The Pentagon has sent three U.S. reporters and a photographer packing from Guantanamo Bay.
On orders of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Charlotte Rosenberg of the Miami Herald and Carol J. Williams of the LA Times were flown back to the United States on a military plane June 14. So, too, were Michael Gordon, a reporter for The Charlotte Observer, and Todd Sumlin, a photographer for that paper.
The Charlotte Observer’s story evidently raised the ire of the Pentagon. Lieutenant Commander J. D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, told Editor & Publisher that it had caused “controversy,” though he said that’s not why they were asked to leave.
The Observer article quoted prison commander Colonel Mike Bumgarner ordering a crackdown. “We can’t trust them any farther than we can throw them,” Bumgarner said of the detainees. “There is not a trustworthy son of a . . . in the entire bunch.”
The Observer reporter and photographer went to Guantanamo before the three suicides occurred. They were there to profile Colonel Bumgarner, who is from a town near Charlotte.
“Obviously, my mission changed once the suicides occurred,” Michael Gordon told his newspaper.
“I was very clear with the military and their attaches that I was writing daily stories.”
Rosenberg’s piece for the Miami Herald of June 13 also reported facts that cast doubt on whether proper procedures were followed at the prison and whether the Southern Command had been truthful when it originally said that the three detainees did not have legal representation.
Rosenberg reported that she and the LA Times reporter “came down to the base on Saturday to cover the aftermath of the suicides, at the invitation of the admiral in charge of the prison. The Pentagon canceled the invitation Tuesday night, despite protests from the newspapers.”
The LA Times story was also critical. Here’s the opening: “International condemnation of the Guantanamo prison mounted Tuesday, as lawyers, doctors and ethicists called for changes in the treatment of the reportedly despondent prison population.”
Lieutenant Commander Gordon told Editor & Publisher it was “totally not true” that the reporters were told to leave because their stories cast Guantanamo in a bad light. “We are not into content management,” he said. The Pentagon was getting complaints from other media networks that hadn’t been allowed in, he said, so they decided to let no one in.
Reached for comment by The Progressive, Lieutenant Commander Gordon said, “I don’t have anything to tell you.”
“This press crackdown is the Administration’s latest betrayal of fundamental American values,” the Center for Constitutional Rights told Editor & Publisher. “The Bush Administration is afraid of American reporters, afraid of American attorneys, and afraid of American laws.”
The ACLU also denounced the expulsions.
“If the United States wants to restore its credibility as a democracy in the eyes of the world, it should be inviting journalists in, not kicking them out,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “Our government insists it has nothing to hide, but its actions show otherwise.”