May of 2006, I conducted an interview with Ehren Watada while working as a
freelance journalist. Watada is a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army and is the
first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to deploy to Iraq.
In the interview, Lieutenant Watada asserted
that he had a duty as an officer to evaluate the legality of his orders
and conduct himself accordingly. He said that he could not participate in
the Iraq War because it was "manifestly illegal" and that his
participation would make him a party to war crimes.
In June, Lieutenant Watada made national headlines when he refused to
deploy to Iraq.
Lieutenant Watada continues to report for duty at Fort Lewis in the state
of Washington while awaiting a February 2007 court-martial on one charge
of "missing movement" and four charges of "conduct unbecoming an officer
and a gentleman." Each of the latter four charges is based entirely on
political speech. If convicted on all charges, Lieutenant Watada could
spend up to six years in prison.
The US Army has cobbled together portions of my interview with Lieutenant
Watada and these statements comprise the foundation of one charge of
conduct unbecoming an officer. To substantiate this alleged crime, the
Army has subpoenaed me to testify on behalf of their prosecution.
The dynamics of the situation are clear. When the military chooses to
prosecute a soldier for expressing dissenting political positions to a
member of the press, that journalist is unwittingly and inevitably forced
into the middle of the conflict.
Among multiple issues this raises, it begs one central question: Doesn't
it fly in the face of the First Amendment to compel a journalist to
participate in a government prosecution against a source, particularly in
matters related to personal political speech?
It is my job as a professional journalist to report the news, not to act
as the eyes and ears of the government. I am repelled by this approach
that jeopardizes my credibility and seeks to compel my participation in
muting public speech and dissenting personal opinion.
Further, it is stunningly 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?
When journalists are subpoenaed to confirm the veracity of their
reporting, they typically agree to this limited request. What makes this
case different is that the thing in question is the political nature of
Lieutenant Watada's speech. Participating in the US Army's court-martial
forces me to build the case against my source and contribute to an act of
suppression against the media's ability to report the news.
As a journalist, I cannot support or criticize the thoughts of an
interview subject. My job is to record those thoughts accurately and
provide a public forum for debate. If the Army succeeds in turning me into
an arm of their investigation, it will chill not only press freedom but
also free speech. This is a slippery slope that bears watching and
It seems clear that the US Army is attempting to redefine the parameters
of acceptable speech and to classify dissent as a punishable offense.
Subpoenaing journalists in this case unequivocally sends the message that
dissent is neither tolerated nor permitted. Utilize your constitutionally
guaranteed speech rights and go to prison. What rational soldier would
agree to speak with me or any other member of the media if jail was a
When the press cannot or does not reflect the vibrant and varied
perspectives within our society, it is reduced to a simple transcriber of
government press releases. The record of existing dissent is erased, and a
dumbed-down, homogenized version of "The American Experience" is all
that's left in its place.
I stand firmly by a conviction I share with many: a member of the press
should never be placed in the position of aiding a government prosecution
of political speech. This goes against the grain of even the most basic
understanding of the First Amendment's free press guarantees and the
expectation of a democracy that relies on a free flow of information and
perspectives without fear of censor or retribution.
You may ask: Do I want to be sent to prison by the US Army for not
cooperating with their prosecution of Lieutenant Watada? My answer:
Absolutely not. You may also ask: Would I rather contribute to the
prosecution of a news source for sharing newsworthy perspectives on an
affair of national concern? That is the question I wholly object to having
before me in the first place.
is an independent journalist and radio producer based in Oakland, CA. She
can be reached at: