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Judge to hear arguments in Lindh's subpoena of CNN free-lancer

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         VIRGINIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Jul 11, 2002    

Judge to hear arguments in Lindh’s subpoena of CNN free-lancer

  • John Walker Lindh, the accused American Taliban fighter, claims reporter Robert Pelton was acting as a government agent during a videotaped interview, so the tape should be suppressed as evidence in Lindh’s criminal trial.

A federal judge will hear arguments July 12 on whether accused American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh can subpoena a freelance reporter for Cable News Network.

Robert Pelton interviewed an injured Lindh on videotape in December 2001 in an Afghanistan hospital before Lindh was taken into U.S. custody and charged with crimes including conspiring to murder U.S. citizens and contributing services to terrorist group al Qaida.

On June 27, Lindh subpoenaed Pelton to testify in a hearing to suppress the videotape as evidence. Lindh’s attorney argued that Pelton was acting as an agent of the U.S. government during the interview and should have notified Lindh of his Miranda rights before conducting the interview.

Pelton’s attorneys have filed a motion to quash the subpoena. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis will hear arguments at 4 p.m. July 12 at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has joined CNN and other national media organizations in a friend-of-the-court brief filed on July 10. The media groups urged Ellis to preserve Pelton’s First Amendment right not to testify.

Lindh’s argument that journalists are government agents puts all reporters in war zones in danger, the media groups argued in their brief.

“Service as a war correspondent has become a profession more dangerous than ever,” the media groups argued. “That risk can be significantly enhanced when American journalists working overseas are falsely painted as secret government agents.”

The judge would be setting a “very ugly precedent” if he forces Pelton to comply with the subpoena, Pelton said.

“This malicious, frivolous stuff (Lindh’s attorney) is inventing is creating major problems for me in terms of my safety and livelihood,” said Pelton, an adventure writer whose book The World’s Most Dangerous Places describes how to reduce personal risk when traveling in remote places.

(U.S. v. Lindh; Media counsel: Stuart F. Pierson, Troutman Sanders LLP, Washington, D.C.) MD

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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