In a group letter sent today, the ACLU, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the National Institute for Military Justice called for the Department of Defense to reverse its decision banning four reporters from covering future military commissions proceedings at Guantánamo. All five groups monitor the military commissions on a regular basis.
The four reporters were banned last Thursday for reporting the name of an interrogator who testified at pretrial hearings in the case of Omar Khadr. A letter from the Office of the Secretary Defense press affairs division informed them they are banned from returning to Guantánamo because they violated Pentagon ground rules by reporting the name of a protected witness.
The four banned journalists, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail and Steven Edwards of Canwest News Service, were the most dogged reporters of Khadr's case. Shephard literally wrote the book on Khadr's case, Guantanamo's Child. Rosenberg is the most tenacious reporter covering the Guantánamo military commissions — she has spent more time at the base than any other reporter. All four had already written and filed the stories naming Interrogator One a full day before he testified, and before the military judge warned reporters that they shouldn't disclose the interrogator's name. In articles submitted after the judge's warning they did not name him.
As we wrote in our letter to the Defense Department:
Whatever confidence the public in the United States and around the world may maintain in these proceedings can only be eroded by a move that is perceived as being motivated by a clampdown on informed media reporting rather than the protection of classified or confidential information.
The fact that reporters are being punished for disclosing information that has seen publicly available for years is absurd. And it is ridiculous that the Pentagon would retroactively censor information that has been in the public domain for years. Interrogator One's name is a matter of public record. Banning the use of his name now — when it was widely reported long ago — serves no apparent purpose other than to raise more questions about the transparency and illegitimacy of the Guantánamo military commissions.
The Defense Department should reconsider its rash, draconian and unconstitutional decision to ban these reporters from covering the Guantánamo military commissions, and it should do so soon, before Khadr's case resumes on July 12.