Pentagon should rescind decision to expel reporters from Guantanamo
THE WITNESS was identified in court only as Interrogator #1. But he was not unknown to a handful of veteran reporters covering the proceedings at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In fact, former Army Sgt. Joshua R. Claus had been the subject of widespread media attention when he was charged with and then pleaded guilty to assaulting a detainee in Afghanistan. News reports had also identified Mr. Claus as part of an interrogation team that questioned Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was in his teens when he was apprehended as an enemy combatant in Afghanistan. Mr. Khadr, who has been imprisoned at the naval base since 2002, is being prosecuted in a military commission for throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. service member. Pretrial hearings were held in early May, and Mr. Claus was a prime witness.
On May 5, before Mr. Claus took the stand, four reporters, including Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, wrote articles identifying Mr. Claus by name. Mr. Claus had given an on-the-record interview to Ms. Shephard for a 2008 article in which he denied harming Mr. Khadr.
A prosecutor brought the articles to the attention of the presiding judge, who reminded those in attendance about a protective order that forbade publication of information deemed confidential. Interrogator #1's identity was subject to the order.
Later that day, reporters sent a note to the judge asking for guidance on whether the publication of Mr. Claus's name -- information gathered before and independent of the Guantanamo proceedings -- violated the protective order. The judge did not respond, according to a lawyer for the journalists. More articles naming Mr. Claus were subsequently published, and on May 6 the Pentagon informed the four reporters responsible for those stories, including Ms. Shephard, that they would be banned from covering any future proceedings at Guantanamo. The Pentagon informed their respective news organizations that they could send different reporters to cover the proceedings.
The Pentagon is right to be concerned about protecting the identity of witnesses who may be subject to harassment, threats or worse. Naming those whose identities are subject to protective orders also could scare off future witnesses.
But the expulsion of the four reporters was not justified; the decision should be reversed. Mr. Claus's identity and his role in the Khadr case were well-known long before he took the stand; the information is a matter of public record and, as a lawyer for the journalists notes, can be found on Mr. Khadr's Wikipedia page. Allowing the news groups to send different reporters does not erase the harm of banning four veteran journalists who have spent years covering Guantanamo and bring a depth of knowledge to their coverage that novices would lack.