The military is trying to coerce freelance journalist Sarah Olson to testify against Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse to go to Iraq. Olson, whose story about Watada appeared on Truthout.org, has resisted the military because, in her own words: “Journalists should not be asked to participate in the prosecution of political speech.”
San Francisco Chronicle:
“Journalists should not be asked to participate in the prosecution of political speech,” Olson said. “Dragging a journalist into court like this ... really damages the barrier between press and government. When speech is the crime, the journalist really can be the investigative arm, the eyes and ears of the government.”
Would she be as passionate about not testifying in court if she had been reporting the views of, say, a Nazi? Yes, Olson said. “I’m kind of hard core about the First Amendment.”
Although Olson is not the only journalist whom federal officials are trying to coerce information from, some First Amendment advocates and military justice experts are somewhat baffled as to why prosecutors continue to chase her. Military officials aren’t asking her to turn over her notes or unpublished material. And it’s not as though a 30-second Google search couldn’t provide prosecutors with an iPod-full of audio and video of Watada’s numerous anti-war statements since his first news conference in June.
She is going into a military court, where free speech hasn’t traditionally had the same protections as in the civilian world. If Watada were a civilian and said, “The war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law,” as he did in his June news conference, he wouldn’t be facing six years in a military prison for conduct unbecoming to an officer and for missing a troop movement.