Why Did Military Ban Journalists From Gitmo?

During a landmark trial, four reporters get kicked out

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Dozens of journalists are at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay this week to cover the landmark military commission case of Omar Khadr. We explained what makes the case important here. But the Department of Defense has raised eyebrows by banning four newspaper reporters from Guantanamo. Their infraction was reporting the name of one of Khadr's interrogators, which had been previously reported. The DoD has him as a protected witness, meaning reporters cannot reveal his identity. The interrogator had been court-martialed for detainee abuse, which has become an important element of the case. What does this say about the nature of the military's relationship to the press, and about Gitmo?

  • Why This Is Bad For Everyone  The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman says the four reporters "comprise much of the institutional knowledge of Guantanamo Bay and the military commissions." He writes, "[The Miami Herald's Carol] Rosenberg is the single most diligent, consistent and experienced Guantanamo Bay reporter in the world, having carved out the Guantanamo beat steadily almost since the detention facility here opened in 2002 and traveled here more frequently than any other journalist." The American Prospect's Adam Serwer agrees: "When I visited, there were questions about the base and the prison that the Public Affairs Officers could not answer, but that Carol could simply because she'd been coming there longer." With that "institutional knowledge" gone, reporting on Guantanamo, and thus public understanding of what happens there, will be reduced.
  • Military Defends Decision  Politico's Josh Gerstein does what Politico reporters do best. "Asked why reporters were being punished for reporting a publicly available name, Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said any previous stories or interview naming Claus was irrelevant. 'That doesn't change the fact that his identity was protected in the courtroom during this hearing. He wasn't 'Interrogator #1' when he was previously interviewed,' Col. Lapan said."
  • Why We Shouldn't Use Military Commissions  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer suggests this is a big strike against military commissions as opposed to civilian courts. "While the military commissions don't offer much more in the way of protecting classified information than civilian courts, it does offer the kind of institutional advantages -- like denying access to pesky reporters that do things the government doesn't like -- that a civilian court doesn't have."
  • Why Military Shouldn't Run Trials  Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias writes, "Suffice it to say that this is not only a dubious-seeming decision on the merits but illustrates the inherently problematic nature of substituting military trials held on a military base in Cuba for a real legal process."
  • Were Reporters Targeted For Their Coverage?  Harpers' Scott Horton is suspicious. "There is more to this than meets the eye, because the identity of the interrogator is already a matter of public knowledge, and more than these four publications have already disclosed the name." The interrogator in question has even "appeared on camera in an Oscar-winning documentary in which he discussed the process of detainee abuse as it was practiced at the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan. The notion that his name is a secret is therefore absurd. The order seems to be a pretext for blocking coverage of Guantánamo by critical media. The reporters banned by this order are those who have done the most in-depth coverage of the case."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.