Muzzling of Marine Unconstitutional
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SAN DIEGO – The prosecution of a Marine involved in the Pendleton domestic spying case for allegedly violating an order against speaking with the press is unlawful and violates the First Amendment, the ACLU said in a sharply worded brief filed in military court today.
“In this case, the military seems more intent on avoiding further scrutiny and embarrassment than on furthering legitimate military objectives or respecting a Marine’s constitutional rights,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.
Gary Maziarz pleaded guilty in July 2007 to charges of mishandling classified documents and transferring them to civilian law enforcement agents from a operations center based out of Camp Pendleton. The documents allegedly concerned secret monitoring of Muslim groups in Southern California. Later, the government imposed a gag order on Maziarz, even with respect to unclassified information. The government is now charging Maziarz with violating a the gag order to “not discuss the subject matter of the loss or compromise of classified material and national defense information…with any representative(s) of the news media.”
“Servicemembers—just like civilians—have a right to criticize the government and to express their opinions on matters of public interest. The First Amendment expressly protects speech that critiques the policies and conduct of the government and its officials,” said David Blair-Loy, San Diego ACLU’s legal director. “This is not a case where the military can legitimately restrict speech to protect its mission or preserve discipline,” according to Blair-Loy.
The order was not limited to prohibiting the disclosure of classified material, which is independently unlawful and with which Maziarz has not been charged, and was not justified by any need to protect ongoing investigations or ensure fair trials. The order had no legitimate military justification and violated Maziarz’s free speech rights.
The brief argues that the public has a particularly strong interest in restricting “gag orders” that prohibit speaking to the press. “The First Amendment expressly protects freedom of the press specifically because a free press is a powerful antidote to abuse of power,” said Blair-Loy. “The Supreme Court has long upheld the view that free speech on matters of public interest is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government.”