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Military commission media rules released

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Secret Courts    

Military commission media rules released

  • Approximately 70 journalists and support staff were required to sign contracts allowing the Pentagon to embargo and limit information that can be reported during next week’s military commission hearings in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Aug. 19, 2004 — The Department of Defense this week publicly released its ground rules for media coverage of the military commission proceedings scheduled to begin on Monday in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Among the regulations is a contract reporters and their bureau chiefs must sign that allows the U.S. government to embargo information and censor photographs.

The preliminary hearings of four men, captured during the war in Afghanistan, will run through next week. According to Maj. Michael Shavers, a public affairs officer at the DOD, approximately 70 journalists and support personnel have been credentialed to attend the preliminary hearings, where charges will be read and the military commission process will be explained. Retired Army Col. Peter E. Brownback III, the presiding officer of the commission proceedings, will then issue dates for motions to be filed and testimony to be given.

The commission hearings will be the first the U.S. military has held since World War II.

Among the ground rules for members of the media is a provision prohibiting all photography and audio and video recordings of the commission proceedings without prior approval by the DOD public affairs office. Similarly, reporters are prohibited from identifying all commission personnel — including the presiding officer, the four military officers who will also hear the cases, prosecutors, defense counsel and witnesses — without prior approval. Many of the commission personnel have already been publicly identified.

When photographs are allowed, only digital cameras are permitted. Shavers said all photographs must be screened by the DOD for “security purposes” before they can be published or aired. Digital cameras simply “make that process easier,” he said.

“We want proceedings to be open and transparent as possible, however, there are security concerns,” Navy Lt. Susan McGarvey, a spokeswoman for the Judge Advocate General and the proceedings told The Associated Press. “The security assessment is, however, ongoing.”

Failure to comply with the various rules of press coverage, or the presiding officer’s instructions, “could result in permanent expulsion from the courtroom area and may result in the removal of the parent news organization from further participation, and could subject the news media representative to criminal prosecution,” the contract says.

No reporter can cover commission proceedings without signing the contract, said Shavers, who noted that no one has refused to sign. Shavers likened the agreement to cover next week’s “judicial” proceedings to the agreement reporters had to sign to be embedded during the war in Iraq.

Only eight seats will be reserved for the media in the commission hearing room — two seats each for print, television and wire services, and one seat each for radio and a sketch artist. A daily lottery will be held to determine who fills the eight seats, while an overflow room will provide a closed-circuit TV feed. Shavers said approximately half of the 70 journalists are from the international media.

David Hicks of Australia, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi of Sudan, and Salim Ahmed Hamdan and Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul of Yemen are the first four men to be tried by military commission. Eleven other “enemy combatants,” defined by the Pentagon as “an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners,” have also been found eligible by the DOD to be tried by military commission.

Approximately 600 people are currently held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo. The vast majority, held for more than two years, have never been charged with a crime or provided access to counsel. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late June that the president does not have the authority to indefinitely imprison anyone he deems an “enemy combatant,” the Pentagon created Combatant Status Review Tribunals to determine whether detainees should be released.

Unlike the military commission hearings, detainees are not allowed attorneys during the review tribunals, which began late last month. The media has largely been prohibited from attending those proceedings.

JL

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