An Oscar-winning filmmaker has asked a judge to prevent the military from forcing him to turn over interviews with Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, adding Hollywood intrigue to the soldier's prosecution on desertion accusations.
Attorneys for screenwriter Mark Boal filed a complaint Wednesday in a California federal court seeking to block a subpoena from North Carolina-based military prosecutors. The complaint says the prosecutors intend to issue their demand on Friday for 25 hours of audio recordings of Boal and Bergdahl.
Boal won two Academy Awards in 2009 as producer and screenwriter for the Iraq war drama "The Hurt Locker." He interviewed Bergdahl starting in 2014 as research for a possible film project, and excerpts of their discussions formed the basis for the second season of the "Serial" podcast.
Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and winding up in enemy captivity for five years. The latter charge is relatively rare and carries a punishment of up to life in prison.
Lawyers for Boal argue that the recordings are covered by a legal principle known as the reporter's privilege, a journalist's right to maintain the confidentiality of sources and other information. Boal is a longtime reporter who covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Boal's complaint says the interview recordings reference confidential sources and include other unpublished material that Boal may use in a future documentary, feature film or nonfiction book.
"The Subpoena would invade Boal's right to gather and publish newsworthy material," the complaint states.
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A draft of the subpoena by Army Maj. Justin Oshana, a prosecutor on Bergdahl's case, demands the complete, unedited audio recordings of the conversations between Bergdahl and Boal. Failure to cooperate could lead to fines or imprisonment.
Asked for comment on Boal's legal filing, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said the military is focused on ensuring "fairness and impartiality" in the high-profile case against Bergdahl.
The disagreement over access to Boal's audio recordings represents the latest fight over information in the Bergdahl case. Bergdahl's defense attorneys recently won access to emails about the case sent and received by top Army commanders, and there have been disputes about access to classified documents.
The trial is scheduled to begin in February 2017.
Colby Vokey, an attorney for Boal and retired U.S. Marine Corps prosecutor, said military and law enforcement officials have already spent hundreds of hours doing their own interviews with Bergdahl after his release from captivity. The Obama administration was criticized by Republicans for swapping Guantanamo Bay detainees for Bergdahl.
"They have had every opportunity in the world to ask this stuff and now they want confidential material that a reporter has gathered. It's ridiculous," he said.
When the second season of "Serial" debuted in late 2015, excerpts of Boal's interviews gave the public its first glimpse of Bergdahl's reasoning for walking away from a remote observation post in Afghanistan. The soldier, who's from Hailey, Idaho, told Boal that he intended to create a crisis that would catch the attention of top commanders so that he could voice concerns about how leadership decisions were affecting him and his comrades.