It's a place where one day in the cafeteria, your escorts harp on you to display your media badge. Then another tells you to put it away because it's creeping out the troops.
It's a place where they say you can never take pictures at McDonalds. But I have, with permission and an escort. Where they say no one has ever taken pictures in Khalid Sheik Mohammed's courtroom, the maximum-security bunker. But I have. They took me there, and approved the photograph.
It's a place where they clear the court so only those with security clearances can see a video of a Canadian agent questioning Omar Khadr. We are taken back to the filing center, where we watch it on YouTube. Canadian courts released it more than a year ago.
It's a place where now, suddenly this summer, defense lawyers can't step inside the air-conditioned press conference room — cost to taxpayers: $49,000 — unless the prosecutors also want to brief. So reporters now do mini pressers with defense attorneys in the humid, filthy hangar.
It's a place where the defense lawyers are barred from setting foot inside the filing center, but the Military Commissions deputy legal adviser comes and goes as he pleases.
It's a place where some years back, a colleague got a map of the base in her press packet. On her return, she brings it back. A minder sees it at her computer and confiscates it. You're not allowed to have that. But it's still included in every guest packet at Guantánamo's guest quarters.
Some of the treatment seems petty.
How about this: They control the access to food at times and somehow forget there have been, consistently, Muslims and vegetarians among the media. Some years back an officer with the Louisiana National Guard declared it too inconvenient to let us go out to eat and sent us to our quarters with a stack of pork pizzas. Two journalists from Canada who had been working full tilt all day went hungry until breakfast.
Once, a Chinese reporter, an official guest of the foreign press center, filmed her standup from a pre-approved spot. Escorts took her there, and watched while she did it. The next day she came to me bewildered. They deleted the shot in the spot they approved because there was a fluorescent orange barrier in the distance. Surely, I said, you must've said something that was protected. Not likely. The censor shut off the sound and fast-forwarded through the standup because he didn't speak Chinese.
Minor stuff? Not if you're trying to do your job.
I don't break the rules. I protest the ones that make no sense. Now they've got a new expansive interpretation of military censorship authority. A colleague calls it a bid to impose collective amnesia on reporters of things we've known for years. I say protect the secrets that are secret, not the prerogative. Don't create a bunch of ad hoc rules that keep us from doing our jobs. Some days we can't challenge all of them. They come too fast, without rhyme or reason.
(This article is adapted from a speech given to the National Press Club in Washington by Carol Rosenberg, a reporter for The Miami Herald, who was one of four reporters banned in May from covering future military commission hearings for publishing the already publicly known name of a witness that the Pentagon wanted kept secret. The Pentagon lifted the ban after news media attorneys complained such restrictions are unconstitutional and illegal under the Military Commissions Act of 2009. On Monday, Aug. 2, the Pentagon has agreed to meet with news media representatives to discuss the ground rules for covering Guantánamo. Rosenberg, who has covered the detention camps at Guantánamo since they opened in January 2002, is expected to be among the attendees.)
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