A judge in the United States has sent a reporter from "The New York Times" to jail for refusing to reveal the name of a confidential government source. Judith Miller had refused to reveal who gave her the name of a CIA agent and so faces several months in jail. The case goes to the heart of the U.S. administration's justification for war -- and rights groups say it's a test of press freedom.
Prague, 7 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In January 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush gave a key "State of the Union" address.
In it, he sought to build support for a war in Iraq that by then seemed inevitable.
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Bush said.
The Niger uranium claim was one small part of the U.S. administration's justification for the Iraq war -- that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction.
Within two months, U.S.-led forces were in Iraq. But no such banned weapons were found.
In July, with questions mounting, a former U.S. ambassador cast doubt on the claim that Iraq got uranium from Niger. That man was Joseph Wilson, who had gone to Niger the previous year to investigate the alleged transaction.
"Either the administration has some information that it has not shared with the public or yes, they were using the selective use of facts and intelligence to bolster a decision in a case that has already been made," Wilson said.
Within days, Wilson came in for criticism himself.
A conservative columnist suggested Wilson had gone on the trip to Niger largely because of his wife, Valerie Plame -- who he revealed was a CIA agent.
That columnist, Robert Novak, was one of three journalists with similar information from confidential government sources.
The current case comes from the ongoing investigation into who in the U.S. administration leaked Plame's identity -- and whether that violated the law.
The "New York Times" correspondent Judith Miller -- who never actually wrote about the story -- refused to reveal her source.
"Time" magazine's Matthew Cooper finally did, after being granted permission to do so by his source.
Yesterday, Federal Judge Thomas Hogan sent Miller to jail.
Her attorney, Floyd Abrams, described her as a highly principled journalist.
"She (Miller) has chosen, at no benefit to herself and with no desire to be imprisoned, a choice, which is to take the burdens, the personal burdens, of being jailed rather than to betray a source to whom she promised confidentiality. She should be honored for that and, I think, in history, she will be," Abrams said.
Reporters' rights groups are dismayed by yesterday's ruling.
They say it will make journalists less interested in investigative reporting -- and deter possible sources from contacting journalists. And they're calling for a federal "shield law" that will allow journalists to protect their sources.
It's not just American reporters. David Dadge of the Vienna-based International Press Institute says the ruling could have ramifications beyond the U.S.
"There are a number of countries around the world that really just want excuses about the way they treat their journalists. The U.S. is one of the most advanced countries, it has probably the strongest expression of press freedom in the First Amendment of the Constitution," Dadge said. "What happens when you jail journalists in countries that support press freedom is that it's justifying that behavior in countries that don't care about press freedom at all, who don't like criticism and who would rather pursue their aims and ambitions without that criticism. I'm deeply worried that these countries can now use this case as an example and perhaps apply it to their own media."
There's been no reaction yet from the White House.
Last week spokesman Scott McClellan said only that President Bush wants to find out the truth:
"The president wants to get to the bottom of the investigation; no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than he does. It is a very serious matter and the president has said that if anybody has information, they ought to provide that information to the prosecutor so that they can continue forward on their investigation," McClellan said.
Miller is to stay in prison until she agrees to name her source -- or late October, when the term of the investigating jury is due to expire.
Another mystery is the role of the columnist Novak. It's unclear if he has testified or cooperated with the authorities.