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Lieutenant Watada
photo: Jeff Paterson
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National Radio Project supports U.S. Army Lt. Ehren Watada's right to speak out against the war in Iraq, and defends journalists' objections to court-martial subpoenas

Latest news...

MISTRIAL! New Watada court-martial scheduled
legal battle is not over - details in upcoming Making Contact program

March 2, 2007

Lt. Ehren Watada's court martial trial ended February 7th when Military Judge Lt. Col. John Head declared a mistrial. Judge Head rejected statements in a crucial pretrial agreement as unintended admissions of Watada's guilt.

Lt. Watada's second court-martial is scheduled for July 16th at Fort Lewis. He faces the same charges as last time - missing movement and conduct unbecoming an officer. If convicted, Watada could be sentenced to six years in prison and be dishonorably discharged.

Upcoming Making Contact program information:

The Fourth Anniversary of the War in Iraq is upon us, and more than eight thousand members of the U.S. military are officially unaccounted for. Many other soldiers are publicly opposing the war and refusing to deploy.

In this upcoming program, Making Contact's Aaron Glantz sheds light on the events and issues surrounding Lt. Watada's court martial. We'll hear from those supporting him, from analysts following the case and from the accused Army officer himself.

This program debuts March 14, 2007. Sign up for Weekly Show Alerts here to get this and other Making Contact program information in your email inbox. Find a Making Contact station near you here.

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Journalist subpoenas dismissed!
Army prosecutors of Lt. Watada drop two charges for speaking to the press

January 29, 2007

Two charges of "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman" have been dropped by the Army-each of which carried a one year possible prison sentence for vocal Iraq War objector Lt. Ehren Watada. The two charges were based on interviews with independent journalist Sarah Olson and Greg Kakesako of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The Army dismissed the subpoenas of these journalists who, if they had not testified against their source were faced with felony contempt of court charges, which carried a sentence of up to six months in prison.

Lt. Watada however is still facing four years in prison. Two for refusing to deploy to Iraq and two for exercising his first amendment rights during public statements he made about his reasons for not going.

National Radio Project asserts that this is a victory for the rights of journalists to gather and disseminate news without fear of government intervention and for individuals' rights to speak with reporters without fear of retribution. Making Contact will continue to air voices of dissent, peace and justice.

In response to her subpoena being dismissed, journalist Sarah Olson stated: 

"This is obviously a great victory for the principles of a free press that are so essential to this nation. Personally, I am pleased that the Army no longer seeks my participation in their prosecution of Lieutenant Watada. Far more importantly, this should be seen as a victory for the rights of journalists in the U.S. to gather and disseminate news free from government intervention, and for the rights of individuals to express personal, political opinions to journalists without fear of retribution or censure.

I am glad the growing number of dissenting voices within the military will retain their rights to speak with reporters. But I note with concern that Lt. Watada still faces prosecution for exercising his First Amendment rights during public presentations. However, the preservation of these rights clearly requires vigilance. Journalists are subpoenaed with an alarming frequency, and when they do not cooperate they are sometimes imprisoned. Videographer Josh Wolf has languished in federal prison for over 160 days, after refusing to give federal grand jury investigators his unpublished video out takes.

It is clear that we must continue to demand that the separation between press and government be strong, and that the press be a platform for all perspectives, regardless of their popularity with the current administration."

Read more:

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Making Contact's Sarah Olson fights U.S. Army's attack on journalists and anti-war voices
National Radio Project supports lieutenant's right to speak out freely, and defends journalist's objection to court-martial subpoena

January 10, 2007

National Radio Project and Making Contact join with PEN American Center, the Society of Professional Journalists, military reporters and editors, the editorial staff of the LA Times, Media Alliance and scores of community groups in denouncing the Army's attempt to turn journalists into an investigative arm of the government, erode the separation between press and government, and chill free speech.

Background
Freelance correspondent Sarah Olson interviewed First Lieutenant Ehren Watada in May, 2006 at the Making Contact studios. In the interview, he asserted that it is his duty as an officer to evaluate the legality of his orders. He said that he could not participate in the Iraq War because it was "manifestly illegal" and that it would make him a party to war crimes.

In June 2006, Lt. Watada made national headlines when he refused to deploy to Iraq. A court-martial has been convened with one count of "missing movement" and four counts of "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." Each of the latter four charges is based entirely on political speech. Lt. Watada’s court-martial is scheduled to begin on February 5, 2007. If convicted, Lt. Watada could spend up to six years in prison.

