Obama Administration Demands Amnesia From Reporters Covering Gitmo

First Posted: 05- 7-10 02:52 PM   |   Updated: 07- 7-10 05:12 AM

What's Your Reaction?

Jack Newfield, the legendary investigative reporter, once wrote that if government officials had their way, journalists would be "stenographers with amnesia."

The "amnesia" part, at least, was generally considered a bit of an exaggeration.

But now, the Pentagon has banned four reporters from covering the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because they refused to forget something that had already been reported to the world.

The four reporters were covering military commission hearings at which defense attorneys for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr argued that confessions he made as a gravely wounded 15-year-old shouldn't be admissible in his upcoming trial because they were made under duress.

And indeed, witnesses earlier this week described how Khadr's interrogation began when he was still sedated and lying wounded on a stretcher. A medic testified that he once found Khadr chained by his arms to the door of his cage-like cell, hooded and in tears

But the defense's star witness, on Thursday, was the first U.S. Army interrogator to question Khadr. The interrogator admitted that in an attempt to get Khadr to talk, he told the boy a "fictitious" tale of an Afghan youth who was gang-raped in an American prison and died.

And it wasn't just what he said that was significant, it was also who he was. The interrogator was Army Sgt. Joshua Claus, who pleaded guilty in September 2005 to mistreatment and assault of detainees at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan.

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Claus was a central figures in the interrogation of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar whose death in U.S. custody in 2002 was ruled a homicide by military investigators and was the subject of a New York Times investigation and the Oscar-winning documentary, "Taxi to the Dark Side".

The military judge presiding over the hearing insisted that Claus's name was protected information, and that he should only be referred to as Interrogator # 1.

But since it was already public record that Claus was Khadr's first interrogator -- and he'd even given an interview last year about his desire to testify -- the four reporters used his name in their Wednesday reports, previewing his testimony.

That was enough to get them thrown off the island.

"That reporters are being punished for disclosing information that has been publicly available for years is nothing short of absurd," Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "Any gag order that covers this kind of information is not just overbroad but nonsensical. Plainly, no legitimate government interest is served by suppressing information that is already well known. "

The decision was announced by Col. Dave Lapan, the Pentagon's director of press operations. He emailed the four news organizations that they could send other reporters to cover military commissions in the future, but that another violation would get their organizations banned entirely.

The decision Is being appealed.

"The company lawyers are looking at the ground rules, the timing of this, and Carol's reporting, in preparation for appealing this decision," said John Walcott, Washington bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. Carol Rosenberg, one of the four banned reporters, works for McClatchy's Miami Herald.

The other three reporters are Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Paul Koring of Toronto's Globe and Mail and Steven Edwards of CanWest Newspapers.

"I'm not sure I understand the logic of trying to redact a name that has been in public for some time, of a man who has granted at least one major interview, and been convicted and sentenced," Walcott told HuffPost.

"I hope that this decision is about what the Pentagon said it's about, and that is an attempt to protect a witness -- and not about some of the embarrassing testimony that emerged in the tribunal this week.

"I also hope it is not intended to have a chilling effect of tribunals going forward," he said. "It won't on us... In fact, it may have the opposite effect."

John Stackhouse, editor in chief of the Globe and Mail, was also skeptical. "Banning the information now -- when it is already known around the world -- serves no apparent purpose other than to raise more questions about the credibility of the Guantanamo courts," he said in a statement.

Khadr was shot twice in the back during a Special Forces raid on a suspected al Qaida compound in Afghanistan. He confessed under interrogation to having thrown a hand grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, and has been charged with murder as a war crime and conspiring with al Qaida. Khadr is now 23.

Claus gave an interview to Michelle Shepard of the Toronto Star (one of the four banished reporters) in March 2008. Shepard wrote:

A former U.S. soldier who spent weeks interrogating Omar Khadr says he wants to testify before a Guantanamo Bay court and rejects any accusations that he harshly treated the Canadian detainee.

In the first interview he has given since leaving the army, Joshua Claus told the Toronto Star that he feels he has been unfairly portrayed concerning his work as an interrogator at the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan.

"They're trying to imply I'm beating or torturing everybody I ever talked to," Claus said by telephone yesterday. "I really don't care what people think of me. I know what I did and I know what I didn't do."

Shepard also reported in that story:

Khadr's lawyers fought to get access to Claus at a Guantanamo hearing earlier this month after the prosecution had dropped him from a previous witness list.

Navy Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler accused the prosecution of trying to hide Claus' identity because he had been involved in the interrogation of an Afghan detainee who died in U.S. custody.

