Military judge rules that reporter’s privilege applies to court martial

CBS does not have to turn over 60 minutes interview footage in the case of Marine accused in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005. The judge agreed with a CBS attorney who argued that the military had not shown the information could not be obtained elsewhere or that the information was critical to their case. –DB

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
March 13, 2009
By Ahnalese Rushmann

CBS does not have to hand over the unaired footage of a 60 Minutes interview with a Marine who is being investigated on several charges related to the 2005 deaths in Haditha, Iraq, a military judge at Camp Pendelton ruled Thursday.

Prosecutors, in their case against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, had argued that the interview tapes should be turned over because First Amendment protection did not extend to military courts. But after reviewing the non-aired portions of the interview, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Meeks said that a reporter’s privilege does in fact apply to court martial proceedings, thus protecting the 60 Minutes footage from a subpoena.

Wuterich is charged with voluntary manslaughter, among other offenses, after leading a marine squad in an assault that killed 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005. He spoke on the incident with 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley in 2007 and prosecutors, according to court documents, believed that the leftover footage contained information useful to their investigation into Wuterich.

CBS attorney Carl Benedetti, in a motion to quash the subpeona, said that the government failed a three-part test that’s required to compel disclosure of unpublished information. Prosecutors could not show that the interview outtakes were “necessary or critical to the maintenance of the claim” or were unobtainable from alternative sources, Benedetti argued. CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco said that “the essence of the judge’s ruling” was in favor of the network’s three-part test argument.

“Today’s significant victory confirms bedrock principles of a free press and demonstrates that CBS was right to fight this subpoena vigorously,” Tedesco said in a statement.

“The press has an interest in being able to prepare and preserve stories without being an investigative arm of the government,” Meeks said, according to the North County Times.

Copyright The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press 2009