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News media reluctantly withhold prisoner photos

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering         Jan 15, 2002    

News media reluctantly withhold prisoner photos

  • The Pentagon ordered news organizations not to transmit images of bound and masked prisoners in Afghanistan, claiming the pictures violate international laws on the treatment of prisoners.

The nation’s leading newspapers and broadcast networks have reluctantly abided by an order from Pentagon officials not to transmit images shot last week of Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners in chains and masks.

“The Geneva Convention prohibits humiliating, debasing photos,” Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told the Associated Press. “We need to be cautious in case there is a legal action somewhere downstream.”

The Pentagon on Jan. 10 allowed photographers and camera crews to take pictures of 20 prisoners in Kandahar as they boarded a C-17 cargo plane, provided the journalists agree not to transmit any images until military officials granted them permission. The prisoners were taken to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

After the plane took off, officials ordered the journalists not to send the images. To date, they have not granted permission, saying the International Red Cross raised concerns that the pictures would violate the Geneva Convention.

But Red Cross officials said they never contacted the Pentagon about possible photographs of prisoners.

Both the Associated Press and the American Society of Newspapers filed objections last week with the Pentagon, claiming the order stifles coverage of an important news event.

Tim McGuire, ASNE president and editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, said the Pentagon’s explanation for blocking the photos contradicts the Red Cross statements. And, in a letter sent to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, McGuire said the order “is a fundamental infringement of the work of the photographers and camera crews involved.”

“But whatever the reasoning for suppressing these photos, it should be clear that any problem rests with the handling of prisoners and not with the coverage,” he said. “If there is a potential violation of international law, it is all the more important that this be made public.”

— PT


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