By Alexa O’Brien on June 26, 2012
The events that led myself and two other journalists – one from the Associated Press and the other from Courthouse News to be threatened by MDW with arrest.
Since December 2011, I have painstakingly covered and transcribed the Article 32 and Article 39(a) sessions of US v Pfc. Manning.
My work as a journalist is historical in perspective and includes a detailed, sourced time line and analysis of the U.S. joint-agency grand jury and military investigations into and against Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and the Press.
Since January 2011, I have covered the WikiLeaks release of US State Department Cables, JTF memoranda known as the ‘GTMO files’, and revolutions across Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, and Yemen.
My live blog coverage of Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, was in excess of 63,000 hit a day; I believe, because of little to no coverage in the main stream press, coupled with worldwide interest and concern.
I have interviewed a preeminent US foreign policy expert on the U.S. Cambodia cables, and published hours of interviews with former GTMO guards, detainees, defense lawyers, and human rights activists, as well as WikiLeaks media partners: Andy Worthington, a GTMO historian and author, and Atanas Tchobanov, the Balkanleaks’ spokesman and co-editor of Bivol.bg.
In spring of this year, I was one of seven plaintiffs – including author and former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, Chris Hedges as well as Pentagon Paper whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg – against the U.S. President for Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act FY2012, which a Federal Judge ruled was unconstitutional because it violated the First and Fifth Amendments.
On March 23, 2012, in the very middle of a two day deposition by the U.S. Government for that suit – which concerned my genuine fear that the NDAA’s vague language of “associated forces” and “substantial support” allows the U.S. Government to indefinitely detain me for my coverage of Guantanamo Bay, which includes interviews with individuals the U.S. Government considers terrorists – I magically received a reply to my June 21, 2011 request to visit Guantanamo as a member of the press – almost a year later.
Dear Ms. O’Brien,
Hello from Joint Task Force, Guantanamo! It’s been a while since we’ve heard from you regarding your request to visit to JTF. Are you still interested in visiting? If so, is there anything we can do to help you?
Thanks for your interest and we look forward to hearing from you soon.
MC2 (SW/AW) Kyle W. Steckler
JTF-PAO Media Relations Specialist
DSN: 660-8157 cell: 84185
Commercial Fax: 011-5399-3650
DSN Fax: 660-3650
I had never received a confirmation or reply from Joint Task Force-Guantanamo Public Affairs Office before that day.
While I had not received a response from Joint Task Force-Guantanamo Public Affairs Office, I did receive threats from private security contractors working with the U.S. Government, obsessed with trying to tie an organization that I founded – which is based on the the democratic republican principle of Government’s independence in Federalist No. 52 and focused solely on reforming our corrupt elections – with Islamic jihadists.
I have been credentialed for every Article 39(a) session of US v. Pfc. Manning since his arraignment.
On March 15, 2012, on arriving to Fort Meade, Mary Doyle in the Public Affairs Office at Fort Meade informed me that there were server problems, so the Military District of Washington was unable to receive or send emails from members of the press seeking credentials.
In early March, journalists who had sent requests for credentials to US v Pfc. Bradley Manning were receiving “Delivery Status Notification (Delay)” responses from the media desk email server for the Military District of Washington.
Those server problems continue and on April 1, 2012; I received a “Delivery to the following recipients failed” when I sent an email requesting press credentials for the April 25 and 26, 2012 Article 39(a).
I was told by a Public Affairs Officer at Fort Drum, Captain Shane Sanretto, that the Military District of Washington was the only office allowed to answer any questions, so I called them, spoke with Ms. Shante Kelly at the Military District of Washington about my telephone call and exchange with Sanretto.
She instructed me to send her the email chain, and that she would review and authorize his ability to answer my questions.
Those questions were:
- What was PFC Manning’s Chain of Command from Squad to Commander in Chief from October 2009 to May 2010? I understand after he was derog’ed and moved to supplies, did he become part of HHC [Headquarters and Headquarters Company]?
- Who was/were the Battalion Commander’s of the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion between October 2009 and May 2010?
- Who was/were the Command Sergeant Major of the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion between October 2009 and May 2010?
- Who was/were Bradley Manning’s immediate commanding officer in the T-SCIF October 2009 and May 2010?
- Was PFC Manning in a “squad”? If so, name of “squad”? Commanding Staff Sergeant(s) October 2009 and May 2010?
- Was PFC Manning in a “platoon”? If so, name of platoon? Commanding Lt. October 2009 and May 2010?
