US government determined to prosecute over leaks

by Jeffrey Blyth in New York

The
American Government is determined to pursue – and possibly prosecute –
newspapers that publish what it considers to be classified information.
It also wants to punish journalists who obtain and use the information.
The principal target at the moment is the New York Times, which in
December disclosed the American Government’s national telephone
surveillance programme, a report that won a Pulitzer Prize.

The
US Government’s belief that it has every legal right to pursue and
prosecute journalists and newspapers was reiterated by the American
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the country’s chief law enforcer.

There
are, he said, in a television interview, some statutes on the books
which if read carefully cover the possibility. He even added: “We have
an obligation to enforce these laws.
We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected.”

Although
he did not specifically name the statutes that might allow newspapers
and journalists to be prosecuted, Gonzales is believed to be
referring to anti-espionage laws that in some circumstance forbid the
possession and publication of information relating to national defence,
government codes and intelligence activities.

The
response of journalists’ organizations and many lawyers has been to
condemn the Attorney General’s comments. “I can’t imagine a bigger
chill on free speech and the public’s right to know what its Government
is up to – both hallmarks of a democracy – than prosecuting reporters,”
stated Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Some
legal experts here also point out that even if the language of the laws
could be read to include journalists, the laws were never intended to
apply to the Press. In his interview the Attorney General sidestepped a
question about whether the White House has been reviewing reporters’
telephone records in an attempt to identify their confidential sources.
He insisted that nothing like this is done without an appropriate court
order.

 

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