Oscar Winner Shields Bergdahl Interviews From U.S. Lawyers

Dec 14, 2016

The federal government dropped its efforts to seize hours of unaired interviews an Oscar-winning screenwriter recorded with Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Mark Boal had sued the government to block a military prosecutor who threatened to subpoena 25 hours of interviews for possible use at Bergdahl's court-martial for abandoning his post in Afghanistan in 2009.

Boal, who won two Academy Awards as producer and screenwriter for the Iraq war drama "The Hurt Locker," asserted his First Amendment right as a journalist to maintain confidentiality of sources and other information. Boal reported on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I'm happy that the Army ultimately agreed to uphold the traditions of a free civilian press," Boal said in a statement.

The recordings formed the basis for the second season of the popular podcast "Serial" that focused on Bergdahl's decision to desert and his five years in captivity with the Taliban and its allies.

But the majority of unedited recordings never aired, and Boal said they included confidential discussions and material never meant to be public.

In return for the government dropping its efforts to get the records, Boal will verify material that aired on the podcast if called to testify at Bergdahl's court-martial in North Carolina, attorney Jean-Paul Jassy said. Boal will also drop his demand for attorney fees.

A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed the case was resolved, but said they had no further comment.

A court filing Tuesday showed the case was dismissed, though Jassy said it actually was settled Dec. 6.

Boal's lawsuit was supported by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, other journalism groups, nonprofits and major media companies, including The Associated Press.

"We supported this lawsuit because it sent a very strong message about aggressively defending rights under the First Amendment," said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "That message was heard and received. The resulting settlement protects newsgathering and confidential communications with sources. This is a great outcome."

At a hearing in Los Angeles federal court in September, Jassy asked a judge to issue an order blocking release of the recordings. He said it was unprecedented for a military prosecutor to subpoena a civilian reporter.

Government lawyers, however, claimed the lawsuit to pre-emptively block a subpoena was premature. They also said Boal should first have to challenge a subpoena in military courts and return to federal court only if those efforts failed.

At the judge's suggestion, the two sides entered into settlement discussions before a magistrate judge.

Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, faces a military trial in April on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Conviction on the latter charge carries a possible term of life in prison.

Bergdahl is seeking a pardon from President Barack Obama.