President Obama may have condemned the arrest of journalists by the police in Ferguson, Missouri, but James Risen, a reporter facing prison for refusing to name a CIA source, says that in reality he is the “greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.” Risen has been harassed by the federal government for nearly a decade now because he has broken so many stories that have made it look bad.
Risen faces jail over his reporting of a botched intelligence operation that ended up spilling nuclear secrets to Iran. The Justice Department has long been seeking to force him to testify and name the confidential source of the account, which is contained in his 2006 book State of War.
Risen recently failed in an attempt to have the supreme court review an order for him to testify, and acknowledges that he has exhausted all his legal options against the Justice Department’s pursuit of him under the controversial Espionage Act. In the face of incarceration that could come as early as this autumn, he is resorting instead to journalistic defiance…
The pursuit of Risen began under the administration of President George W Bush. The Justice Department tried to prosecute him under the Espionage Act for his 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning scoop about the illegal wiretapping of American citizens after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. It also targeted him for the revelations in State of War.
The Bush administration arrested Jeffrey Sterling, whom Dowd on Sunday referred to as a “disillusioned” former CIA operative, and accused him of being the source of Risen’s leak about Iran. The Obama administration continues to attempt to force Risen to testify against Sterling and name him as his main source…
Dowd asked Risen how the Obama administration could use the Espionage Act to imprison reporters and whistleblowers while not acting on the acknowledged use of torture by the CIA on terrorism suspects and the same agency spying on the US Senate.
“It’s hypocritical,” Risen said. “A lot of people still think this is some kind of game or signal or spin. They don’t want to believe that Obama wants to crack down on the press and whistleblowers. But he does. He’s the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”
It’s hard to disagree, and the comparison to Obama’s failure to bring anyone to justice for torture is an apt one. When it comes to those who violated not only American statutory law but also the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, Obama says we must look forward, not back. But when it comes to reporters doing their jobs and reporting on government misconduct, including torture and rampant violations of the constitution, we must look back and we must bring them to “justice,” absurdly defined. When it comes to civil liberties, Obama has been a disaster in almost every way.