Friday, May 7, 2010

4 Journos Scratched Off Gitmo Guest List

In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
The Pentagon has revoked the press credentials of four journalists covering the Gitmo military commission hearings after their articles named a witness whose identity had been protected by the presiding judge.

The judge presiding over the pretrial proceedings of  23-year-old Canadian detainee Omar Khadr, accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, ordered that a witness be referred to only as "Interrogator No. 1," although the individual in question gave an on-the-record interview to one of the barred reporters in 2008 and was identified by name in 2005 during court-martial proceedings against him.  Likewise, the presiding judge closed the courtroom during the airing of a video interrogation of Khadr by Canadian authorities, even though the video was widely disseminated on YouTube after its public release was ordered by the Canadian Supreme Court.

The four journalists precluded from further reporting on Guantanamo Bay military commission hearings include The Toronto Star's Michelle Shepard, The Globe & Mail reporter Paul Koring, The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg and Steven Edwards of the CanWest news service.  The Pentagon order bars only the named reporters, but permits their news organizations to send other journalists to cover the detention proceedings. Reporters are allowed to cover court proceedings at Gitmo, but are not permitted to interview participants at any time. The four journalists are expected to appeal their ban.

A judge must be empowered to uphold courtroom decorum and able to suppress sensitive information vital to national security, notwithstanding the First Amendment. However, imposing a gag order on information that already is widely circulated in the public domain is more surreal, than sensible.  The Pentagon would do well to review the Supreme Court decision in New York Times v. U.S., 403 U.S. 713 (1971) (the "Pentagon Papers" case), to brush-up on the high standard  set for prior restraint, and U.S. v. Progressive, 407 F. Supp. 990 (1979), in which a gag order against a magazine publishing an article about making an H-Bomb was rendered moot by other publications' publishing different "recipes" for making the bomb.

Guantanamo Bay and The Bill of Rights get along like Charlie Sheen and the Mrs., so it was only a matter of time before the First Amendment felt the sting of Gitmo.

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