- Was PFC Manning in B Company (Military Intelligence)? Captain in Charge October 2009 and
- Captain Steven Lim spoke of a command change that occurred during deployment, around Jan 2010 and made official Feb 6? What are the name and positions of this command change that he spoke of?
- What Iraqi Federal Police Divisions did the 2nd Brigade have partnerships with between October 2009 and May 2010?
These questions are basic and fundamental to any decent contextual coverage of the Bradley Manning trial.
I had already been in contact by email with other Public Affairs Officers at Fort Drum with little to no luck.
On May 4 I emailed Lisa Albrecht managing editor at the Fort Drum “The Mountaineer” military newsletter about an apparent mistake in one of their web articles about the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry).
She responded and explained that there was no error, but she could see why I might think there was one. When I replied to her email response – asking a question about the command change that occurred in the Second Brigade Troops Battalion in January 2010. I received no further reply.
Earlier, I had called and spoke with other Public Affairs Officers at Fort Drum asking for the names of commanders of the Second Brigade Troops Battalion, Second Brigade Combat Team, and 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) between October 2009 and May 2010. Their answer to my question was, “They don’t know.”
On May 10, 2012, I received a response to my email exchange forward Ms. Shante Kelly, who was on vacation when I had telephoned her on May 8. She emailed me in response to my May 8 request. She wrote that I had to wait because “questions are being reviewed and worked.”
I requested updates to my original May 8, 2012 request on May 24, May 30. I received no reply.
In the afternoon of June 4, 2012, two days before the June 6, 2012 Article 39(a) session, and 30 days after my original request, I sent another request for an update on my May 8 questions, asking them if any questions had been answered. I finally got a response from the Military District of Washington, a. It was:
At this stage in the trial the only names that have been noted on the record are the convening authority, Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington; the Special Court Martial Convening Authority, Col. Carl R. Coffman and the Summary Court Martial Convening Authority, Lt. Col. Leiker.
They didn’t even answer my first three and last question which had nothing to do with the Court record. I replied asking for information not related to US v Pfc. Manning, and received no response.
In the press pool at the June 5, 2012 Article 39(a) session during the morning briefing for the press, I asked Captain John Haberland, a spokesman for the Military District of Washington (MDW) why it had taken them thirty days to reply with non-answers to my questions.
Haberland said he didn’t know. I then told him that the response from the Military District of Washington has prevented me from completing a story I am writing about the relationship between the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the Iraqi Federal Police. It is very frustrating to spend days researching, and have my time wasted by the Military District of Washington.
I told him that I think it would be helpful if MDW and the Public Affairs Office would explain to the civilian press basic information about Chain of Command in the US Army both in theater and garrisoned.
At that point Ms. Shante Kelly from the Military District of Washington interrupted and said she would get answers to my questions. I said, I had already sent her an email, and that all Captain Shane Sanretto at Fort Drum needed was her authorization, which I had already discussed with her by telephone on May 8, 2012. She said she would look into it, and that she did not know the answers to my questions.
During that day’s court session, Ms. Kelly walked up to me and told me that it would “take a very long time” to get answers to my questions because she said, according to her exchange with Fort Drum, the “computers containing that information were wiped after deployment.” She stressed again that it would “take a very long time to get my answers.”
During proceedings the next day, June 7, 2012, in Smallwood Hall, where the press pool is located with a live video feed of US v Pfc. Manning proceedings and wifi access, I saw that the U.S. Federal Judge had replied to the U.S. Government “Motion for Reconsideration” to Judge Forrest’s earlier ruling on the unconstitutionality of Section 1021 the NDAA, to which I am a party.
I quickly wrote up a short post with a PDF of Judge Forrest’s response, published it, and tweet the link.
Very soon after, Ms. Kelly walked up to me, stood over my computer during the live feed of the Court proceedings, and told me in an angry tone of voice that she “had already received two phone calls about my tweets, and if I tweet one more time during the Court proceedings I would lose my credentials and have to leave.”
I told her that the tweet was a link to my post on Section 1021 of the NDAA FY2012 had nothing to do with the proceedings at Fort Meade, she said, “It doesn’t matter. If you tweet one more time, I will ask you to leave.”
On Wednesday, June 20th, five days before the hearing, I had sent an email to the Military District of Washington requesting press credentials for the June 25, 2012 Article 39(a) session. I did not receive a confirmation response.
On Thursday, only one business day before the June hearing, the Military District of Washington finally posted a press release about the Monday, June 25 hearing. I sent another request from email, and received a response confirming MDW’s receipt of my request.
I never received another email from them.
I drove to the Monday, June 25, 2012 Article 39(a) of US v Pfc. Manning located at Fort Meade, MD at 3:00 a.m. from New York City, NY. It is a four hour drive.
