The Military Assault On Free Press And Thought

Another journalist is being threatened with incarceration for expressing herself, this time for reporting on a soldier who is being threatened with incarceration for expressing himself.

The majority of the American people oppose the occupation of Iraq and that majority is growing daily. So it should come as no surprise that soldiers are arriving at the same conclusions. After all, they are both Americans and people. A recent survey by the Military Times shows that about two thirds of them disapprove of the President’s handling of the war. But if you wear the uniform, don’t get the idea that you can express your views to your fellow citizens. And journalists shouldn’t get that idea either.

At one recent event, the President traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia, to dine with the troops. But the base commander prohibited any of the soldiers there from talking with the assembled reporters. This is just one example of many embarrassing episodes, including some where the brass offer up obviously pre-screened and coached “random” spokespersons. Unfortunately, embarrassment is the least of the problems generated by this censorious trend.

In the course of its execution of the Iraqi occupation, the U.S. government has not been shy about engaging in overtly propagandistic behavior, including paying for stories to be planted in Iraqi newspapers. But they have also brazenly threatened journalists with prosecution for doing their jobs. Recall Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez on“This Week”:

“There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that [prosecution] is a possibility.”

Well, they’re at it again. Sarah Olson is a free-lance journalist from Oakland, CA, who interviewed the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, Lt. Ehren Watada. As a result she has now been subpoenaed by military prosecutors who want her to testify at Watada’s court-martial. If Olson does not comply with the subpoena it could wind up costing her six months in jail or $500, along with a felony conviction. She told the San Francisco Chronicle

“It’s not a reporter’s job to participate in the prosecution of her own sources. When you force a journalist to participate, you run the risk of turning the journalist into an investigative tool of the state.”

Olson is now receiving support from the Society of Professional Journalists, who have written a letter to Army officials on her behalf. They say in part…

“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.”

It is really too bad that a conscientious and brave officer is being persecuted for taking a principled stand against a war that is illegal and immoral. You can learn more and offer help for Lt. Watada at this website: Friends and Family of Lt. Watada.

It is also too bad that a responsible and dedicated journalist is being persecuted for telling this soldier’s story. You can learn more and offer help for Ms. Olson at this website: The Free Press Working Group.

Both of these patriotic Americans need and deserve the support of all people who value free speech, justice, peace, and an unshackleded press that is necessary to preserve these values.