There is no indication that the Justice Department will not pursue testimony for its leak prosecution against former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, and, as a result, fourteen Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists have come forward to declare their support for Risen in his fight against revealing information from his confidential sources.
The government has pursued testimony from Risen for well over six years. Prosecutors maintain Sterling provided Risen information on a classified program “intended to impede Iran’s efforts to acquire or develop nuclear weapons,” which he later published highlighted in his book, State of War.
Throughout this ordeal, Risen has never been held in contempt. However, with the Supreme Court’s decision in June to not hear his case over whether he had a reporter’s privilege to protect his confidential sources, he has exhausted his appeals.
President Barack Obama’s administration now has a clear path to subpoena and coerce him into testifying. The administration could threaten him with jail or even fine him in increments that increase each day until he is bankrupt.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation posted statements from journalists committed to showing solidarity with Risen.
“Enough is enough,” New York Times investigative reporter David Barstow declared. “The relentless and by all appearances vindictive effort by two administrations to force Jim Risen into betraying his sources has already done substantial and lasting damage to journalism in the United States.”
The Washington Post’s Dana Priest, the co-author of Top Secret America, stated if the US government is so concerned about information Risen revealed about a “now 14-year-old CIA operation against Iran” that went wrong” it would have “moved quickly to resolve this matter eight years ago when it was first published.”
“Instead, it seems obvious now that what officials really want is to hold a hammer over the head of a deeply sourced reporter, and others like him who try to hold the government accountable for what it does, even in secret,” Priest added.
She noted that over-classification of information by Obama and President George W. Bush had made the reporting of journalists like Risen increasingly critical to the public’s ability to “question whether a gigantic government in the shadows is really even a good idea.”
Both Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall, international reporters for Reuters, suggested it was “scandalous” Risen may face “jail time for doing what every good journalist working in the public interest does: protect confidential sources.”
“President Obama and Attorney General Holder should halt all legal action against James to demonstrate that their ‘war on leaks’ is not an assault on the First Amendment and freedom of the press,” Szep and Marshall added.
“Preservation of a free, unfettered press has a long history in our country, allowing ordinary citizens to learn what their government is up to and to question actions carried out in their name. The Pentagon Papers, Watergate Scandal, My Lai Massacre, warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and many other outrages would never have come to light in a country where reporters must fear imprisonment for doing their jobs. A big part of doing our jobs is giving our word to protect whistleblowers,” Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel acknowledged.
“By threatening to send a journalist to prison for refusing to name his sources, the Obama Administration makes the whistleblowers more fearful to come forward, and it makes the journalists more hesitant to expose the failures of the government,” Eric Newhouse of Great Falls (MT) Tribune argued. He called what the administration was doing a “grave disservice.”
Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times quoted George Orwell, who said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
“America needs journalists to write the first draft of history without fear or favor, as my colleague James Risen has. It is deeply disturbing that the Obama Administration is pursuing Mr. Risen for doing his job.”
Over 125,000 have signed a petition initiated by the Center for Media and Democracy, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), The Nation, The Progressive and Roots Action, as well as the Freedom of the Press Foundation. It has been supported by multiple press freedom organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP).
The petition and its hundreds of thousands of signatures will be presented to the Justice Department at the National Press Club on August 14 during a press conference in which Phil Donahue and others representing multiple supporting organizations will speak.
For more background on his case, go here.