Spencer Ackerman has been in Guantanamo for the past week, reporting on the pre-trial hearing of Omar Khadr. The whole of his coverage is worth reading, but probably the most critical of them is this one:
GUANTANAMO BAY — Two weeks’ worth of proceedings in the pre-trial hearing of Omar Khadr found an unexpected meta-conclusion this [Thursday] afternoon as the public affairs shop in the Office of the Secretary of Defense banned four reporters from returning to Guantanamo Bay. Their offense: reporting the name of a witness whose identity is under a protective order.
The four journalists are Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Steven Edwards of Canwest, Paul Koring of the Globe & Mail and Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald. They are not being thrown off the base, but, as of now, they are barred from returning.
A letter written by an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s public affairs division specified that each had published the name of a witness who testified to the military commissions today under the name “Interrogator #1.” Identifying information about that interrogator was entered into the record of the hearing during open court testimony by both the prosecution and the defense. Ironically, the letter confirmed that witness’s identity.
In other words, as Adam Serwer says the Pentagon banned these reporters for doing their jobs.
The four reporters are being banned for reporting the name of "Interrogator #1," a witness in the evidentiary hearings for Omar Khadr military commissions trial who was court-martialed for detainee abuse, and whose identity was under protective order. The reporters identified him using only public information, including the open-court testimony offered by both sides in the case. One of the reporters who was banned had interviewed
Interrogator #1 on the record in 2008, so his identity was already public knowledge. Nevertheless, in a letter, Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan stated that the reporters had violated the agreement “to not publish, release, discuss or share information identified by commission’s personnel as being Protected Information or otherwise protected from disclosure by these ground rules.”
The judge in the case, Capt. Patrick Parrish, scolded reporters for revealing Interrogator #1's name but didn't say that they violated the protective order. Part of the conclusion that has to be drawn here is that while the military commissions don't offer much more in the way of protecting classified information than civilian courts, they do offer the kind of institutional advantages -- like denying access to pesky reporters that do things the government doesn't like -- that civilian courts don't have.
Just to set the context for this case: this is the pre-trial hearing for Khadr, the Canadian who was detained when he was 15 years old, and who says that his confession of throwing a hand grenade at U.S. forces was coerced out of him. Interrogator #1 testified for the defense, and told the court how he used a fictitious story about a young Afghan who lied to interrogators and was sent to prison in America, where he was brutally, and fatally, raped by "four big black guys." Interrogator #1 is also known publicly as Joshua Claus, who has given interviews and been identified in numerous publications as well as public military documents and who also was court-martialed and served time for detainee abuse.
There's some context for this pre-trial hearing. But the hearing isn't just about detainee abuse, or about this young man who has spent a third of his life in Guantanamo. It's also about the "new and improved" military commissions of the Obama administration, an increasingly important issue as the administration deals with the politicization of civilian terror trials, and faces the decision of where and how to try detainees. This incident doesn't bode well for their efforts to portray military commissions as the judicial equivalent of civilian trials.
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.