Newspapers decry reporters' removal from Guantanamo

Journalists working on articles about 3 suicides at prison

June 15, 2006|By JAMES RAINEY | JAMES RAINEY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Editors at the Los Angeles Times and two other newspapers protested to the Pentagon yesterday after their reporters were expelled from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the journalists were reporting on the weekend suicides of three prisoners.

Journalists from the Times, Miami Herald and Charlotte Observer all received permission from a local commander to be at the U.S. facility where terror suspects are held and interrogated. But the three reporters and a photographer from the Charlotte paper left the island yesterday on orders from the Pentagon.

A civilian spokeswoman at the Pentagon said the reporters had to leave the island in fairness to at least five other media outlets that wanted to cover the suicides but did not get permission from commanders at Guantanamo to do so.

"The Defense Department wants to be fair and impartial," said Cynthia Smith, a civilian spokeswoman for the Defense Department. "We got them on the next flight out of Guantanamo Bay to be fair to the rest of the media outlets that did not get a chance to go down there."

Smith said the situation could not have been resolved by simply granting all the reporters access to the prison. She said military personnel at Guantanamo were preoccupied with investigating the suicides and enhancing security and would not have had time to supervise the other journalists, who she said worked for Reuters, the Associated Press, CNN and two British newspapers.

But the three newspapers that had reporters at Guantanamo to cover the suicides said the military should be doing everything possible to increase public knowledge about the prison.

"Expelling Carol Williams and her colleagues represents a Stone Age attitude that only feeds suspicions about what is going on at Guantanamo," said Los Angeles Times managing editor Doug Frantz. "If the military hierarchy has nothing to hide, it should have respected the invitation extended by the [prison] commander and the professionalism of the journalists."

The military's more than four-year detention of terrorism suspects at the U.S. military facility has been criticized by American allies and human rights groups. The military reported Saturday that three Middle Eastern prisoners had hanged themselves in their cells. The deaths led the military to cancel a hearing scheduled to begin Monday for an Ethiopian detainee.

Times reporter Carol Williams, Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg and at least five other journalists had been scheduled to travel to the island prison to cover that hearing.

The Washington-based press operatives for the Pentagon who grant access to such hearings revoked permission for all of the journalists to visit Guantanamo.

The Times and Miami Herald reporters were preparing to depart Saturday afternoon on a small commercial plane at the time the Pentagon Office Of Military Commissions revoked their travel authorization.

Both asked and received permission to cover the suicides from Adm. Harry Harris of the Joint Task Force that oversees Guantanamo and were able proceed.

Reporter Michael Gordon and photographer Todd Sumlin of the Charlotte Observer were already at the base working on a story about a prison official from Charlotte.

James Rainey writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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