Earlier, on the night of June 24, I had read a tweet from Clark Stoeckly the WikiLeaks truck driver asking if “anyone was traveling to Fort Meade” because he needed a ride. Stoeckly has been drawing sketches of the trial for both WL Central and Frontline News. I contacted him and told him I would pick him up en route.
Stoeckly and I arrived at Fort Meade, MD around 7am. We grabbed some coffee at the Dunkin Donuts off base. Stoeckly had also not received an email response to his credential request either.
I called Courthouse News reporter, Adam Klasfeld, who had emailed me asking about the hearing on Thursday, June 21. He told me he had received an email.
I decided that since I was at Fort Meade that I should visit the Public Affairs Office and see if I was credentialed, because of their rampant server problems. I drove through the Visitor Control Center between 7:30 am and 8:00 a.m and right to the Public Affairs Office on base.
The office wasn’t open, and I decided to wait until business hours in their parking lot. I saw a man entering the building. His name was Brian Spann and he told me he worked for the Public Affairs Office at Fort Meade, but was not involved in the U.S. V Pfc. Manning trial.
I told him I was trying to figure out if I had received credentials since I never received an email, and there have been a lot of problems for myself and other reporters. He told me he would make a phone call. I told him I would wait in my vehicle.
He went into the Public Affairs Office building and came out about five minutes later, still on the phone. As he began to look like he was concluding his phone call, I approached him.
Mr. Spann told me that credentials come through the Military District of Washington, that the Public Affairs Office has nothing to do with credentialing. I told him that I was under the impression from talking to others at Public Affairs that they were responsible for contacting journalists. He said that if I didn’t receive an email from the Military District of Washington, I was not credentialed.
He then told me to go over to Smallwood Hall, where the press pool is normally located and ask for someone from Public Affairs. I told him the trial hearing wasn’t until 1:00 p.m. and asked him for permission to drive over there. He said, “Yes.”
Stoeckly and I drove two minutes to the parking lot of Smallwood Hall. Stoeckly stayed in the Jeep while I ran into the building to find someone from Public Affairs handling the Manning Article 39(a) hearing.
When I went inside I found a friendly lady in a military pencil skirt sitting by a table with a blue and white cake with the words “Retirement” written on it.
I asked her if anyone from Public Affairs was here. She said, “No. Why?” I said, “Oh, they normally host the press pool here for the Bradley Manning trial, which has a hearing at 1:00 p.m…as well as all the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, which are broadcast here for the press.” She seemed surprised and said, ‘Really?”
She said she had reserved the room till 1:00 p.m. I said, well I guess they will have us somewhere else, “Thank you and good bye.”
I went back to my vehicle. Five minutes later, Mary Doyle drove up along side the Jeep I was sitting in. She said, the press pool will not be located at Smallwood today and that reporters had to go into the Court room (where no computers are allowed).
I told her I had not received an email. She said that she had nothing to do with the credentialing, and that credentials come through Ms. Shante Kelly the representative for the Military District of Washington. She also said that if I didn’t receive an email it could be because there were no enough seats due to the fact that the press would not be in Smallwood Hall.
Doyle also said that Ms. Kelly would be at the Public Affairs Office soon, and that sometimes she can work it out the day of, because she has the list.
I told her I thought it was outrageous that given that US v Pfc. Manning was one of the most important leak trials of our era and journalists will not be allowed to use computers.
She reprimanded me for going into Smallwood Hall. I told her I got permission from Mr. Spann. She said,”Well he was wrong.” I said, “Well that is not my problem.”
I tweet, “Reporters for the most important leak trial of our time will NOT be allowed to use computers b/c of a retirement party in Smallwood #manning”
I drove over to the commissary on base to purchase notebooks and a handful of pens, since I now knew I would not be typing a transcript and coverage into a computer.
Immediately after, I headed to the Public Affairs Office and asked for Ms. Shante Kelly from the Military District of Washington. Instead I was brought to see Ms. Doyle again, the lady from Smallwood Hall, who said she had sent me an email with my credentials “hours ago”. I never received that email. She then said she had sent it to my editor. I told her, my credentials have always come to my email.
Ms. Doyle then informed me I had to leave base, and come back on as press, meaning I had to go outside, and drive back on base with the military police escorts.
When I got back in the vehicle I told Stoeckly that I got credentialed. Stoeckly decided to go in and see if he could get credentialed too. He came back and informed me, she had said he could not be credentialed because he sent his email in after the Friday 3:00 p.m. deadline.
