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US army targets journalists

Subpoenas for court martial of Lieutenant Ehren Watada

(29 January 2007) - IN A MOVE that threatens the First Amendment rights of journalists, the US Army has subpoenaed journalist Sarah Olson to testify at the February 5 court-martial of Lieutenant Ehren Watada for refusing to deploy to Iraq and explaining his refusal to the press. The Army placed another journalist, Dahr Jamail, on the prosecution witness list. Mr Jamail's reports from Iraq and Lebanon have been featured on this website.

Lt. Watada maintains that the war on Iraq is illegal under international treaties and under Article Six of the US Constitution. He further argues that the Nuremberg Principles and US military regulations require soldiers to follow only "lawful orders." Lt. Watada's defense requested that these issues be admitted into the court martial, as they were in the 2005 Navy trial of Iraq War refuser Pablo Paredes.

He could face two years imprisonment for "missing movement," and four additional years imprisonment - one for each count of "conduct unbecoming an officer" - for his public statements critical of the Iraq War.

Nearly two weeks after hearing arguments in the January 4 pre-trial phase, military circuit judge Lieutenant Colonel John M. Head issued brief, tersely worded rulings 16 January 2007. In summation, "The defense motion for a hearing on the 'Nuremberg defense' is DENIED. The government motion to prevent the defense from presenting evidence on the legality of the war is GRANTED." The defense motion to dismiss the four political speech charges was also "DENIED."

With the recent ruling by military judge Lieutenant Colonel John Head that all charges against Lt. Watada will go to trial in February, a showdown between these reporters and the military draws nearer. 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.

"My duty," Olson says, "is to the public and its right to know and not to the government." In a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, Olson explained, "Journalists should not be asked to participate in the prosecution of political speech."

The subpoena reads, "The President of the United States, to Ms. Sarah Olson. You are hereby summoned and required to appear on the 5-9 day of February, 2007 at 9:00 o'clock A.M. at Bldg 2027, Fort Lewis [Washington] to testify as a witness in the matter of U.S. v. Watada. Failure to appear and testify is punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for a period not more than six months, or both."

The Society of Professional Journalists, the PEN American Center, Military Reporters and Editors, Media Alliance, the Los Angeles Times, and many others have published statements in support of Olson.

"Do I want to be sent to prison by the U.S. Army for not cooperating with their prosecution of Lieutenant Watada? My answer: Absolutely not. You may also ask: Would I rather contribute to the prosecution of a news source for sharing newsworthy perspectives on an affair of national concern? That is the question I wholly object to having before me in the first place," described Olson in an Editor & Publisher Op-Ed entitled "Why I object to testifying against Lt. Watada."

Colleagues and supporters of Sarah Olson and Dahr Jamail have formed the Free Press Working Group to assist in their defence. As independent journalists, they do not have access to corporate legal teams, so a fund has been established to cover travel, legal, and communications expenses.

Meanwhile, under a new federal law, journalists embedded with US troops could now be directly subjected to a military court martial for the first time.

Phillip Carter, a contracting lawyer with McKenna Long & Aldridge, explained in last Monday's Washington Post, "One could imagine a situation in which a commander is unhappy with what a reporter is writing and could use the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to pressure the reporter." Crimes covered by UCMJ include disobeying an order, fraternization, contempt of government officials, and conduct unbecoming - among many others.

For additional info: www.FreePressWG.org, couragetoresist.org

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