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Government Ends Threat to Jail James Risen but Danger to Journalists and Whistleblowers Remains

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I expect the Sterling trial will have a lot of twists and turns. Along the way, the prosecution will be eager to limit the testimony to obscure as much as possible the fact that top U.S. government officials -- certainly including at the CIA -- frequently leak classified information to the press. It remains to be seen whether the prosecution can prove the claims in the indictment: that Sterling was a source for classified information in Risen's book chapter that's at issue.

About Risen: as we speak (ten days before the scheduled start of the trial), it's too soon to know to what extent the prosecution will be able to push for specific testimony from him about the chapter.

What kind of specific testimony can the prosecution demand from Risen? I read that they want to force Risen onto some sort of slippery slope. If that's accurate, what are they hoping to accomplish and what does this have to do with all of us journalists and freedom of the press? Isn't this just an isolated case with a very specific set of circumstances?

What kind of testimony the prosecution can ultimately demand of Risen is yet to be resolved in the pre-trial hearing process. Overall, the Justice Department is eager to harm and destroy the bonds of confidentiality and trust that are essential for journalists and whistleblowers to work together as reporters and sources. Freedom of the press depends on media outlets being able to provide the public with information about powerful people and institutions that those powerful people and institutions don't want publicized. If whistleblowing is shut down, freedom of the press suffers severe ongoing damage. Politically and legally, the situation with Risen in the Sterling trial is apt to be a hugely important test case that will cast a long shadow for the future.

That sounds serious, indeed. What can concerned citizens do to keep whistleblowing and a free press alive, Norman, in this instance and beyond?

We need information, analysis and organizing. Support for independent media -- willing to provide key facts and cogent analysis without bending to dominant power -- is crucial. So is activism. We've got to put up a fight for civil liberties. Right now they're continuing to fade.

Along the way, I'd encourage people to visit the webpage for the petition urging that all charges against Jeffrey Sterling be dropped -- Blowing the Whistle on Government Recklessness is a Public Service, Not a Crime.

Thanks so much, Norman. Concerned citizens certainly have a lot to do to hang onto what remains of our civil liberties. I was glad to learn more about your work at the Institute for Public Accuracy*. It was a pleasure speaking with you.


Norman Solomon is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is a co-founder of and coordinator of ExposeFacts, two of the organizations sponsoring the petition that urges the Justice Department to drop charges against former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling.

Norman's website

The Institute for Public Accuracy website

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting [FAIR] website website

*My OpEdNews interviews that have come directly from Institute for Public Accuracy press release leads:

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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