Niemoller is most famous for his well-known and frequently quoted statement detailing the dangers of political apathy in the face of repression. Although it described the inactivity of Germans following the Hitler's rise to power and his violent purging of group after group of German citizens, his statement lives on as a universal description of the dangers of not standing up against tyranny.
The text of the Niemoller's statement is usually presented as follows:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
I was reminded of Niemoller recently when federal prosecutors issued a subpoena intended to force New York Times reporter James Risen, the author of a book on the Central Intelligence Agency, to testify at the criminal trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer. Sterling was charged as part of a wide-ranging Obama administration crackdown on officials accused of disclosing restricted information to journalists.
Now the Obama Justice Department is threatening to jail a journalist as well -- unless Risen tells them if Sterling or someone else leaked information about the CIA's efforts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program.
The subpoena, as Charlie Savage reported recently in the Times , tells Mr. Risen that 'you are commanded' to appear at federal district court in Alexandria, Va., on Sept. 12 to testify in the case. A federal district judge, Leonie M. Brinkema, quashed a similar subpoena to Mr. Risen last year, when prosecutors were trying to persuade a grand jury to indict Mr. Sterling."
Risen rightly says he will ask the judge to quash the new subpoena as well, stating forthrightly, "I will always protect my sources," and rightly that, "this is a fight about the First Amendment and the freedom of the press."
It's bad enough that ever since President Obama took office, he has repeatedly gone after whistleblowers like Sterling with a cold vengeance, charging more people in cases involving leaking information than "all previous presidents combined," as Savage noted.
But Obama administration officials are no longer content just with targeting whistleblowers like Sterling, former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, (who goes on trial soon on charges of providing classified information to The Baltimore Sun ) and of course Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused - and already pronounced guilty by the president -- of passing classified documents to Wikileaks.org. Now they are coming for the journalists as well - just as Bush Administration officials did before them. And if Risen's subpoena is not quashed and he still refuses to testify, he risks being held in contempt and imprisoned, just as Times reporter Judy Miller was for 85 days for her refusal to testify in connection with the Valerie Place Wilson leak in 2005.