Despite promises by the Obama administration to promote a more open society, the government continues to pursue whistleblowers and keep government documents out of the public eye. The current administration has classified more documents than previous governments. The New York Times reported that more than 77 million documents were classified in 2010, up 40 percent over the previous year.
A former U.S. CIA officer was indicted April 6, for leaking classified information to journalists about a mission to capture a top al-Qaida figure. The indictment of John C. Kiriakou, who became known for his public opposition to waterboarding, is the sixth such criminal leak case under President Obama's administration, more than all other administrations combined. Kiriakou is accused of confirming the identity of a CIA employee to a New York Times reporter, who published the name of the officer in a June 2008 article that revealed the officer's role in the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. Kiriakou faces a five-count indictment, including three charges under the Espionage Act, and he faces up to 45 years in prison.
Army Pvt. Bradley Manning is also facing charges under the Espionage Act for his role in leaking information to WikiLeaks. A military judge has recommended that Manning face a court martial for aiding the enemy and espionage. While the charges could bring the death penalty, prosecutors have said they will only seek life in prison, reported Reuters. Manning allegedly downloaded more than 700,000 secret government files that led to WikiLeaks disclosures, such as those related to diplomatic cables and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is pressing Twitter to hand over account records related to three WikiLeaks supporters, reported Mashable. A U.S. District Judge has refused to block the DOJ's order pending a ruling from a federal appeals court, arguing that "the appeal has little chance of success because existing case law 'overwhelmingly' supports the government’s position," according to Bloomberg.
The Computer Business Review noted that the judge's ruling is just an example of why "the protection of civil liberties needs to be clarified in light of the digital age and civil rights in relation to technology needs to be taken into consideration. The growth of social media and the voice it provides has caught the attention of many governments. Thus, the rights of private citizens needed to be extended and established in the technological sphere."
A recent case in Boston has once again highlighted the issues facing conflict reporters under U.S. domestic law. Ed Moloney, an award-winning Irish journalist, and researcher Anthony McIntyre are fighting to keep their confidential sources secret. Moloney, directed "The Belfast Project," an oral history project documenting "The Troubles" that was deposited at Boston College in an archive that would be sealed, according to the terms of the project, until the participants granted permission or died. Among the many interviews in the project are ones from the late 1990s with Brendan Hughes, who subsequently died, and Dolours Price, who is still alive. Both are former members of the Irish Republican Army. The British government is now seeking access to the oral history project for an investigation into the 1972 killing of Jean McConville, a mother of 10 in Belfast whom the IRA has admitted to killing because she was suspected of being an informant. McConville's killing has received a lot of attention in Ireland because of allegations that Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams commanded the IRA unit responsible for ordering her execution and secret burial, allegations that Adams denies.
Under the terms of a bilateral agreement, U.S. authorities are cooperating with the UK investigation and have served Boston College with a subpoena to produce the materials. If the subpoenas are successful Moloney may be legally obliged to verify the material so it can be used as evidence in criminal proceedings.
A judge has ruled that Boston College had to turn over several interviews with Price and seven other subjects who also discussed the killing. Boston College has appealed that ruling, challenging whether the material is necessary to the investigation. That case is expected to be heard in June.
Several U.S. news organizations challenged a judge in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals in April to keep the court open to the media for the testimony of an alleged al Qaeda chieftain who alleges he was mistreated in secret CIA prisons, Reuters reported. The legal challenge concerns testimony from Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi prisoner accused of planning the attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors aboard the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000.
The news groups argue that journalists should be able to witness Nashiri's testimony because some details of his treatment are already known publicly and because the Pentagon has adequate safeguards to prevent national secrets from being disclosed.
Under US law the proceedings must be open to the media and the public, except in certain narrowly limited circumstances, according to David A. Schulz, an attorney representing the news organizations, He said the Nashiri hearing would "shed considerable light on how the United States government treats 'high-value detainees' such as Mr. al Nashiri, and how such treatment affects both the fairness and the appearance of fairness of these proceedings."
A group of Florida news organizations are challenging efforts to seal records in the criminal case of the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer charged with killing Trayvon Martin. A motion was filed on April 16 in Seminole County Circuit Court that asks that records in Zimmerman's file be unsealed. The effort is being led by The Miami Herald. Zimmerman's attorney last week requested that the records be sealed.
Journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street movement’s protests and marches have been subject to alleged police abuse and unfair arrest or detention, among them Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photographer Kristyna Wentz-Graff and freelance journalist and cartoonist Susie Cagle.
Wentz-Graff was released without charge after being arrested during a demonstration outside the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee last November. Cagle was held for a total of 14 hours in two different detention centers, and was charged with unlawful assembly, after being arrested in Oakland, California.
During the previous week’s demonstrations in Oakland, police fired a rubber bullet at video-reporter Scott Campbell, 30, during a confrontation with protesters.
When 11 members of the Occupy Orlando collective were arrested during a protest in Orlando, Florida, on 6 November, two of the collective’s media team were among those detained, depriving the movement of video coverage of the event.
John Meador of the Nashville Scene Reporter was arrested during a demonstration outside the state capitol in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 30th despite showing his press badge. He is now facing charges of “criminal trespass” and “public intoxication.”
John Farley of the magazine MetroFocus was detained for eight hours on September 24th because he had no press credential, but was later acquitted on a charge of “disorderly conduct” on November 2nd. Two other journalists were arrested on October 1st, New York Times stringer Natasha Lennard and Kristen Gwynne of the AlterNet website.