As Spencer Ackerman reported yesterday, the Pentagon has decided to expel several of the most knowledgeable veteran Gitmo reporters, Canadian journalists Steven Edwards of Canwest, Paul Koring of the Globe & Mail, and Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, as well as Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, who has been writing from Gitmo since 2002 when the base opened. It's no exaggeration to say that when I visited, there were questions about the base and the prison that the Public Affairs Officers could not answer, but that Carol could simply because she'd been coming there longer. When Spencer writes that "those four reporters comprise much of the institutional knowledge of Guantanamo Bay and the military commissions," he's not opining; he's stating a fact.
The four reporters are being banned for reporting the name of "Interrogator #1," a witness in the evidentiary hearings for Omar Khadr military commissions trial who was court-martialed for detainee abuse, and whose identity was under protective order. The reporters identified him using only public information, including the open-court testimony offered by both sides in the case. One of the reporters who was banned had interviewed
Interrogator #1 on the record in 2008, so his identity was already public knowledge. Nevertheless, in a letter, Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan stated that the reporters had violated the agreement “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.”
The judge in the case, Capt. Patrick Parrish, scolded reporters for revealing Interrogator #1's name but didn't say that they violated the protective order. Part of the conclusion that has to be drawn here is that while the military commissions don't offer much more in the way of protecting classified information than civilian courts, they do offer the kind of institutional advantages -- like denying access to pesky reporters that do things the government doesn't like -- that civilian courts don't have.
This incident is also part of a disturbing anti-journalistic pattern emerging from the Obama administration, which in the past few months has tried to subpoena one national security reporter for his sources and has begun prosecuting an NSA whistleblower for talking to the press.
The reporters will be allowed to appeal their expulsion, but this incident is already an embarrassment and an outrage.
-- A. Serwer