The Army selected portions of Sarah’s interview to comprise one of the charges of "conduct unbecoming." Army Prosecutors claim they need to subpoena Sarah to testify as a prosecution witness to substantiate that charge.

In December 2006, the Army contacted National Radio Project, attempting to obtain copies of our program featuring Lt. Watada. We do not believe it is the role of media organizations or reporters to assist the military in its prosecution.

If Sarah refuses to testify in the upcoming court-martial, she faces a felony contempt of court charge, up to six months in prison, and a fine of up to $500.00.

Sarah says, "It’s not my job to participate in the government prosecution of my own sources, especially when the crime relates to political speech. …why would any dissenter or whistleblower trust me in the future? As a journalist in the land of the First Amendment, I see myself owing a duty to the public, not to the state." Sarah adds, "Hauling journalists in front of a military court to testify against their own sources threatens to create a chilling effect on dissenting voices. This subpoena also creates a chilling effect on journalists willing to cover these relevant and newsworthy stories."

As an independent, non-profit media group, we want to make sure voices of dissent against the war in Iraq are heard. This subpoena seems odd given the clear, first-person statements made by Lt. Watada in Olson’s Making Contact segment, which aired publicly on over 200 radio stations, was podcast to 11,000 subscribers and is freely available on our website.

To listen to Lt. Watada’s statements in Sarah’s report, download the Making Contact program “Dissenters or Deserters?” at www.radioproject.org/archive/2006/2806.html

Why Watada, why Olson, why now? Could it be that the military and this administration are concerned about the growing public disgust with the war in Iraq, the growing anti-war movement and GI resistance? The Appeal for Redress, a recently drafted bring- the-troops-home letter to Congress, is signed by over 1000 members of the Armed Forces.

We agree with Sarah’s assertion that, “It is ironic that the Army seeks my testimony – the testimony of a journalist – in a case against free speech itself. What could be more hostile to the idea of a free press than a journalist participating in the suppression of newsworthy speech?” We need more debate in this country, not less.

Supporters encourage people to contact the Fort Lewis commanding officer to decry this assault on the First Amendment; urge dropping all the political speech related charges against Lt. Watada; and to request that the army accept Lt. Watada’s resignation and provide an honorable or general discharge.

Commanding General Fort Lewis and I Corps
Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik
Bldg 2025 Stop 1
Fort Lewis, WA 98433

Sarah Olson has been a key correspondent for Making Contact since 2002, covering many issues including War Resisters, Reproductive Justice and Women’s Health, Death Penalty, and Immigration. We join Sarah in the fight against this attack on journalists and anti-war voices. Check out her work and that of other Making Contact correspondents on 300 free radio programs in our Archives.

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"In Christian tradition, ethicists insist on the absolute primacy of obeying one’s conscience. It is a categorical imperative… I pray for you fervently and those who will sit in judgement on you." more...
- letter of support to Lt. Watada from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate


A Larger Context

We see the US Army's attempt to subpoena Sarah, Greg and other journalists in the Watada court martial as attacks on free speech and freedom of the press within the larger context of repression against those who oppose President Bush and his neo-conservative advisors.

It is part of a constellation of other cases in this post-911 era that are rarely covered in the corporate-
controlled media:

. Journalist Josh Wolf has been in prison since August 2006 for resisting a grand jury seeking his videotapes of a protest.
more info...

. In 2005 five ex-Black Panthers were imprisoned for refusing to testify for a grand jury pursuing cold cases from the 1970's, at which time, some of them were interrogated and tortured.
more info...

. Grand juries have been called in the last two years against environmental and animal rights activists on the west coast. Many people have been jailed for refusing to testify, and for participating in political actions.
more info...

. Listen to reports of the National Guard spying on the Raging Grannies, librarians fighting the Patriot Act, and civil libertarians fighting for Habeus Corpus on Making Contact 's
Liberty and Justice
for... Whom?

. On January 1, 2007, the California Highway Patrol blocked the Golden Gate Bridge and barred the free speech of Code Pink protesters during their New Years Day anti-war protest. The CHP also allegedly assaulted a News-7 camera operator.
more info...

. For updates on Press Freedom and Media Justice, including efforts for a federal shield law to protect journalists, check out our friends at
Media Alliance

. Sarah Olson's Editor & Publisher essay,
"Why I Object to
Testifying Against
Lt.Watada
"

. Follow Sarah's situation at
freepresswg.org