Pentagon allows banned reporter to return to Guantanamo

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 8, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday reversed its ban on a Miami Herald reporter from covering military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said the reporter can return to the naval base there to cover a hearing next week.

In an e-mail sent Thursday, Bryan G. Whitman, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said that Carol Rosenberg "will be permitted'' to attend a hearing scheduled for Monday.

The decision comes a week after a coalition of major news organizations, including McClatchy, protested as unconstitutional the rules that were used in May to ban Rosenberg and three Canadian reporters from the commissions.

On Wednesday, officers of the Pentagon Press Association, whose members cover the Defense Department, met with Whitman, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Doug Wilson and the head of the Pentagon press office, Col. David Lapan, to complain about the ground rules and other restrictions placed on reporters covering Guantanamo. Wilson told the group he was willing to consider changes in the rules.

In a response to a request for comment, Whitman said Rosenberg had agreed to abide by Pentagon ground rules and therefore was allowed to return. He did not mention that officials had agreed to rethink those ground rules. Rosenberg maintains that she never violated the ground rules.

In June, Whitman had upheld the ban, saying that "officials of the Department were correct to take the actions'' but said that the department would consider lifting the ban if the reporters applied individually. He later agreed to lift the ban on Rosenberg on Aug. 5, but the news organizations in their complaint last week noted that the hearing the reporters were covering resumes on Monday.

It was unclear if the other reporters would be returning to Guantanamo next week as well.

The case stems from a hearing for Omar Khadr, a Canadian accused of throwing a grenade that killed Army Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer. Khadr has been held at the offshore detention camp since he was seized in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was 15. He claims that he was abused during an interrogation and is seeking to exclude the evidence gleaned from the questioning.

Before a May hearing, Rosenberg and the three Canadian journalists published the name of a witness that the government had said should be identified as "Interrogator No. 1.'' The name of the witness, former Army Sgt. Joshua Claus, had been known for years after he voluntarily gave a newspaper interview to one of the banned Canadian reporters denying that he'd abused Khadr.

Claus also had been convicted by a U.S. court martial of abusing detainees in Afghanistan and sentenced to five months in prison.

David Schulz, an attorney for the news organizations, noted in their complaint to the Pentagon that Khadr's Wikipedia biography identifies Claus as Khadr's main interrogator.

"We don't dispute their authority to restrict information to protect national security and witnesses, but they can't exercise that authority to prohibit reporters who happen to be in Guantanamo from reporting information that is known to the rest of the world,'' Schulz said last week.

The hearing the reporters were covering was on a motion Khadr filed requesting that any self-incriminating statements he made during his interrogations be ruled inadmissible because he'd been abused by his interrogators. What will happen next week is unclear; however, Canadian newspapers reported this week that Khadr has fired his attorneys.

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As Guantanamo trials near, Pentagon limits what can be reported

Follow Guantanamo developments on Twitter.

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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