Journalists say free press threatened by Army subpoena

[statement from Sarah Olson and Dahr Jamail]

In a move which threatens the First Amendment rights of journalists, the U.S. Army has subpoenaed journalist Sarah Olson to testify at the January 4 pre-trial hearing in the court-martial of Lt. Ehren Watada. The Army placed another journalist, Dahr Jamail, on the prosecution witness list.

Both journalists are fighting back, saying the Army's attempt to compel their participation in the court-martial threatens press freedom and chills free speech.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada became the first commissioned officer to refuse his orders to deploy to Iraq on June 22, 2006. In his upcoming February court-martial Lt. Watada faces one charge of missing troop movement, and four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer. Each of the later four charges relates to Lt. Watada's public explanations of his refusal to deploy to Iraq. If convicted of all charges Lt. Watada faces six years in prison, four of which would be for speaking to the press.

Independent journalist Sarah Olson interviewed Lt. Watada last May. The Army says statements Watada made during Olson's interview constitute one charge of conduct unbecoming an officer, and wants Olson to verify those statements in a military court. Olson says: "It's my job to report the news, not to participate in a government prosecution. Testifying against my source would turn the press into an investigative tool of the government and chill dissenting voices in the United States."

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail reported on Lt. Watada's address to the Veterans for Peace convention last August. The Army says it wants him to authenticate his reporting of the event. Jamail says: "I don't believe that reporters should be put in the position of having to participate in a prosecution. This is particularly poignant in this case, where journalists would be used to build a case against free speech for military personnel."

The journalists say once the press is seen as the eyes and ears of the government, dissenting voices are less likely to express themselves publicly. A free and open exchange of ideas is the life-blood of democracy, and it is in the public interest to have a free debate on disparate views of current political issues.

article originally published at .

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey