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Journalists ordered out of Guantánamo
David Fickling
June 14, 2006

Journalists have been ordered to leave Guantánamo Bay and local military authorities have had their permission to invite reporters to the base overruled following last week's suicides at the US detention camp.

Reporters from the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times are being flown home this afternoon having arrived at the base last Saturday, just hours after two Saudis and one Yemeni detainee committed suicide in their rooms with improvised nooses.

The removal of access comes amid unprecedented criticism of the camp and follows yesterday's publication of one of the most frank media reports yet to have emerged from the tightly controlled base.

 The article contains scenes of officials discussing harsh treatment of detainees, including a planned operation to forcibly strip British detainee Ahmed Errachidi and put him in a new uniform.

"There is not a trustworthy son of a [bitch] in the entire bunch," one is quoted as saying.

Journalists have been granted sporadic access to the camp since February 2002 with permission from the US military's joint task force and office of military commissions.

A Pentagon spokesman said that the decision was taken for routine reasons. "These reporters were there for a specific purpose which is the military commissions. There are no military commissions this week, therefore the stated purpose of their visit is no longer valid," said Lieutenant Commander Jeff Gordon.

However, the Miami Herald executive editor, Tom Fiedler, told the Guardian that the Herald's Carol Rosenberg had been invited to Guantánamo by the joint task force, rather than the office of military commissions. Her invitation had only been overruled by the Pentagon after she arrived, he said.

Lt Cmdr Gordon said that the joint task force invitation had been "inadvertently given" and that the Pentagon was now working on improving "coordination" within the department.

He blamed the decision to order the reporters home on the complaints of other media organisations that had demanded access to the camp since last Saturday's suicides.

"It was determined that all the media had to be allowed in or none of them," he said.

A group of journalists who were due to be flown in on a military flight on Sunday had their journey cancelled. Lt Cmdr Gordon said that some media organisations had threatened to sue if they were not allowed in. Mr Fiedler said that the decision to refuse access to journalists would not help the US government avoid criticism of the camp.

"Government should operate as transparently as possible," he said. "It is in the best interests of the administration for there to be independent corroboration of their claim that the detainees are well treated.

"They need to allow access there otherwise they are asking the world to take their word for it, and right now their credibility is severely strained."

More than 1,000 journalists from 40 countries have visited the camp since 2002 and there is no policy insisting they should only be present during military commissions.

Access is severely restricted. Journalists may not speak to detainees and lawyers are forbidden from discussing details of their cases with reporters who are present.

Aidan White, the general secretary of International Federation of Journalists, said that the refusal of access to journalists was of a piece with the US' restrictions on other observers at the camp.

"The failure of the American authorities to allow responsible, international authorities to have free and unrestricted access seems to be regrettable, and merely confirms the ever-growing international opinion that Guantánamo should not continue to operate."

The UN commission on torture - which caused a sea change in official opinion worldwide in February when it called for the camp's closure - was refused proper access to the camp during its research period last year and earlier this year.

The commissioners today renewed their demand for the camp to be closed, saying that Saturday's suicides were "predictable" given the harsh conditions inmates were being held in.

Original Text