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Pentagon bars four reporters from Guantanamo Bay proceedings

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, May 7, 2010 - The U.S. military should allow four banned reporters from different Canadian and U.S.-based media outlets to cover military commission proceedings in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The reporters were banned after each named a U.S. Army interrogator after being told to keep him and other participants in the proceedings anonymous. The proceedings were about the status of Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr, who accused the interrogator of torturing him at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The interrogator, Joshua Claus, had previously identified himself when speaking about the case two years ago in a brief interview with the Toronto Star. Claus has denied to the Star that he abused Khadr.

"This action strikes us as punitive, since the information that military authorities are seeking to censor is already in the public domain," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "Moreover, we're deeply concerned about the impact of this action, which affects reporters who have covered this story extensively and are deeply knowledgeable about the issues. Banning these reporters therefore will have a significant impact on the coverage. We urge the Pentagon to reconsider this ban and allow these veteran reporters to do their jobs."

After Claus' July 12, 2008, interview appeared in the Star, other Canadian-based media outlets also named him in their stories. In May 2005, The New York Times named Claus, then with the rank of Army Specialist, in a separate, interrogation case involving the fatality of a detainee at the U.S. air base at Bagram, Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, Claus appeared as a witness in a military commission hearing for Khadr. During the proceedings, court participants referred to Claus as "Interrogator No. 1," according to The Associated Press. But Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Paul Koring of The Globe and Mail, Steven Edwards of Canwest News Service and Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald each named Claus in their stories. Shephard is the same reporter who first obtained an interview with Claus in relation to the same Canadian detainee back in 2008. Koring and Edwards have each also closely covered Khadr's case.

On Thursday, the Pentagon informed the news organizations that their four reporters were now banned from covering further proceedings. The reporters "violated established and agreed-upon ground rules governing reporting on Military Commissions proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," reads the statement by Col. Dave Lapan, Director of Defense Press Operations.

The Pentagon statement was sent by e-mail to the four news organizations, and it quoted the ground rules that reporters must agree to in order to gain entry to military commission proceedings: "The identities of all commission personnel, to include the Presiding Officer, commission members, prosecutors, defense counsels, and witnesses, will not be reported or otherwise disclosed in any way without prior release approval." The e-mail goes on to state that the ban applies only to the four individual reporters involved, and not to their news organizations, which may now send other reporters to cover the same proceedings.

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