We drove off base and back to the Visitor Control Center. A Public Affairs Officer asked for my ID, and a military police officer told me to open all my car doors, trunk, and hood. A bomb sniffing dog, sniffed my Jeep.
The M.P. then told Stoeckly, he would need to walk to mile to the Courthouse, because he was not credentialed. I told Stoeckly I would bring his art supplies to him at the Court House.
Since there were only four journalists present that day, and maybe five members of the public, it begs the question why Stoeckly wasn’t given any credentials.
We drove back to the Public Affairs Office, where I had been fifteen minutes earlier talking with Ms. Doyle. When I walked in the building, Adam Klasfeld from Courthouse News was checking in.
I put down my computer bag and walked up to the table where I met Ms. Shante Kelly.
She handed me a copy of the rules and instructed me to initial at each rule and sign at the bottom. I started to initial each rule when I asked her if I might take a picture of the rules. She asked why? Was it for personal or for business. I replied, “Personal.” She hesitated but then said, ‘Yes. I guess so.”
The reason I took a picture is that I have had frequent discussions with other members of the press about the way the U.S. Government is managing and controling press coverage of US v. Pfc. Manning.
When I took the picture she became angry and said she had sent an email to the admin account at WL Central at 5:00 p.m. on Friday.
I told her that I always send and received my requests from my personal gmail account. She said the admin account at WL Central was the one on record. I told her that MDW has had repeated server problems with journalist credential requests.
I also said that I have already had issues with MDW not replying to my media requests, talking 30 days to reply for example with non-answers.
She looked at me and told me, she could pull my press credentials. I asked her, “Why?” She said, because she could. She asked Klasfeld who was seated in the press pool when he received his email. I told her that this had nothing to do with Klasfeld, and she shouldn’t involve other people.
Ms. Kelly then told me that I broke the rules. When I asked her what rule I had broken, she said read the rules. So, I did. I read each rule out loud, and at each one she said, “Keep going.”
At that point another journalist came into the room. I kept reading the rules, as she directed. I had not broken any of them. I told her that there wasn’t one rule that I had broken on this sheet. I asked her again, “Why she was going to pull my credentials?” She told me to keep reading. So I did.
She then told me I was being disruptive and said to someone standing behind me, “Please get DES?” I asked her what DES was? She told me, “You will find out.” I told her that I thought it was completely inappropriate that she was calling law enforcement on a journalist. I opened my iPhone and turned on the record button.
Below is what took place between myself and Ms. Kelly.
The imaginary press that the Public Affairs Office refers to, did not exist, because there were only four journalists covering the trial. The two other journalist were also threatened with arrest if they didn’t leave me alone with the law enforcement officer. One was from the AP and the other from Courthouse News.
In some kind of ridiculous Pentagon fantasy (or reality), the head of Public Affairs considered his employees, journalists. I don’t.
I initialed and signed all the documents and received a badge.
I sat down at a table and opened up my computer and started tweeting. For the next ten minutes, I was seated at a long table in front of an AP reporter and Adam Klasfeld from Courthouse News. Everyone was busy preparing to move (without computers) to the Courthouse, as you can hear, but it wasn’t over.
Two law enforcement officers appeared outside the press pool media center. One was talking to Ms. Kelly. She walked up to me and asked me to go out and speak to the two law enforcement officers. I asked her calmly, ‘Why?” She didn’t respond and walked away.
About five minutes later, the two officer came in the room. One of them sat on the long table directly in front of me. He told me he wanted to talk to me alone. I said I would like to record the conversation. He agreed and I opened my iPhone and pressed record.
I went to the Courthouse that afternoon.
During the last short session I opted to upload the audio from the morning.
I am outraged that the Military District of Washington and the Public Affairs Office at Fort Meade, which I think are incompetent, would threaten a journalist – a journalist I would add who has probably covered this trial in more detail than most.
The constant threat of losing credentials and access; server problems; non replies; non answers; technical issues; vague accusations and falsehoods backed up by law enforcement; and threats of detainment and possible arrest is exactly how the Military District of Washington manages coverage of US v. Pfc. Manning – making it impossible, superficial, and most importantly non existent.
The truth is the Military District of Washington doesn’t like my coverage of the trial and the U.S. Government, because it is detailed and critical.
But what upset them that morning, was neither that I had broken any rules; because I hadn’t. Nor that I was being disruptive, because I wasn’t. What really upset them was that I had found out that the reason that press were without access to our computers during the most important leak trial of our age was because of a retirement party at Smallwood Hall. And, that is exactly why my press credentials were almost pulled and I was threatened with detainment and arrest.