By Matthew Rothschild on January 17, 2007
Journalist on Hot Seat in Court-Martial Case
By Matthew Rothschild

January 17, 2007

Sarah Olson was on a big story, and now she has become a part of it.

The freelance journalist was one of the first reporters to cover the story of Lt. Ehren Watada, who is facing a court martial for publicly refusing to deploy to Iraq. Watada has denounced the war as “illegal and unjust.”

“Being forced to choose between my personal liberty and my integrity is not a choice I should be forced to make,” says Sarah Olson in the case of Lt. Ehren Watada, who refuses to deploy to Iraq.

Now the army has subpoenaed Olson and another reporter to testify at Watada’s trial.

Olson finds herself in a bind.

“Being forced to choose between my personal liberty and my integrity is not a choice I should be forced to make,” she says. “If I don’t cooperate, I will be facing a felony contempt of court charge with a penalty of up to six months in prison and/or up to a fine of $500.”

The other reporter is Gregg Kakesako of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. When I called him to discuss the case, he said, “I don’t have any comment.”

Groups that protect journalists and writers have expressed their dismay at the Pentagon’s tactic.

“If Olson and Kakesako respond to these subpoenas by testifying, they will essentially be participating in the prosecution of their source,” wrote Hannah Pakula and Larry Siems of the PEN American Center in a January 5 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “Such a role compromises their objectivity and can have chilling effects on the press.”

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, agrees.

“It’s particularly frustrating and infuriating that they’re putting journalists in this situation when it’s clearly unnecessary,” Dalglish says, noting that Watada has not denied making the statements that Olson and Kakesako reported.

Olson even broadcast a radio interview with Watada, which is still available on the Internet, she adds, so the military prosecutors “can go to the National Radio Project’s website and verify his words themselves.”

On January 8, the Los Angeles Times denounced the military for going after Olson.

“No prosecutor should be able to conscript any reporter into being a deputy by compelling testimony made by a source—or go fishing for information beyond what a reporter presents in a story—unless it’s absolutely vital to protect U.S. citizens from crime or attack.” Such is not the case here, it argued.

Olson says she is not in a position to discuss what she is ultimately going to do or “what kind of legal strategy I will employ,” she says. But she appears to give a hint when she adds: “My duty as a journalist is to the public and to their right to know, and not to the government.”

She believes this case could set an awful precedent.

“It has the potential to be devastating to the independence of the press and to the press’s ability to report on dissenting voices particularly,” she says. “When individual reporters know they’ll be hauled in front of a military court and have their credibility eviscerated, they’re going to be far less likely to go to the trouble of reporting on subjects that are unpopular with the current Administration or in other ways controversial.”

The Army defends the subpoenas.

“The army’s request of the reporters is simply to verify or authenticate their stories, and to say their stories are an accurate representation of what Lt. Watada said either during an interview or during a public appearance,” says Joe Piek, spokesman for Fort Lewis, Washington, where Watada will be court-martialed. “The Army is not asking for reporters’ notes or tapes or confidential sources or anything like that.” The subpoenas are “in the interest of assuring that Lt. Watada’s court martial is fair, and impartial, and all the evidence is available.”

Watada’s court martial is scheduled for February 5-9.

Olson says she is holding up OK under the pressure.

“I’m doing just fine,” she says. “I’m actually very encouraged by the level of support that I’ve received.”

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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