By: Joe Strupp
A petition challenging U.S. Army subpoenas ordering reporters to testify in the court martial of an Army lieutenant has drawn more than 50 signatures from prominent media members, and will be placed online for more to sign later this week.
Sarah Olson, a freelance journalist and radio producer in San Francisco, began circulating the petition last week, which supports her efforts and those of Honolulu Star Bulletin reporter Gregg Kakesako to oppose the order to testify. Both have been subpoenaed to testify at the court martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, which begins Feb. 5 at Fort Lewis, Wash.
Watada faces charges stemming from a refusal to deploy to Iraq and comments made against the war, including calling it “manifestly illegal.” Olson, 31, has not been asked to reveal a confidential source or turnover notes, she says. But she is being ordered to verbally confirm elements of her reporting, which include interviews with Watada.
“My contention is that when you ask a journalist to participate in the prosecution of personal political speech, you are turning the journalist into the investigative arm of the government,” she told E&P.
The petition states, in part, “In the name of the cornerstone values this nation claims to uphold and for which the men and women in the military are fighting, we ask that you end your insistence that journalists participate in the court-martial of Lt. Watada. We need more information, participation, and debate – inside and outside the military – not less. As the LA Times argued in its January 8th editorial: ‘It’s time for the Army to back off.'”
Olson says the petition signers have included Phil Donahue, syndicated columnist Norman Solomon, radio host Laura Flanders, and former Washington Post ombudsman Geneva Overholser. She said anyone can sign on once the statement and petition is placed on the Web, at www.defendthepress.org, on Wednesday.
“We are also asking people to send their own individual letters to the Pentagon,” Olson added. “I hope the Army begins to realize that there are a bunch of people who do this for a living who are concerned.”
The petition elaborates: “It’s a journalist’s job to report the news, not to participate in government prosecutions of political speech. The press cannot function if it is used by the government, and hauling a journalist into a military court erodes the separation between government and press. Turning reporters into the investigative arm of
the government subverts press freedoms and chills dissenting speech in the United States. The press must preserve its ability to cover all aspects of a debate, not just the perspectives popular with the current
administration. We believe a journalist’s duty is to the public and their right to know, not to the government.”