A Victory for Press Freedom in the Ehren Watada Court Martial

On January 29 — just six days after the public launch of the Defend the Press campaign — the U.S. military agreed to drop two charges that carried a maximum of two years in prison against Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada. As part of the agreement, two reporters — Sarah Olson and Gregg Kakesako — who had been issued subpoenas to appear before the court-martial will not have to testify.

"This is obviously a great victory for the principles of a free press that are so essential to this nation," said Sarah Olson. "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."

Olson cautioned, "I note with concern, that Lt. Watada still faces prosecution for exercising his First Amendment rights during public presentations. 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Wolf has languished in federal prison for over 160 days after refusing to give federal grand jury investigators his unpublished video out takes.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."


Upon his commissioning, Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada agreed to conform to the requirements of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The U.S. Supreme Court has many times upheld the restrictions that the UCMJ imposes upon the rights of military personnel. So it is ridiculous to now assert that Lt. Watada's right to free speech is unconstitutionally curtailed, because the Supreme Court has already decided this question in favor of the military and civilian leadership.