Alexa O’Brien donates transcript of historic Manning verdict

Independent journalist Alexa O’Brien, noted for her tireless, intrepid coverage of the Manning trial, has donated the page shown above to Barrett Brown’s legal defense fund.

This was the first complete record of the verdict as spelled out by the judge, which was then disseminated on July 30, 2013—the day Manning was convicted in a historic case with massive implications for whistleblowing and freedom of the press.

For a year and a half, Ms. O’Brien produced the only transcripts of the Manning pre-trial, along with some of the only in-depth analysis available on her case, a forensically reconstructed appellate exhibit list, witness profiles, and a searchable database of the available court record. We think that Brown’s upcoming trial needs somebody like her.

She gives this unique and invaluable document to us because she acknowledges the impact which Brown’s case will have on press freedoms and the activities of lone journalists. If Brown is convicted of linking to stolen material, or obstruction for protecting his sources, then that precedent will have chilling effects and affect everyone else’s rights.

Here is her statement:

We criticize those journalists and media institutions, who self-censor to keep access to their government sources or to mitigate the financial and legal risks of civil and criminal lawsuits. We look down on private companies who extra-legally cut their services to journalists and media organizations after unfounded allegations by government officials. But are we, as private individuals, any better than those whom we criticize?

We politically and financially abandon those independent journalists and media organizations, who either ingenuously or courageously published suppressed information for our benefit, exactly when they face prosecution or imprisonment.

In the hope of raising funds for imprisoned journalist Barrett Brown’s legal defense, Kevin Gallagher suggested that I auction my personal transcript of the verdict in the trial of Chelsea Manning that I took on July 30, 2013 at Fort Meade, Maryland.

I wanted to do something for Brown, especially because my work recording and reporting on the Manning trial prevented me from covering his case. Bringing light to the secrecy and managed obscurity of Manning’s court-martial was an all consuming commitment and an exercise in brute force. Convicted on twenty offenses and sentenced to 35 years in prison, Manning’s legal battles have just begun. I am painfully aware that she, like Brown, needs financial support to mount a successful defense.

The record of her trial, totaling around forty-five thousand pages, is the longest known in U.S. military law. Yet, the public was not granted access to almost all of the legal filings and rulings until 18 months into the proceeding. The most critical evidence is still hidden in unreleased exhibits or under black redactions.

Her case, like Brown’s, has wider ramifications on the First Amendment. Although acquitted of indirectly aiding the enemy, she was the first U.S. soldier to be charged with giving intelligence to the enemy via a media organization, who had intended to inform the public by her disclosure (and not the enemy). Her conviction on seven offenses containing the clause “reason to believe such information could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation” found in the Espionage Act extends the Obama administration’s unmatched inquisition prosecuting unauthorized disclosures to the press employing a 1917 statute originally intended for spies.

Yet the traditional press was effectively absent. When they did attend, their coverage was superficial and deficient of the kind of detail that a historic case such as hers required. Hundreds of journalists and talking heads did, however, show up to hear the verdict 20 months into the trial. On that day, Fort Meade was teaming with sightseeing content junkies and rumor militants. When the presiding military judge, Colonel Denise Lind, read her verdict into the record, no one had correctly or completely recorded or understood the entire verdict.

I did. The transcript became the primary source available for the press and public until the Military District of Washington published an official press release four hours later.

In recognition of her work, Ms. O’Brien was shortlisted for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism and has been acknowledged in The Verge 50. Years from now, this piece of paper from a spiral-bound yellow legal pad will be of inestimable value and might end up in a museum. We are now seeking a buyer. If you are interested please contact us.