As Bradley Manning trial nears the end, journalism itself is on trial

For the past year and a half, Alexa O'Brien has been covering the largely secret court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who leaked government documents to Wikileaks after being rebuffed by US newspapers he contacted with the same. Alexa produced the only available pre-trial transcripts for much of this time, and produced reporting and analysis regularly while larger news organizations mostly ignored the case. She also created a forensically reconstructed appellate exhibit list, witness profiles, and a searchable database of the available court record. Today, from Fort Meade, Maryland, she writes an extensive recap of exactly where the trial stands in its final phase, for Daily Beast.

Here's how secret the trial is: when the Defense Intelligence Agency's counterespionage chief testified in a closed session, the courtroom windows were literally covered with aluminum foil to prevent anyone from reading the sound vibrations and capturing any portion of what he said. A tinfoil hat for the entire courtroom, which is on a military base with highly restricted access, to begin with. More from Alexa:

As the defense and the prosecution rested their cases in the largest leak trial in American history, the defense argued Monday that the presiding military judge, Col. Denise Lind, should dismiss “aiding the enemy” and other serious charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who uploaded hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and U.S Army reports to the organization WikiLeaks, which published the material online in 2010.

Prosecutors failed to present evidence that Manning had the requisite knowledge that al Qaeda or the enemy used WikiLeaks, argued civilian defense counsel, David Coombs, on Monday. Anything less than actual knowledge would set a dangerous precedent for a free press, he said, because military prosecutors have already stated that they would have charged Manning similarly had the organization been The New York Times and not WikiLeaks.

Lind, the chief judge of the U.S. Army’s First Judicial Circuit, ruled Monday that she would allow the prosecution to rebut the defense case that WikiLeaks was a respected journalistic organization at the time of the charged offenses, and that Manning had a “noble motive” to inform the public, as the defense has asserted. Prosecutors intend to recall their lead forensic expert to discuss emails to members of the press as well as WikiLeaks tweets found on digital media belonging to Manning. Prosecutors also intend to call another member of Manning’s brigade to testify that the accused told him in May 2010 that “I would be shocked if you are not telling your kids about me in ten to fifteen years from now.”

Read the full article here: "Journalism On Trial as Bradley Manning Case Nears Moment of Truth".

Manning, who is 25 years old, was arrested in May, 2010 and confined for 1,101 days before his court-martial began last month. For more than a hundred days, he was kept in what is described as "extreme solitary confinement," which human rights advocates say is a form of torture.

The government has charged him with 22 crimes, of which he has pled guilty to 10 lesser offenses with a maximum sentence of up to 20 years. The government is still pressing forward with other charged offenses, including aiding the enemy, espionage, stealing government property, and “wanton publication.” If convicted of these charges, Manning faces a maximum sentence of "life plus 149 years" in a military prison.

Court is in recess until 9:30am ET Thursday. Tune in to Alexa's Twitter stream for live coverage then.

• More in Boing Boing's archives of Bradley Manning trial coverage.

(Note: I am a board member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which gave Alexa a grant to support her coverage of the trial, and which hired stenographers to produce transcripts when the government announced that it would not release any official transcripts.)

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