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Tell the Defense Department Not to Ban Journalists from Guantanamo

A few weeks ago the Defense Department banned four journalists from covering military commission proceedings at Guantánamo because they reported the name of a supposedly anonymous witness in the Omar Khadr trial.

But this witness's name has been public for years—and even appears on Khadr's Wikipedia page.

The newspapers concerned were notified that they could send other reporters to Guantanamo to cover the trials, but this doesn't make up for the fact that the banned journalists have been covering the Guantanamo hearings for years and are experts in a process that, on a military base far removed from the eyes of the public and difficult for the media to cover, is far from transparent. It's hard to see this as anything but an attempt to clamp down on informed reporting.

Human Rights First organized a sign-on letter to the Defense Department, asking it to lift the ban on these journalists which has been endorsed by numerous other groups. But we need your help to make a difference. We must hold this administration to its commitment to transparency!

We are writing to express our serious concern about the Defense Department's decision to ban four journalists—from The Miami Herald, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and CanWest Newspapers of Canada—from covering future military commission proceedings at Guantánamo Bay on the grounds that they had revealed the name of a witness in violation of rules governing media reporting of the commissions.

As you know, the witness who appeared in Omar Khadr's pre-trial hearing, identified by the prosecution as "Interrogator No. 1," had previously been the subject of a widely publicized military court-martial in 2005 that resulted in his conviction for detainee abuse committed at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in 2002. His connection to the Khadr case had also previously been revealed from information he himself gave in an on-the-record interview to a reporter at the Toronto Star. That reporter, Michelle Shephard, who wrote a book about Omar Khadr, is now one of those being banned from future commission hearings simply for reporting the same information that had previously been widely published and disseminated.

Considering these facts, we believe that the move by the Department of Defense to ban these journalists not only runs counter to the U.S. administration's stated commitment to transparency in government, but will also bring the military commissions into further disrepute, internationally and within the United States.

The effect of this ban is particularly drastic because the proceedings are based at Guantánamo and are open only to a select number of journalists, military personnel and NGO observers—as opposed to an ordinary federal trial, which is open to the general public.

We urge the Department of Defense to reconsider what we believe is an ill-advised decision to exclude these reporters.

Thank you for your consideration.
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