the afternoon session to where we don't have a requirement for both of the stenographers to be present the entire day.

The government then made brief remarks in which they did not object to giving the stenographer permanent access or allowing one to come in half way through the day. The court then ruled:

THE COURT: All right. Thank you.

Just for the record, while the court is not interested in getting into the area of who is credentialed and who isn't credentialed as it's beyond the scope of this trial, the court does note and so advised the parties in the RCM 802 that rules of court-martial are not structured to provide a contemporaneous transcript of proceedings. In light of the public interest in this case, in light of the unique circumstances of this case, in light of the assertion by PFC Manning that this stenographer procedure will further his rights to a Sixth Amendment right to a public trial and also obviously further the public's First Amendment right to a public trial, the court has ordered the government to arrive at some kind of accommodation to allow stenography of the proceedings of this trial and the creation of, I guess what their intent is an unofficial transcript, certainly not an official transcript, the government's not doing it. So the government's in the process of making that arise. And just for the record, this rule or this guidance of the court can always be reconsidered should there be a violation of the rules of court with respect to audio broadcasting or visual broadcasting once these procedures are put into place.

While we still strongly believe the First Amendment should require the court to provide the government's transcripts, and all other court documents, to the public in a timely manner, and support the Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit arguing as such, this should be considered a small victory for open access. And it could not have been done without the support of all our donors. So thank you.

Note: While the transcripts have been posted less than twelve hours after each day's proceeding is over, the cost of the project is more expensive than we originally thought, given that many court days are running long. On our front page, we've raised our goal from $70,000 to $100,000.

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