US federal prosecutors in Obama's Justice Department remain committed in their attempts to force James Risen, the national security reporter for the New York Times, to betray his confidential source and testify in the trial of former CIA analyst James Sterling who remains a key character in the president's unprecedented legal assault on government whistelblowers.
As the Guardian's Ed Pilkington reports Tuesday:
The Department of Justice has filed a legal argument with the US appeals court for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, in which it strongly opposes any further consideration of Risen's petition. Risen's lawyers have asked the court to convene a full session of the 15-member court to decide whether the journalist should be granted First Amendment protection that would spare him from having to reveal the identity of his source to whom he promised confidentiality.
A three-member panel of the same court last month issued a 2-1 majority ruling in which they found that reporters had no privilege that would safeguard the confidentiality of their sources in a criminal trial. The judgement leaves Risen, a prominent investigative reporter specialising in national security issues, facing the prospect of having to break his promise to his source or go to jail.
The legal crunch emerged from Risen's 2006 book, State of War, in which the author reveals details of the CIA's attempts to foil Iran's nuclear programme. James Sterling, a former CIA employee, is being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for the criminal disclosure of the information – one of seven officials to face the severe charges under the Obama administration including Chelsea Manning who has been sentenced to 35 years in military jail as the WikiLeaks source.
Part of what critics call Obama's damaging assault on both journalism and whistleblowers, the case exemplifies the extremes to which the DOJ and the administration have gone in order to convict those accused of exposing government secrets, even in the name of serving the public interest.
As fledgling journalist Lindsey Bever recently opined:
We take too much in our democracy for granted – for journalists cannot successfully hold government accountable in a society that does not recognise a reporter's right to exercise discretion with his sources and the information they provide. This administration has an atrocious record for prosecuting whistleblowers. Can it really get away with jailing the reporters who talk to them, too?