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Media kicked out of Guantanamo

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060615/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/covering_guantanamo_1;_ylt=AjIh9zPyIp2qDbm7K5pRSRc3NiUi;_ylu=X3oDMTBiMW04NW9mBHNlYwMlJVRPUCUl Military
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 15, 2006

      Military blocks media access to Guantanamo By BEN FOX,
      Associated Press Writer
      Thu Jun 15, 5:59 PM ET

      SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - More than 1,000 journalists
      have visited Guantanamo Bay since the U.S. military
      began locking up suspected al-Qaida and Taliban
      militants there 4 1/2 years ago. But access has been
      severely restricted: Journalists could not talk to
      detainees, they had to be accompanied by a military
      escort and their photos were censored.

      Now, the Pentagon has shut down access entirely — at
      least temporarily — expelling reporters this week and
      triggering an outcry from human rights groups,
      attorneys and media organizations even as the prison
      comes under renewed criticism for the suicides of
      three detainees last weekend.

      "Now is the time when the media is most needed," said
      Clive Stafford Smith, an attorney who has filed legal
      challenges on behalf of about 40 detainees. "The fact
      that right now, the most important time in the history
      of Guantanamo, they are being banned is un-American."

      Pentagon officials defended the temporary ban on
      media, saying guards and base officials are
      preoccupied with investigating the deaths and
      maintaining security as detainees become more defiant.
      A clash with guards in May left six detainees injured.
      Another 10 prisoners were on hunger strike Thursday,
      including six being force-fed with nasal tubes.

      U.S. officials say the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base,
      which sits on cactus-studded hills in southeastern
      Cuba overlooking the Caribbean and mangrove forests,
      has been unusually open to journalists — despite media
      complaints that access while they are at the prison is
      severely curtailed and requests for interviews often
      vanish in the military bureaucracy.

      "It's the most transparent detention facility in the
      history of warfare," insisted Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey
      Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, echoing comments by
      Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

      But the Pentagon rejected all requests by news
      organizations this week to cover the investigation and
      aftermath of the suicides, the first detainee deaths
      since Guantanamo opened.

      About 10 news organizations, including The Associated
      Press, were to cover a military tribunal this week for
      one of the 10 detainees charged with crimes. But the
      hearing was postponed and hours before they were to
      depart for Guantanamo, the Pentagon canceled the
      authorizations that reporters need to visit.

      Reporters cover the hearings from the courtroom —
      where they are barred from speaking with participants,
      even during breaks. Or they can view the proceedings
      on a large-screen TV near a media center where
      military censors peer at their photographs and video
      and decide what is out of bounds.

      On Wednesday, the Pentagon expelled two journalists —
      from the Los Angeles Times and The Miami Herald — who
      arrived at Guantanamo on a charter flight Sunday and
      two others from The Charlotte Observer, who were at
      the base for coverage of a commander from North

      The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders said
      Thursday the expulsions damage the credibility of the
      U.S. government.

      "We condemn the Pentagon decision and we call on the
      U.S. government to take the necessary steps to
      guarantee the media free access to the naval base at
      Guantanamo," the group said.

      Media visits have been common, drawing journalists
      from dozens of countries, but they have always come
      with thick strings attached.

      Access to the base is available only through military
      planes or small charters. The charters take about 3
      hours to fly from Florida to Guantanamo because they
      can't travel through Cuban airspace and must circle
      around the island.

      On the base, a 10-page list of ground rules bars
      journalists from interviewing anyone without approval
      and prohibits photos of detainee faces and base
      features, such as radar or the coastline. The military
      says such restrictions are needed for security and to
      protect detainees' privacy.

      But critics say the military is being disingenuous in
      saying it wants to protect detainees' privacy. One
      prisoner, speaking in English, once told a visiting AP
      reporter that he wanted to talk. But when the reporter
      asked the military if she could interview the
      detainee, the answer was no.

      Other reporters have been have been hustled away when
      prisoners have tried to communicate with them —
      through food slots in the cells of the
      highest-security section, or from behind curtains at
      the medical clinic.

      Gordon said regular media access is scheduled to
      resume next week, with journalists from three European
      news organizations taking a tour that can take two
      months or more to arrange.

      But without access to the detainees, Stafford Smith
      said such visits amount to little more than

      "The media sees a very sanitized view of what's going
      on," he said.
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