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United States13 August 2008

Government’s attempt to block amicus curie brief for CBS case denied by court

The government’s attempts to flout news-gathering privilege hit another road-block on 11 August when a court denied their request to block an amicus curie brief signed by Reporters Without Borders and numerous news organizations in support of CBS in their effort to quash a government subpoena.

The case concerns an interview with Scott Pelley aired on March 18, 2007 on 60 Minutes with US Staff Sergeant Wuterich. He is charged by the military with dereliction of duty and voluntary manslaughter in the death of 14 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, Iraq.

In February, the government subpoenaed CBS for the videotape of the interview, saying they were trying to assess whether Wuterich had said anything in un-aired parts of the interview that were pertinent to their case. CBS refused to turn over the tape and said that the government’s request was "unreasonable and oppressive." That same month a military judge sided with CBS and quashed the subpoena, but the government appealed the decision.

The Navy-Marines Corps Court of Criminal Appeals directed the judge to conduct "additional fact-finding," including a private review of the videotape to determine if any part of it was "relevant and necessary" to the sergeant’s prosecution. CBS is appealing the decision to the next highest appeals court.

Reporters Without Borders joined the amicus curie brief filed on 21 July with a group of other media organizations. The brief argued that a judge’s in camera review of news-gathering materials as directed by the appeals court raised First Amendment issues and should only happen under necessary conditions, which had not been reached.

The government then filed an opposition to the filing of the amicus brief. However, this stretched attempt to keep the brief out of the court failed, with the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces granting the motion of the organizations to file in support of CBS. The appeals case will now proceed with the higher court of appeals determining whether or not a judge needs to review the tape.

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