Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A New Rumsfeld Rule
The Daily Outrage
A New Rumsfeld Rule

Preventing journalists from doing their jobs has become a new "Rumsfeld Rule." Reporters covering the court martial in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, of Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar--who was convicted on April 21 of murdering two fellow soldiers in a bomb attack in Kuwait--were forced to follow fourteen Army "ground rules."

According to the association of Military Reporters & Editors (MRE), the stipulations included "a pledge to not interview soldiers at Fort Bragg about the case or ask legal advisors in the media room to speculate on the outcome. To ensure compliance with the agreement, reporters were escorted everywhere while on base and some were monitored as they went to the restroom." While the general public could speak freely with soldiers at base, reporters could not. Even the bathroom was considered a potential hot spot for reportorial subversion.

A judge can only close a legal hearing, including a court martial, based on narrow, specific findings and when presented with no reasonable alternative, neither of which applied to the Akbar case. "The purported 'agreement' does not meet that test," the MRE wrote in a letter to Rumsfeld. "No public hearing was held, no showing was made and no judicial findings were rendered to justify press restrictions of any sort."

Instead, the press is caught in a post 9/11 crackdown where any type of secrecy can be justified in the name of national security.

A military affairs reporter in Wilmington, NC, experienced similar restrictions when covering the court martial of a Marine whose plane clipped the wires of a cable car in Italy, killing several people. Another man was tried in secret for an immigration violation until his case reached the Supreme Court. Last December, the Army barred the press from covering a trial in Colorado of several soldiers accused of killing an Iraqi general. A Denver Post lawsuit forced the Army to open the proceedings.

"That strikes me as crazy," Eugene Fidell, a Denver Post lawyer, said of the recent constraints in the Akbar case. Trial coverage by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Associated Press neglected to mention the hamstrung access.

Meanwhile, their press comrades in Iraq are facing far more severe pressures. A Knight-Ridder report says Iraqi journalists have been beaten and detained by Iraqi police for "snapping pictures of long lines at gas stations," "filming a mosque" and criticizing local Governors. Journalists now avoid covering Iraqi security forces and refrain from identifying themselves as press at police checkpoints. "Under such circumstances," says Israa Shakir, editor of Iraq Today, "We should be worried about the future of democracy." Why isn't Rummy?


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