WASHINGTON -- A coalition of activists and journalists, including WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Department of Defense and the military judge overseeing the case of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning. The suit aims to open up access to the military trial, in which Manning is fighting to avoid a life sentence after admitting to leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents to Wikileaks.
The same group previously filed a similar lawsuit in military courts that was shot down in a 3-2 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces last month. Now its members are continuing their legal quest in a civilian federal district court in Baltimore, hoping to overrule the military. The Wednesday filing comes just one day after the judge overseeing the Manning trial ruled that 24 prosecution witnesses could testify in secret.
"The federal civilian courts are now our last option," said Shayana Kadidal, a senior attorney at the non-profit legal group representing the plaintiffs, the Center for Constitutional Rights. "If this lawsuit fails, Manning’s trial will take place under conditions where journalists and the public will be unable as a practical matter to follow what is going on in the courtroom."
Although physical access to Manning's pretrial hearings has generally been unimpeded, understanding the proceedings has often been made difficult by the fact that court orders, prosecution and defense motions and transcripts are rarely released. Large swathes of the docket have been kept hidden from public view.
Assange, who founded the transparency organization Wikileaks, has previously alleged the Manning proceedings will be a "show trial."
Assange's co-plaintiffs include Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, and The Nation magazine. They are seeking a preliminary injunction to force the release of many of the files currently kept hidden, and expect to have their case heard by Maryland U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander, a President Barack Obama appointee, shortly after Manning's trial begins on June 3.