After being initially denied admittance, court stenographers hired through a crowdfunding campaign to transcribe the trial of whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning must be given permanent access to the courtroom, judge Colonel Denise Lind has ruled.
Since the military court does not provide any public record of the proceedings and no electronics are allowed in the courtroom, the Freedom of the Press Foundation has set up a fundraising campaign to hire two stenographers to create a public transcript of the historic trial, which began last week. Of the 350 media organizations who applied for press credentials, only 80 were given access and only 10 allowed into the courtroom due to fire code restrictions. But because the court did not specifically say that stenographers were allowed, the stenographers were denied access until media organizations including The Verge, Forbes, and The Guardian offered up their own press passes.
"We believe that this enforces PFC Manning's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial."
Now the judge has ruled that the government must admit the stenographers for the duration of the trial, saying the court "has ordered the government to arrive at some kind of accommodation," according to the unofficial transcript. "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," said Manning's lawyer, David Coombs.
It's a big win for those urging greater transparency of the trial, which ironically concerns the leak of confidential government documents to the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks motivated in part by a lack of government transparency. However, the court also warned that admittance "can always be reconsidered should there be a violation of the rules of court with respect to audio broadcasting or visual broadcasting," as occurred with the leaked audio recording of Manning's statement during a pre-trial hearing.