In the first such incident of the war in Iraq, the Pentagon expelled a Christian Science Monitor reporter from the country yesterday on grounds that he revealed sensitive military information in broadcast interviews.
Military officials were escorting Phil Smucker to the Kuwaiti border, and he was not allowed to use his phone to contact his family or his newspaper.
The commander of the 1st Marine Division "determined that he was reporting, in real time, information about the location of the unit, its avenue of approach and its relation to other units, all of this while they were currently engaged in combat," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. "The commander on the ground felt this was compromising the success of his operation and the safety of his personnel."
Smucker, who was traveling with the 1st Division but was not part of the Pentagon's embedding program, talked about the unit's location and approach to Baghdad in interviews Wednesday with CNN and National Public Radio. As he began to provide details -- "We're about 100 miles south on the main highway. It's an unfinished highway. It goes between the Tigris and Euphrates River in the direction of Baghdad" -- CNN anchor Carol Costello cut him off, saying he shouldn't be too specific.
"We are disappointed Smucker has been removed," Monitor Editor Paul Van Slambrouck said in a posting on the newspaper's Web site. "He is an experienced war correspondent who understands the gravity of such situations and not one who would knowingly put U.S. troops -- and himself -- in jeopardy. Even during his short time in Iraq, he gave Monitor readers valuable insights into the campaign."
Judging from a transcript of the CNN interview, "it does not appear to us that he disclosed anything that wasn't already widely available in maps and in U.S. and British radio, newspaper, and television reports on that same news cycle," Van Slambrouck said. "Of course, the Pentagon has the final say in the field about any threat the information reported might pose."
Smucker, 41, is a contract writer who was also working for London's Daily Telegraph. His wife, Ivana, who lives in Cairo, said yesterday that she had been trying to reach her husband for two days and was worried.
"I don't even understand why they wouldn't let him turn on his phone so his family could contact him," she said. "He's not a criminal. He's a regular civilian in Iraq. I don't understand how the military has the right to order him to keep his phone off. It would be nice for us to find out whether he is safe or not."
Whitman said the phone restriction would be a reasonable "safeguard" for someone who "was disclosing information that was compromising the unit's operation. I'm not certain this person did it intentionally. Mistakes happen," said Whitman, adding that nearly all embedded journalists have followed the rules.
The reporter's father, John Smucker of Alexandria, who has twice been arrested in antiwar protests, said this was the first such incident in his son's 18-year career as a foreign correspondent. "I think he's being treated unfairly," Smucker said. "He didn't spill any beans that hadn't been spilled the day before."
Said Monitor spokesman Jay Jostyn: "We don't know when we'll hear from him. We hope it'll be soon."