This editor has covered the news in nasty dictatorships and corruption-ridden countries from Rwanda and Uganda to India and Thailand. I have also reported on journalists like our colleague John Caylor, who was arrested in Panama City, Florida, while trying to obtain public documents, pursuant to Florida’s open government law, on that state’s abuse and even murder of prison inmates.
In the eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration, I covered anti-war protests in Washington and never once did I face an arrest situation, although there were some close calls. My arrest-free journalism record was shattered last night in Alexandria, Virginia, while meeting a confidential source.
I hoped to report today on a significant link between “Sir” Allen Stanford’s collapsed Stanford Financial Group and a top Democratic Party lobbyist who is close to the Obama administration. I also hoped to report on the covert activities of Stanford’s operations in Venezuela and Panama.
That story will have to wait, unfortunately.
Last night, while meeting the source in O’Connell’s Irish pub in Alexandria, Alexandria police, who apparently had plainclothes police inside the St. Patrick’s Day-jam packed establishment, arrested my source for no apparent reason while I and the source’s wife looked on in shock. When I asked one of the men who forced the source to the ground outside why they were placing him under arrest, he shouted to me to “back off.” I asked the man if he was a police officer. His response was, “No, I’m a fireman.”
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I then told the “fireman” that I was a member of the press, produced my credentials, and wanted to know what the charges were against my source. He then motioned to someone behind me who shoved me up against a police SUV and placed me in handcuffs.
I was taken to Alexandria city jail and booked for “drunk in public.” Of course, there was no blood test or field sobriety test administered by anyone, police or “firemen,” to prove the spurious charge.
Then again, I did not have it as bad as some people who have been victims of America’s “justice” system. I was not hooded, chained, placed on a plane for God-knows-where and subjected to torture by brutish Third World interrogators. Nor was I placed in solitary confinement without seeing the light of day. However, I was not permitted to speak to an attorney nor was I read my Miranda rights in this Kafkaesque post-Miranda era.
I am also quite concerned about the fate of my source whom I only saw once in the “lockup.” The cops were extremely physically rough with him for some unknown reason.
There was also something very unsettling about the police retaining custody of my reporter’s notebook for some three hours while I was under arrest.
In a way, I should not be surprised that this arrest took place in Alexandria. The town has always crawled with intelligence types and other covert players, from neo-Confederates involved with the global small arms business to the CIA-linked International Association of Chiefs of Police and the infamous U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Virginia national security “rocket docket” team of Chief Judge James Cacheris and his attorney brother, Plato. Alexandria is only outdone by trendy McLean for the greatest number of spooks per square mile.
However, Alexandria was not always a center for right-wing ne’er-do-wells. Alexandria was once the home of George Washington, the leader of the American Revolution. Its inns and meeting halls once attracted such revolutionary Virginia notables as Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Mason.
In 1735, New York publisher John Peter Zenger was charged with seditious libel and in a case many thought he would lose, he was acquitted of all charges. The Zenger case later spurred the founders of this nation to enshrine the freedom of the press in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
My trial is scheduled for March 25 at 9:30 am in the Circuit Court in Alexandria at 520 King Street in Room 201. I intend to plead not guilty to the charge against me and cite the First Amendment of the Constitution in my defense. I invite all those in the Washington area who value a free press to attend what I will simply call “mini-Zenger II.”
I, for one, will not see a free press in this nation go down without a fight. And I must also say that even in Uganda, a dictatorship, President Yoweri Museveni’s security agents never tried to stage an incident while I met opposition leaders at the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. Although the agents were intently interested in whom I was meeting, they had much more class than the brutish Alexandria police and the “fireman.”
UPDATE 1X: WMR can report that our source was released from Alexandria jail and is doing fine today.