21st December 16:13
U.S. Judge Deplores Bremmer's Gag Order
'Gag' order contradicts U.S. value Iraqis like
Judge Gilbert S. Merritt
By GILBERT S. MERRITT
For The Tennessean
Federal appellate judge Gilbert S. Merritt of Nashville is in Iraq as one of
13 experts selected by the U.S. Justice Department to help rebuild Iraq's
Merritt, 67, has made trips to Russia and India to work with their judicial
systems. He has been sending periodic reports to The Tennessean about his
experiences in Iraq and filed this dispatch recently:
This is my last story from Baghdad. The so-called Coalition Provisional
Authority, or CPA, acting through its head, L. Paul Bremer, issued a ''gag''
order two days ago that says:
''Speaking To The Media. To insure the effective co-ordination of the CPA's
message, any plan for a member of the CPA to talk to the media should first
be coordinated with the Directorate of Strategic Communication.''
The Directorate of Strategic Communication, according to the order, was a
''recent creation designed with the intention of delivering a coherent
strategic information for the CPA.''
The CPA is organized into many separate agencies covering governance,
justice, transportation and communication, health, oil, police, culture,
finance and several others. All persons working or helping these agencies
carry out their tasks are apparently covered by the order prohibiting
speaking to the press unless the speech is cleared first by the Directorate
of Strategic Communication.
I have been informed that this includes any article I may write, or verbal
utterance I may speak, to any members of the press, including my hometown
In my opinion, this is a clear violation of the First Amendment to our
Constitution, which says that our government may not impose any law,
regulation or directive ''abridging the freedom of speech.'' The First
Amendment covers any attempt by our government to control the speech of a
civilian citizen of the United States, with only a few exceptions.
There are many cases in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals - more
than 2,000 - that hold that the Free Speech Clause covers state and federal
officials and employees. Those cases secure to such employees the right to
speak on matters of public concern broadly defined and to converse with the
press and others without abridgment or control.
It is true that the government may restrict the release of classified
information by its employees, and it may regulate speech that could create -
in the words of an old Supreme Court case - a ''clear and present'' danger
for its citizens.
But this limitation on speech is far broader than that. It includes all
speech - ''any plan for any member of CPA to talk to the media.''
Although the order is clearly unconstitutional, in my view, I intend to
comply with its terms from now until I leave Iraq and am no longer subject
to it. I will be leaving in a few days to meet my wife, Robin, in Istanbul
for a few days' vacation before returning home to Nashville.
It is, to say the least, ironic that, as a federal judge, I was asked to
come here to try to help erect and establish constitutional values for the
Iraqis, including the rights of free speech and other civil liberties.
Americans are entitled to speak their minds, especially on matters involving
government, politics, law, foreign policy and other public concerns. We
value robust debate because our founding fathers believed that open debate
was good in itself and would lead to better public policy, more scientific
and technological progress and better artistic expression.
That is what the Iraqis admire about us and wish to have for themselves.
They are thankful that we have liberated them from the tyrant so that they
may now have prosperity through freedom of contract and free speech.
Yet, irony of ironies, our own citizens here must now clear our own speech
with CPA so that our American values and policies, according to the
directive, ''are launched in a coherent and coordinated manner'' pleasing to
the Directorate of Strategic Communication of the Coalition Provisional
Authority. Having ''launched'' our bombs and won the war quickly, I do not
think that this kind of control of free speech is the kind of free speech
policy most Americans want us to ''launch'' in Iraq.
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"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so
long as I'm the dictator." - GW Bush 12/18/2000.
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that
we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic
and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
---George W. Bush on the Brink of Declaring War on Iraq.