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Two Charges Dropped Against War Resister Lt. Watada; Army Says Journalists Won’t Be Forced to Testify at Court-Martial

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The Army has agreed to drop two misconduct charges against Iraq War resister First Lieutenant Ehren Watada. The agreement knocks two years off from a maximum six-year prison sentence he had faced at a court-martial scheduled to begin next week in Fort Lewis. Lieutenant Watada is the first commissioned officer to refuse to serve in the Iraq War. As part of the agreement, the Army has dropped its subpoena of two journalists in exchange for Lieutenant Watada’s admission that he made statements critical of the Iraq War. [includes rush transcript]

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Army has agreed to drop two misconduct charges against Iraq War resister First Lieutenant Ehren Watada. The agreement knocks two years from a maximum six-year prison sentence that he’s facing at a court-martial scheduled to begin next week in Fort Lewis, Washington. Lieutenant Watada is the first commissioned officer to refuse to serve in the Iraq War. As part of the agreement, the Army has dropped its subpoena of two journalists in exchange for Lieutenant Watada’s admission that he made statements critical of the Iraq War.

In an effort to prove those statements in court, the Army had subpoenaed independent journalist Sarah Olson and Gregg Kakesako of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and was prepared to compel them to testify or face up to six months in prison under contempt charges.

Last week, I interviewed Lieutenant Watada and asked him about the issue of press freedom in his case.

LT. EHREN WATADA: Once you start using reporters to testify against their sources, what — not just war resisters — what whistleblowers, what minority opinions will be willing to go out there and testify to reporters in order to get the truth out, if they know that the government will use those reporters to testify against them? And I think that becomes very dangerous in our society, and it’s going to have a chilling effect that’s going to stifle free speech. It’s going to stifle people having the courage to bring the truth out. And it’s going to stifle the freedom of the press.

AMY GOODMAN: A petition against the Army’s subpoenas of the journalists in Watada’s case had drawn widespread support. Sarah Olson is one of the two journalists. She joins me on the line right now from Oakland, California. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sarah.

SARAH OLSON: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you got this news late last night, at least Eastern time. Can you talk about the significance of this subpoena being dropped against you?

SARAH OLSON: Sure. Well, you know, I think that this is really a victory for the rights of journalists in the United States to gather up and to disseminate news really free from government intervention. I think also, just as importantly, it’s a victory for the rights of people, individuals, to express personal political opinions to journalists without fear of retribution our censure. I’m really glad that the growing number of dissenting voices within the military retain their rights to speak with reporters, and I’m also a little bit concerned that Lieutenant Watada still faces prosecution for exercising his First Amendment rights during a public presentation. I also think that the preservation of these rights for journalists and for individuals clearly requires vigilance. Journalists are subpoenaed today in the U.S. with an alarming frequency. For example, 25-year-old journalist and videographer, Josh Wolf, has been languishing in federal prison since this summer. He’s currently been in prison for over 160 days after refusing to turn over his unpublished video outtakes to grand jury investigators investigating a 2005 anti-capitalist protest. So I think that we obviously need to continue to demand that the separation between the press and the government is strong and that the press be a platform for all perspectives, regardless of their popularity with the current administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Olson, now that you will not be compelled to testify, though there was a serious question whether you would have or you would have refused, will you cover the court-martial of Ehren Watada that’s expected to take place on February 5th, next week?

SARAH OLSON: Well, you know, I really look forward to kind of thinking about that as a possibility. When I was subpoenaed, I was obviously no longer able to cover, you know, Lieutenant Watada’s story. And I certainly look forward to being able to do so in the future. I think his case raises important questions. I think it deserves additional coverage, and I look forward to thinking about that and seeing whether or not that’s a possibility.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Olson, thanks for joining us, independent journalist and radio producer. The subpoena has been dropped for her to testify at the Lieutenant Ehren Watada court-martial next week.

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