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Pentagon Bans Four Journalists From Guantanamo Bay for Reporting Interrogator #1′s Name

GUANTANAMO BAY — Two weeks’ worth of proceedings in the pre-trial hearing of Omar Khadr found an unexpected meta-conclusion this afternoon as the public affairs shop in the Office of the Secretary of Defense banned four reporters from returning to Guantanamo Bay. Their offense: reporting the name of a witness whose identity is under a protective order.

The four journalists are Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Steven Edwards of Canwest, Paul Koring of the Globe & Mail and Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald. They are not being thrown off the base, but, as of now, they are barred from returning.

A letter written by an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s public affairs division specified that each had published the name of a witness who testified to the military commissions today under the name “Interrogator #1.” Identifying information about that interrogator was entered into the record of the hearing during open court testimony by both the prosecution and the defense. Ironically, the letter confirmed that witness’s identity.

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

Those four reporters comprise much of the institutional knowledge of Guantanamo Bay and the military commissions, as their colleagues widely acknowledge. Shephard has written the most comprehensive account to date of Omar Khadr’s life and experiences in detention at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, in both her Star reporting and her book Guantanamo’s Child. 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. (I personally heard complaints about her from public affairs officers here five years ago — and those complaints amounted to whining about how dogged an investigator she was.) Koring and Edwards have also been invaluable resources about Khadr and Guantanamo to their colleagues these past two weeks.

The news organizations themselves are not banned from Guantanamo, just the four reporters, the letter stated. And the ban is appealable, according to the letter, which the four journalists received in an oral briefing from an OSD representative here less than an hour ago and which was only emailed to them afterward. But as it stands now, the flight taking these and the remaining reporters here to cover the Khadr hearing off the base tomorrow represents the end of their final trip to report on Guantanamo Bay.

*Update: *Here’s the letter that the Pentagon’s Col. Dave Lapan wrote to Rosenberg, Shephard, Edwards and Koring:

Cc: Whitman, Bryan Mr OSD PA

Subject: Ground rule violations

Lady and gentlemen: I am writing to inform you that reporters from your

news organizations violated established and agreed-upon ground rules

governing reporting on Military Commissions proceedings at Guantanamo Bay,

Cuba.

The Media Policy and Ground Rules for Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

were provided to each member of the media at Andrews Air Force Base before

departure to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on April 26, 2010. Paragraph 2a

delineates the following restriction: “To not publish, release, discuss or

share information identified by commission’s personnel as being Protected

Information or otherwise protected from disclosure by these ground rules.”

Paragraph 2.g. of the ground rules states “The identities of all commission

personnel, to include the Presiding Officer, commission members,

prosecutors, defense counsels, and witnesses, will not be reported or

otherwise disclosed in any way without prior release approval of OSD(PA).”

Specifically, your reporters published the name of a witness whose identity

was protected in court. The attached Word document is a collection of four

news articles written AFTER the Military Judge clearly stated on May 5 that

media covering Military Commissions are expected to comply with the

protection orders. All four (4) articles mention “Interrogator #1″ by his

real name.

In accordance with paragraph 2 of the same policy, failure to comply with

these ground rules or the Presiding Officer’s instructions could result in

permanent expulsion from the courtroom area and may result in the removal of

the parent news organization from further participation and could subject

the

(NMR) to criminal prosecution.

As a result of these violations, these individual reporters are barred from

returning to cover future Military Commissions proceedings. Your news

organizations may continue to cover the proceedings with other reporters.

However, future violations of the ground rules and/or military judge’s

protection orders will result in your news organization losing the ability

to send reporters to Guantanamo Bay.

If you desire more information, please contact me via e-mail or phone. If

you wish to appeal this decision, you may contact the Deputy Assistant

Secretary of Defense for Media Operations, Mr. Bryan Whitman, at

703-697-6647 or bryan.whitman@osd.mil.

Regards,

Col. Dave Lapan, USMC

Director, Defense Press Operations

Update: From The Globe & Mail’s official statement:

The Globe’s editor-in-chief, John Stackhouse, condemned the decision against the paper’s Washington-based international affairs correspondent. “We strongly disagree with the Pentagon’s interpretation of its own rules, and intend to fight the ban as a matter of Canadian public interest in these hearings,” he said. “The name in question was a matter of public record. Banning the information now – when it is already known around the world – serves no apparent purpose other than to raise more questions about the credibility of the Guantanamo courts.”

From The Toronto Star:

“This is ridiculous and an unfair ban and the Toronto Star will object strongly to it. Absurd,’’ said Editor Michael Cooke.

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