FOR THE WEEK OF JUNE 19, 2006
Journalists' expulsion from Guantanamo renews debate over government secrecy
In addition to representing the companies that employ them, journalists fill a broader role enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Invite students to discuss how reporters, photographers and broadcasters provide a public service and are an unofficial part of our “checks and balances” system of government.
Although journalists generally have a legal right to see government activities and public documents, restrictions can be set for military, law enforcement and privacy reasons. Divide the class into groups to debate arguments by the media and the Pentagon over observing military tribunals that hear terrorism cases and over access to "Gitmo."
Even with limits on direct reporting, newspapers regularly run coverage about Guantanamo. Assign students to find examples and discuss how base access would affect public discussion of U.S. interrogation and treatment of detainees.
A new dispute between the news media and the Pentagon involves the abrupt expulsion of four U.S. journalists from the detention camp for foreign terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After initially letting in writers from newspapers in Los Angeles, Miami and Charlotte, N.C., along with one photographer, the military sent them home June 14. Commanders cited tightened security after three prisoners committed suicide in their cells.
Military leaders also said other news outlets want similar access, which they call impractical. That prompted Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, to say: "The Pentagon makes lots of complicated logistical decisions that are more difficult than that one. We are not the most difficult problem for them to manage."
Others accuse the Pentagon of excessive secrecy that is un-American. The 4 1/2-year detention of terrorism suspects at the base, called "Gitmo" for short, is criticized by American allies and human rights groups. Ejecting reporters "represents a Stone Age attitude that only feeds suspicions about what is going on at Guantanamo," the Los Angeles Times’ managing editor complained after a staff member was sent packing.
Editor says: "It is in the interest of the Department of Defense to be as transparent as possible. Given the controversy that has surrounded the detention facility since its inception, if the government has nothing to hide there, it ought to allow free and broad access to the news media there -- particularly given the suicides." – Tom Fiedler, executive editor of the Miami Herald
Military responds: Other media threatened to sue for equal access, "They insisted they fly in or the others come out," according to a Pentagon spokesman. The high-security base couldn’t accommodate civilian visitors easily during the suicide investigation, commanders maintained. Journalists have been granted sporadic access since February 2002.
Legal observers say: "If the United States wants to restore its credibility as a democracy in the eyes of the world, it should be inviting journalists in, not kicking them out. Our government insists it has nothing to hide, but its actions show otherwise." – Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union
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