FORT MEADE, Md. — Reporters have become accustomed to running a gauntlet of bomb-sniffing dogs and court-record declassification procedures to cover the trial of Bradley Manning. But secrecy and security may have reached new heights during closing arguments on Thursday.
Armed military policemen patrolled the aisles in the media center and searched reporters with handheld metal detectors. Meanwhile, key testimony and evidence referenced by prosecutor Cpt. Ashden Fein during his closing statement have yet to be released to the public.
It was not clear whether Col. Denise Lind, the judge overseeing the case, ordered the increased security measures. The Military District of Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Several journalists expressed their displeasure with the latest developments.
The heightened media-room safeguards may have been motivated in part by an incident that occurred during Manning’s court martial in February. Someone attending a pre-trial hearing recorded a plea statement Manning made accepting responsibility for 10 of the 22 charges against him. Lind registered her strong displeasure with that action, a violation of courtroom rules, but did not significantly alter security procedures.
Aside from the MPs peering over journalists’ shoulders and the lack of wireless Internet access in the remote media room — another new development Thursday — coverage of the trial was perhaps more hampered by the military’s refusal to publish key documents Fein used to build his closing argument.
Among the files yet to be declassified or released: chat logs between Manning and a correspondent the government alleges was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and testimony in closed session from Defense Information Agency expert Daniel Lewis about the value of leaked war logs to foreign powers.
Fein said the chats show Manning knew WikiLeaks was “anything but a journalistic enterprise.” He also said that Lewis’s analysis proved the Afghanistan War Logs would have been worth at least $1.3 million to a foreign intelligence service, and the Iraq logs $1.9 million.
But without the release of those logs and Lewis’s testimony, at least in declassified form, it’s difficult for the press or the public to evaluate those claims.
A group of journalists and activists, including Assange, sued the military in civilian federal court before Manning’s trial began to gain greater access to military court records. But after the military claimed that it would adopt a 1- to 2-day “goal” of publishing court records, the judge tossed the lawsuit. That goal has been only sporadically met.