(Washington, DC) - The US Defense Department's decision to ban four journalists from covering military commission proceedings at Guantanamo Bay contradicts the Obama administration's pledge of greater transparency and further discredits the commissions, Human Rights Watch and other organizations said in a letter to the Department of Defense today.
The banned journalists are 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.
On May 7, Col. David Lapan, the Defense Department's director of press operations, informed the four that they were barred from returning to Guantanamo because they had revealed the name of a witness who had testified during hearings for Omar Khadr, a Canadian who is being prosecuted for allegedly killing a US soldier during a firefight in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old.
The witness was known to the court only as "Interrogator No. 1," but his identity was already known to the public because he had been convicted for detainee abuse in a widely publicized court-martial in 2005. The witness had also previously given an on-the-record interview to Shephard of the Toronto Star.
"Banning journalists for revealing the name of a witness whose identity was already publicly known is a pointless and vindictive form of censorship," said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. "It makes it seem like the Pentagon is trying to clamp down on reporting that is the public's only source of critical information about Guantanamo."
In addition to Human Rights Watch, the letter was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and the National Institute of Military Justice, all of whom attend the military commissions on a regular basis.