Delay in Reporter Subpoena in War Objector’s Tribunal

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(APN) ATLANTA — Independent journalist Sarah Olson still has to decide whether to testify in a court martial against one of her sources, but now she will have another month in which to make that decision, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

“What did happen is I am no longer required to be at pretrial hearing tomorrow in Fort Lewis so that is good news in a way,” Olson, 31, told APN.

“But I am still subpoenaed for the court martial in February between the 5th and the 9th,” Olson said.

Olson’s attorney explained the reasons for the delay in Olson’s required court martial appearance.

“There’s this issue of authenticating the statements. The military prosecutors wanted to deal with those issues at the pre-trial. The defense wanted them to be dealt with at trial. We were pleased the military judge decided that was when that was gonna happen [at trial],” Olson’s attorney, David Greene, said.

“Failure to comply with a military subpoena is felony and can be punished as a felony, up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $500,” Greene said. Olson added an appeals process would be available for her in civilian court, should it come to that.

Olson is one of two journalists currently being subpoenaed to testify in the court martial against Lt. Ehren Watada. The other journalist is Gregg Kakesako with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper.

Several other journalists are on the witness list for the military while apparently numerous others across the US have written articles which appeared in the military prosecution’s dossier against Watada.

One earlier Truthout report stated Truthout Editor Mark Ash was expected to be on a witness list, but Olson says Ash was only asked to provide contact information for his reporters to the Army.

Watada, who became the first commissioned officer to refuse orders to deploy in the US Invasion of Iraq, gave public speeches and interviews condemning the US Invasion of Iraq. Olson’s interview with Watada appeared on Truthout.org

Why the US government would select two reporters out of many is unclear. The Army Times, owned by a giant corporation, Gannett, has reported that while they interviewed Watada, none of their reporters have been served.

The military is prosecuting Watada not only for failure to deploy, but for making statements they feel are unbecoming of an officer.

Watada and his attorneys argue Watada was giving the interviews and speeches he gave as a private citizen, and therefore he should have the free speech rights to criticize the government if he is compelled to do so.

The Star-Bulletin has refused comment. TruthOut has issued statements critical of the subpoena received by Olson, and stating their support for Olson.

Olson is currently being represented pro bono by the First Amendment Project, a law center which provides representation in cases related to free speech and free press.

Olson says she does not want to become part of the prosecution against a source of hers, particularly when the case involves free speech itself.

“I find this profoundly objectionable… I can’t participate in the suppression of speech, which is what the Army is trying to [do] in this case,” Olson said.

“My concern is, once it happens once, it will continue to happen. It sets a precedent that I’m not willing to set. Further, beyond the precedent, it erodes the separation between the press and the government in a way that I think is incredibly dangerous. You’re just one step closer to state propaganda media. The other part concerning to me is if I do this, the message it’s sending to the members of the military, officers, and enlisted soldiers is, speak to the press about your opinions on the war and go to prison. That’s certainly the message that could be conveyed,” Olson said.

“I don’t want the person I talked to, or interviewed, to go to jail,” Olson said.

“These issues of speech and press I think are worth upholding,” Olson said.

A DIFFICULT CHOICE

Olson never predicted she would be subpoenaed by the military when she interviewed Watada.

“Each time you do a story about something that could end up in court, there’s a possibility you could be subpoenaed. I was intellectually aware of that. There’s a big difference, between that and having that thing come into existence,” Olson said.

“It has certainly sharpened my focus on all things journalism related,” Olson said.

“In terms of who I am as a journalist and what I stand for, it forced me to kind of consider lofty issues, like press freedom and what I thought about free speech and how I was willing to have that manifest in my life,” Olson said.

“I’m not publicly asserting that I won’t testify. I’m just raising as many objections as I can,” Olson said.

“I don’t wanna be a martyr. What I will further say to you is that I think what the Army is doing, juxtaposing… forcing me into this horrible choice… they’re making me choose between my personal liberty, not being put in prison, and my integrity,” Olson said.

ARMY SEEKS OLSON’S TESTIMONY

The military prosecution says they only want Olson to confirm the accuracy of quotes in her article. They don’t want to obtain or know about any off the record material.

In a sense, this seems odd because most news sources typically report facts–things that are true–as a matter of policy.

However, “It’s a legal technicality. A lot of people don’t know. Actually, print articles, unless verified by one or the other of the parties, are considered hearsay,” Olson said.

Still, Olson does not want to testify because of the context where she would be assisting in the prosecution of one of her sources in a free speech case, thus chilling free speech and free press in the US.

Olson’s attorney, David Greene, says Watada should typically have the right to question the accuracy of evidence presented against him in a court martial.

If Watada is going to be tried for making statements to the press, “We believe that they do need to authenticate the statements in some way, [but] we believe they can do that another way,” Greene says.

“You would want to be able to challenge if that’s a correct statement and that’s what this is about,” Greene says.

“There’s a dispute between the Army and Watada about what the statements were and what they mean and we think they need to figure that out themselves and not with our assistance,” Greene says.

“You should keep the press out of this,” Greene says of the dispute between Watada and the Army.

AUDIO RECORDINGS AVAILABLE

Olson conducted many audio recordings with Watada, which she says are already available publicly.

“My desire is, they go find those, download them, and at that time… they can hire a voice expert and have that person authenticate the recordings without having them drag me into the middle of this,” Olson says.

POSSIBILITY OF ADMISSION BY WATADA

Another possible way the Army could verify Watada’s statements to Olson is if Watada admits he said them. APN did not have the opportunity to contact Watada about this before press time, but will provide details if they become available.

“If he were to stipulate, yes I said those things, there would be no need for me to testify,” Olson said.

“That would be a good question for them, why aren’t you stipulating? It’s entirely possible that will happen,” Olson said.

Olson said she and her attorney have not been collaborating with Watada and his attorney at this point because it would be a conflict of interest.

“They’re gonna make the Army work for their convictions if they get them,” she said of Watada’s defense team.

“Watada’s lawyer, Eric Seitz, said his client does not dispute making the statements attributed to him and would not mind if the reporters testified,” the Associated Press reported.

OLSON STILL TO DECIDE

Olson hasn’t decided whether she will testify, and there’s no word from Kakesako on his plans. Other members of the media may also be called to testify and some reports indicate this is seen as likely. It is unclear what will happen to Olson, or to free press in the United States, as Lt. Watada’s February court martial approaches.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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