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Some Clarification Needed on the Word "Criminal"

By       Message Jayne Lyn Stahl     Permalink
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You may have heard what President Bush said, at a news conference, last night, "Every time you murder somebody, you're a criminal." We couldn't agree more. But, for purposes of clarification, it might help to know if the implied criminality depends on the context, and does it also apply to his foreign policy? If Mr. Bush's axiom is meant with respect to his "stay the course" stance in Iraq, as regards the ongoing pummeling, there are only so many times one can beat a dead horse, and the commander-in-chief might be best served by doing as another former president, Jimmy Carter, has suggested -- declare victory, pull up your troops, and walk out.

But there is something even more troubling than this government's international agenda, which has attracted much attention from former secretarys of state, pundits, past presidents, even papas, a highly challenging question that few are addressing-- where in the hell does the Department of Justice come off telling the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, to allow a prosecutor, on federal payroll, to proceed with his examination into the telephone records of two professional staff journalists at one of the most highly esteemed newspapers in the country, The New York Times. Is this the kind of administrative tampering our forefathers had in mind? Hello, doesn't anybody, in Washington, remember a little thing formerly known as checks and balances? While the Justice Department insists that this data is needed to look into who outed a government investigation into two possible Islamic charities, this government has some serious boundary issues when it sticks its nose into the business of the court, the same court, mind you, that appointed Mr. Bush president.

According to an editorial in Sunday's New York Times, this current case derives "from a Chicago grand jury investigation into who told the two reporters, Judith Miller and Philip Shenon, about actions the government planned to take against two Islamic charities in late 2001." Moreover, the newspaper asserts that telephone records were subpoenaed in lieu of demands that reporters testify so that confidential sources could be more easily compromised. As the editorial rightly suggests, there was no malicious, or mischievious intent on the part of these journalists; they were merely doing what investigative reporters do around the world, for which one renowned Russian reporter, Anna Politkovskaya was brutally murdered in early October. We don\'t shoot reporters here, we muzzle them.

While Judith Miller makes another guest appearance in this leak case, it is separate and distinct from Plame-gate. Likewise, it is different from another demand for documents, from Nicholas Kristoff, and attempt to jeopardize the confidentiality of the sources for his story. So, this is the third time the Justice Department has tried to bring a prominent, and what some consider a liberal, newspaper to its knees and, in effect, sodomize the First Amendment so as to keep their own clandestine global machinations from scrutiny by those taxpayers who pay their salaries. Yes, yes, The Washington Post was under duress, briefly, and threatened with Justice Department investigation into Dana Priest's disclosure of secret CIA-operated terror cells, but that was nothing like the ongoing jihad against the New York newspaper.

One can hardly expect to have true investigative reporting, the kind that brought Watergate to light, and forced Nixon to resign, if those who are willing to cooperate and give information face criminal charges, censure, or job loss by doing so. Make no mistake, apart from a much-needed federal shield law to keep journalists from having to disclose their sources to a grand jury, we need to recognize, and appreciate that the actions of the Justice Department, in this matter, pose a grave threat to a free press in this country, as well as on the autonomy of the Supreme Court.

According to an editorial in Sunday's New York Times, this current case derives "from a Chicago grand jury investigation into who told the two reporters, Judith Miller and Philip Shenon, about actions the government planned to take against two Islamic charities in late 2001." Moreover, the newspaper asserts that telephone records were subpoenaed in lieu of demands that reporters testify so that confidential sources could be more easily compromised. As the editorial rightly suggests, there was no malicious, or mischievious intent on the part of these journalists; they were merely doing what investigative reporters do around the world, for which one renowned Russian reporter, Anna Politkovskaya was brutally murdered in early October. We don't shoot reporters here, we muzzle them.

While Judith Miller makes another guest appearance in this leak case, it is separate and distinct from Plame-gate. Likewise, it is different from another demand for documents, from Nicholas Kristoff, and attempt to jeopardize the confidentiality of the sources for his story. So, this is the third time the Justice Department has tried to bring a prominent, and what some consider a liberal, newspaper to its knees and, in effect, sodomize the First Amendment so as to keep their own clandestine global machinations from scrutiny by those taxpayers who pay their salaries. Yes, yes, The Washington Post was under duress, briefly, and threatened with Justice Department investigation into Dana Priest's disclosure of secret CIA-operated terror cells, but that was nothing like the ongoing jihad against the New York newspaper.

One can hardly expect to have true investigative reporting, the kind that brought Watergate to light, and forced Nixon to resign, if those who are willing to cooperate and give information face criminal charges, censure, or job loss by doing so. Make no mistake, apart from a much-needed federal shield law to keep journalists from having to disclose their sources to a grand jury, we need to recognize, and appreciate that the actions of the Justice Department, in this matter, pose a grave threat to a free press in this country, as well as to the autonomy of the Supreme Court.

Lest we forget, an assault on the press is an attack on the First Amendment which reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." In its efforts to strongarm the Supreme Court, and restrain them from exercising their independent judgment on a matter of concern for us all, the neighborhood bully that has run amok globally under the pretext of trying to export "democracy," has been busily at work, in this country, robbing us of those protections which assure that people, a generation hence, can write, and read the sorts of things we find here on The Huffington Post, as well as in The New York Times.

Yes, the president is right, by way of clarification: every time you murder somebody, or deprive them of their inalienable rights, you're a criminal, and if one may be held in contempt of court, why not in contempt of the constitution? Or, for that matter, in contempt of Congress? Moreover, it is only by protecting those who bring us the news, as well as our system of checks and balances, that we can defend ourselves against a runaway government, and abuse of power.
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http://ladyjaynestahl.blogspot.com
Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.

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