Rights Groups Decry Defense Department’s Decision to Ban Four Journalists
Washington, DC Human Rights First today urged Col. David Lapan, Department of Defense Press Director, to reconsider the decision to ban four journalists from covering future military commission proceedings at Guantanamo Bay on the grounds that they had revealed the name of a witness in violation of rules governing media reporting of the proceedings. In a letter also signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the National Institute of Military Justice, the groups noted that the witness’s identity had been public for years and that the unnecessary move to ban the four journalists is counter to the Obama Administration’s stated commitment to transparency in government.
The four journalists banned from future proceedings include correspondents from the U.S.-based Miami Herald, as well as the Canadian-based Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and CanWest Newspapers. They were banned following articles written about the military commission proceedings in the case of Canadian national Omar Khadr.
“We consider that this move by the Department of Defense not only runs counter to the US administration’s stated commitment to an unprecedented level of transparency in government, but will also bring the military commissions into further disrepute, internationally and within the United States,” the groups note.
The letter states that the witness who appeared in Omar Khadr’s pre-trial hearing, identified by the prosecution as “Interrogator No. 1,” had previously been the subject of a widely publicized military court-martial in 2005 that resulted in his conviction for detainee abuse committed at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in 2002. His connection to the Khadr case had also previously been revealed from information he himself gave in an on-the-record interview to a reporter at the Toronto Star. That reporter, Michelle Shephard, who wrote a book about Omar Khadr, is now one of those being banned from future commission hearings simply for reporting the same information that had previously been widely published and disseminated.
As part of the organization’s continual efforts to observe hearings before the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Human Rights First’s C. Dixon Osburn and Daphne Eviatar observed the most recent Khadr hearing and were present throughout the proceedings, including when “Interrogator No. 1” testified. The two report that Judge Parrish repeatedly reminded observers that he wanted the hearing to be “transparent.”
“The decision to ban these four journalists is out of step with Judge Parrish’s push for transparency,” noted Osburn. “These reporters did not break new ground when they identified.