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Press restrictions tighten at Guantanamo Bay

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    NMU         CUBA         Newsgathering         Sep 18, 2002    

Press restrictions tighten at Guantanamo Bay

  • Journalists reported facing the toughest restrictions yet while covering Sept. 11 events at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

Media aiming to cover this year’s Sept. 11 events at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, faced tightened press limits at the U.S. Naval station, including restroom escorts and restricted interviews.

Guantanamo Bay, which includes Camp Delta where nearly 600 suspected terrorists are detained, has upheld a high degree of media management since the detainees began arriving in January, said Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg. But restrictions have become more severe in recent weeks, she noted.

In the past, reporters were allowed to speak with people on base in civilian clothes, Rosenberg said. “Now, there’s a virtual absolute control over who we talk to and how, and a deep degree of distrust of allowing reporters to talk to people doing their job.”

The tightened restrictions include monitored interviews with U.S. military personnel, media escorts on the side of the base where the detainees are held including restrooms and vending machines, according to a Sept. 14 report by Paisley Dodds of The Associated Press.

Rosenberg said that the 17 reporters and crew who traveled to Guantanamo were told that unauthorized interactions with civilians were not permitted, not even in eating establishments or to ask to which organization they belonged.

“Anywhere where you might have any sort of ordinary interaction with anyone on that base you had an escort at your elbow,” Rosenberg said. “It was more obtrusive than any other time.”

Prior to the four-day media trip, both American and foreign journalists were told they would be able to photograph Sept. 11 services but were barred from doing so upon arrival, AP reported.

In addition, reporters said they were not informed of incidents, such as the arrival of new detainees, as they happened on base, even after the Pentagon released an official statement regarding the incident.

The U.S. Southern Command in Miami issues the ground rules for media operations at Guantanamo Bay. Capt. Thomas Crosson, public affairs officer, said the general substance of the ground rules have remained the same since January. The rules, he admitted, do not mention media escorts, monitored interviews or interactions with civilians.

Rosenberg has covered Guantanamo Bay since the detainees arrived and said press relations were handled more efficiently in previous months. Now, she said, many requests by reporters are denied solely on the basis of operational security with no additional explanation.

“I have to think that they’re gonna fix some of it . . . or to make an intelligent effort to explain why they’re rejecting it on grounds of operational security,” Rosenberg said.


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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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