Journalist and Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal has filed a lawsuit against President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Army prosecutor Maj. Justin Oshana in response to the government’s threat to subpoena Boal’s taped interviews with accused Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured and held prisoner by the Taliban for five years until his release in 2014.
Boal, who won the screenwriting Oscar – and shared the Best Picture Oscar — for The Hurt Locker, spent 25 hours interviewing Bergdahl for a series of podcasts that aired this year on the Peabody Award-winning podcast Serial, which is sponsored by WBEZ, the National Public Radio station in Chicago. Now the Pentagon wants Boal to turn over those tapes as part of Bergdahl’s court martial proceedings.
“I support the Army, but this particular military prosecutor’s tactics contradict and undermine the stated principles and policies of the Commander and Chief and the Attorney General to protect First Amendment rights,” said Boal, who was also Oscar nominated for Zero Dark Thirty. “It’s Orwellian, and bizarre.”
According to the lawsuit (read it here) filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, “The subpoena would invade Boal’s right to gather and publish newsworthy material under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the common law and state constitutional and statutory provisions.”
A draft of the subpoena, sent to Boal’s production company, Page 1, informed him that in the name of “the President of the United States…You are hereby required to produce the below listed documentary evidence for use in the court-martial case of the United States v. Sergeant Robert Bowdrie (Bowe) Bergdahl…These records must be produced no later than May 1st, 2016. Documentary evidence: The complete unedited audio recordings of conversations between Sergeant Bergdahl and Mark Boal referenced in the Serial podcast as over 25 hours of recorded conversations. If available, include the date and time for all recordings.”
In his lawsuit, Boal is seeking a declaration, injunction or writ from the court to prevent the issuance or enforcement of the subpoena.
“Mark Boal fully supports the military justice system and believes that Bergdahl has to face the music in a fair judicial process,” said his attorney Jean-Paul Jassy. “But Boal is a civilian and a journalist, and under the First Amendment, he should not be hauled into a military court to divulge his unpublished and confidential materials. We are asking the federal court in Los Angeles to protect Mark Boal’s constitutional rights.”
Boal’s move is supported by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, whose executive director, Bruce Brown, said: “We firmly stand with Mr. Boal in his effort to protect these tapes. Well-established law recognizes that journalists cannot do their jobs to keep the public informed if they cannot work free from government interference.”