NYT Reports on Gitmo Press Access Dispute

Jeremy Peters of The New York Times reports today on an ongoing struggle between press outlets and the Pentagon:

After nearly a decade of uneasy coexistence at Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon and the news media are now locked in a dispute that will test how strictly the government can limit what reporters there are allowed to reveal.

A coalition of news organizations has demanded that the Pentagon’s public affairs office rescind parts of its guidelines for reporting on Guantánamo. The 13-page “Media Policy and Ground Rules” packet, which every reporter who travels to Guantánamo must sign, dictates how photos can be taken, who can be interviewed and even what reporters can write in their notebooks.

In addition to sketching out some of the legal principles at stake, Peters highlights the mundane detail in the ground rules that reporters must agree to:

Yet other rules seem arbitrary and excessive, journalists who have covered Guantánamo said. Reporters in the courtroom there may not chew gum or stretch during proceedings (Page 12). Some have been reprimanded for doodling in their notebooks. Reporters are also forbidden from engaging in casual conversation with the Cuban or Haitian migrant laborers who work on the base (Page 4).

And in a little grace note, the story identifies by name the witness whose identity, though public since at least 2008, was at the center of the most recent dispute:

The rule that has generated the most pushback from media organizations is one that the four banned reporters — Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald, Michelle Shephard of The Toronto Star, Steven Edwards of Canwest and Paul Koring of The Globe and Mail in Toronto — ran afoul of when they printed the name of the interrogator, Joshua Claus, who is a defense witness in the case of a Canadian citizen being held in Guantánamo on charges of killing an American soldier.

Overall, there’s not much new here for readers who have been following this story, other than the fact that an anticipated meeting between media attorneys and DoD officials has apparently been scheduled for next week. (You can read CJR’s reporting on this issue here and here; Wired’s Spencer Ackerman and the crew at McClatchy have provided the most complete coverage.) Still, it’s good to see the Times putting this issue on the radar of the public, and the rest of the press. Here’s hoping that this story will lead to more coverage as this debate unfolds.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.