U.S. Army prosecutors hope to use testimony from freelance journalist Sarah Olson to challenge the free-speech rights of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the first officer to refuse publicly to fight in Iraq. SPJ National President Christine Tatum has sent a letter to Army and U.S. Department of Defense officials. The complete text appears below. Read more about this case by following this link (opens in a new window).
Lt. Gen. Dubik:
On behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists, one of the nation’s oldest and largest journalism-advocacy organizations, I urge U.S. Army officials to drop their insistence that journalists testify in the court-martial of Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada at Fort Lewis, Wash.
It is highly objectionable that any journalist be forced to become an agent of Army prosecutors. Even more repugnant is compelling a journalist to aid prosecutors who are challenging a military officer's right to free speech.
That is precisely what has happened to freelance journalist Sarah Olson, who has been subpoenaed to testify about statements Lt. Watada made to her during an interview. We support Ms. Olson, who has written:
“It is my job as a professional journalist to report the news, not to act as the eyes and ears of the government. I am repelled by this approach that jeopardizes my credibility and seeks to compel my participation in muting public speech and dissenting personal opinion.
“It seems clear that the U.S. Army is attempting to redefine the parameters of acceptable speech and to classify dissent as a punishable offense. Subpoenaing journalists in this case unequivocally sends the message that dissent is neither tolerated nor permitted. Utilize your constitutionally guaranteed speech rights and go to prison. What rational soldier would agree to speak with me or any other member of the media if jail was a likely result?”
The Army should find other means to carry out its prosecution because the current course of action is offensive to a free and unfettered press. Journalists must be able to report freely about the work of men and women in uniform.
President, Society of Professional Journalists
Chairman, SPJ's National Freedom of Information Comittee