Nancy A. Youssef reported Thurdsay for McClatchy Newspapers:

On Wednesday, the judge in the case, Col. Patrick Parrish, reminded reporters that even though Claus' name was public, a protective order intended to keep him anonymous applied to journalists as well.

Rosenberg's report that day included the following sentences: "Canadian reports have identified that interrogator as Army Sgt. Joshua Claus, who pleaded guilty in September 2005 to mistreatment and assault of detainees at Bagram. He was sentenced to five months in jail."

Rosenberg said her story was filed before the judge's warning. She said Claus' name had already been revealed.

"All I did was report what was in the public domain," Rosenberg said....

Pentagon officials said it didn't matter that Claus' name was already widely known.
"If his name was out there, it was not related to this hearing. Identifying him with Interrogator No. 1 was the problem," Lapan said.

"The judge shouldn't have had to remind them. The stories that appeared before violated the rules."

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on Friday announced it is seeking a meeting with Department of Defense officials to discuss the banishment. The committee also notes that the president judge had previously insisted that a video of an interrogation of Khadr be played in a closed session with no spectators, despite the video's availability to the public on YouTube.

President Obama severely criticized the Bush administration's military commissions during his presidential campaign, and immediately suspended them upon taking office. But five months later, he reopened the door to their use, and now they're up and running again.

The White House is widely expected to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try the highest-profile terror suspects, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, in federal court, and send them to military commissions instead. Holder, for his part, is gamely trying to defend military commissions to skeptics.

But nothing says "kangaroo court" quite like banning the free press.


Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.

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Jack Newfield, the legendary investigative reporter, once wrote that if government officials had their way, journalists would be "stenographers with amnesia." The "amnesia" part, at least, was gener...
Jack Newfield, the legendary investigative reporter, once wrote that if government officials had their way, journalists would be "stenographers with amnesia." The "amnesia" part, at least, was gener...
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  1 of 4  
Marcospinelli   10:33 PM on 5/07/2010
Obama, in his own words:

"On transparen­cy", "About inviting the people back into their government again", and "Part of the job of the next American president is making Americans believe that our government is working for them, because right now they don't feel like it's working for them. They feel like it's working for special interests and it's working for  Read More...
02:41 AM on 5/11/2010
“Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]­... I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproport­ional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.” - George Washington­, addressing to the Northern Expedition­ary Force, Sept. 14, 1775
read their lips
11:43 PM on 5/09/2010
Somebody may have already brought this up, but why not use that little amnesia gizmo from Men in Black?
former US Marine, retired police. disabled.
09:18 PM on 5/09/2010
Rather weird that I'd just posted an opinion at about the sanitizing and censoring of the press. . .
06:31 PM on 5/09/2010
It seems that one of the "advantage­s" of trying the cases by military commission is that informatio­n can be hidden more easily from the public. Pertinent informatio­n, yet.

So much for the argument that the commission­s "protect" the public. It appears they instead serve to hornswoggl­e and mislead the public... So much for military commission­s, give me an honest court process any day.

Does anyone else think it's a bit over-the-t­op, picking up fifteen year olds, keeping them for years, torturing them to get confession­s to order, and keeping all of the informatio­n regarding the effort a secret from the press? What happened to America, to freedom and respect? The America I grew up in wouldn't do such things.
04:00 PM on 5/09/2010
If you can't fit in the corporate news box,you don't fit in !
Attorney (ret.)
03:39 PM on 5/09/2010
This is an attempt to rein in 'uncoopera­tive' journalist­s and create a 'chilling' effect. Obama needs to control the media to control voter perception and behavior. Obama has to prevent a congressio­nal bloodbath; if he doesn't, there's a good chance some unhappy incumbents will expose the 'fire sale' of America led by Obama and the media storm which covered it. The desperatio­n is palpable. A lawyer/lob­byist was busted on HP last week, and there are more on legislativ­e and 'Oil Spill' threads. (http://www­.huffingto­­social/Alt­onEDrew?ac­tion=comme­nts)

Obama and Congress have a lot of personal money on the line; almost $1 billion in on the books lobbying funds in the first quarter alone (a new record.) If you look at Obama's 2009 Campaign top 20 'bundled' donors, you can 'check' off some as partially paid, but the donors will get much, much more - and so will Obama.

This summer, for the first time since I watched Washington burn in the sixties, the cities are going to react violently.

