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Posted at 9:40 PM ET, 05/ 6/2010

Papers protest reporters' ejection from Guantanamo

By Jeff Stein

News organizations reacted sharply Thursday to a Defense Department ban on four reporters covering a military commission proceeding at Guantanamo Bay.

The Pentagon said they were expelling the reporters because they had revealed the name of a former U.S. interrogator whose name is under protective order -- but is widely known.

The four are Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald and three Canadian reporters, Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Paul Koring of the Globe & Mail, and Steven Edwards of Canwest.

The papers can send other reporters to cover the prosecution of Omar Khadr, a Canadian picked by American forces in Afghanistan when he was 15, the Pentagon said. He is now 23.

The U.S. interrogator at the center of the ban controversy was all but identified during a pre-trial hearing earlier in the week, when Khadr's defense attorney asked a question about a detainee made to kiss the American's boots.

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One of the banned reporters, the Toronto Star's Shephard, has written a book on the Khadr case, "Guatanamo's Child."

Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, director of Defense Press Operations, told the newspapers that their reporters had "violated established and agreed-upon ground rules governing reporting on Military Commissions proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

“Specifically, your reporters published the name of a witness whose identity was protected in court,” Lapan said.

The decision can be appealed, Lapan also advised. Judging by the reactions of editors at the news organizations, it will be.

“Yes, we will appeal this decision," Mindy Marques, managing editor at The Miami Herald, told SpyTalk.

“We have been covering Guantanamo for years and we've always played by rules -- and we did in this case as well. We expect to sort this out and continue to cover this important story, as we have always done.”

Michael Cooke, editor of the Toronto Star, called the ban “absurd.“

"This is ridiculous and an unfair ban and the Toronto Star will object strongly to it,” Cooke said.

"The Globe and Mail is appealing the Pentagon's decision,” the paper’s foreign editor, Stephen Northfield, said.

"The identity of the interrogator had already been disclosed in previous news reports, including an on-the-record interview the interrogator gave to Shephard in 2008,” the American Civil Liberties Union noted.

“That reporters are being punished for disclosing information that has been publicly available for years is nothing short of absurd – any gag order that covers this kind of information is not just overbroad but nonsensical,” the ACLU’s deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, said in a statement. Jaffer added:

“Plainly, no legitimate government interest is served by suppressing information that is already well known. We strongly urge the Defense Department to reconsider its rash, draconian and unconstitutional decision to bar these four reporters from future tribunals. If allowed to stand, this decision will discourage legitimate reporting and add yet another entry to the long list of reasons why the military commissions ought to be shut down for good.”

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman, reporting from Guantanamo, noted that "While the judge in the case, Col. Patrick Parrish, issued an admonition yesterday for reporters to respect the anonymity of the classified witnesses, he did not rule that any reporter here had violated the protected order.”

”The decision to block the four reporters from returning to Guantanamo Bay is a matter of policy from the Office of the Secretary of Defense," Ackerman wrote.

"And those four are not the only ones within the press corps here to have reported Interrogator #1’s name.”

By Jeff Stein  | May 6, 2010; 9:40 PM ET
Categories:  Intelligence, Justice/FBI  | Tags:  Afghanistan, Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald, Michelle Shephard, Omar Khadr, Paul Koring, Pentagon, Toronto Star  
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Sounds like bureaucratic business-as-usual within the security apparatus. Any excuse to get in the face of the press, any hurdle one can require reporters to jump over, is seen as a good thing.

This kind of reflexive defensiveness has another consequence, however. It makes people wonder what they are hiding.

Posted by: Observer44 | May 7, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

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