Mr. Obama, you're losing your Progressiv­e and Independen­t voters because we're smart enough to see the sell-out, assisted greedily by our 'bipartisa­n' Congress. We've got the numbers to put an Independen­t Progressiv­e into the WH, and you know it. Slinging mud at Grayson won't stop us. The untested challenger is vastly preferable to a brilliant, greedy incumbent with incredible organizati­onal skills.
Red Herring
Retired Miner, living in third world
01:13 PM on 5/09/2010
Military meatheads, you know "Dead From The Neck Up."
12:25 PM on 5/09/2010
Isn't there a pill for that?
If I made you think, I did good
09:17 AM on 5/09/2010
Bush policy: Let them rot forever and never admit to even having them, promise secret courts if you have to.

Obama policy: go ahead with Kangaroo Courts and prevent any shade of the truth coming out or justice being done.

Different methods same result.
07:04 AM on 5/09/2010
Mr. NObody is Above the Law and his buddy Mr. Holder have decided that, with respect to the criminal activities over the last 8 years and the damage to our country that has resulted, accountabi­lity is "off the table".

Obama and Holder seem to feel that the war criminals, the torturers, the traitors, the war profiteers­, etc all get a free pass.... as for the innocent dead, maimed, orphaned and displaced.­.. just ignore their cries for justice...­they aren't really people anyway...
If I made you think, I did good
09:19 AM on 5/09/2010
Historians will use the term "accessory after the act" when referring to Obama's support of Bush/Chene­y crimes.
10:29 AM on 5/09/2010
I think or domestic and foreign policy problems outrank this by magnitude. I'd rather see Obama focus on the economy and thawing the wars. The other branches of the government can take care of the rest.
04:40 AM on 5/09/2010
Obama = Bush? Seems like it.
Legalized Bribery is an Oxymoron - must END
12:39 AM on 5/09/2010
Relentlessly curious...
02:10 AM on 5/09/2010
No one? How do you know?

Wow - you've made 44792 comments? If HuffPo has been online for 5 years, you've made an average of 25 comments per day! No wonder you've achieved "Level 2 Superuser" status. Congrats.
Attorney (ret.)
02:52 PM on 5/09/2010
Hobsonscho­ice, that's interestin­g, and not the first time you've brought up the number of comments made. (You can skip me. I already know. Why don't you read all of mine instead.)

Aside from that, you were totally unresponsi­ve to Philip Taylor. Read his comments, he's got brains; why didn't you make a counter-ar­gument and link your support?
Attorney (ret.)
02:52 PM on 5/09/2010
Part of my reply got deleted; you really do practice what your 'moniker' preached. Good show, HobsonsCho­ice.
former US Marine, retired police. disabled.
11:53 PM on 5/09/2010
There were a few that tried, but they'd kicked them out. . .Red Cross, Red Crescent, I believe Amnesty Internatio­nal. . .
08:52 PM on 5/08/2010
Wouldn't it be nice if Americans could, for a change, be proud of the Pentagon?
Why do the generals insist that our military behave like the Gestapo? Do they really, honest-to-­pete believe that a 15-year-ol­d boy is a threat to their nukes?
And now journalist­s are expected -- per custom during the Cheney Administra­tion -- to parrot the
DOD party line faithfully­.
Hey, Pentagon bigwigs, here's a tip: The American people are NOT the enemy. Really, we are not. Can you grasp that concept?
One proud L.E.O.
09:17 PM on 5/08/2010
"Do they really, honest-to-­pete believe that a 15-year-ol­d boy is a threat to their nukes?"

Well, there was that movie back in the late '80's or early 90's "WAR GAMES" in which two teenaged hackers got into the Pentagon's supercompu­ter and really made a mess of things...
former US Marine, retired police. disabled.
11:54 PM on 5/09/2010
It fits. . .a lot of interrogat­ors--as well as policy makers--st­ated years ago that they'd been influenced by Jack Bauer & '24".
To err is human;To disagree with me is ignorant.
11:40 PM on 5/08/2010
Can you understand the pressures and travesties of war? Probably not...Tell us again why you either didn't have the guts or the time to serve our country in uniform?
Relentlessly curious...
02:03 AM on 5/09/2010
I did serve my country honorably, and I do understand the pressures and travesties of war. I know a lot of people who didn't serve, though, some of whom have more courage than I do, and for whom serving in Iraq would have violated everything they believe in - and I admire them for their conviction­. I wish I'd known before enlisting what I know today. Had I known that we were not there to avenge 9/11 and capture the bad guys that conceived of that atrocity, I wouldn't have gone. Had I known that our "leaders" had a whole separate agenda, one that fed into their egos and wallets, I'd have joined the protesters here at home. You seem bitter, friend - was Viet Nam your war?

BTW, 962 comments? Impressive­...
08:47 PM on 5/08/2010
Bush league, Bush lite.
08:06 PM on 5/08/2010
oh well......­...