The Media’s Gitmo Rebellion Continues

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulk/3080299313/">Paul Keller</a> (<a href="http://www.creativecommons.org">Creative Commons</a>).

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They’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Major media outlets are losing their patience with the restrictions that the military and the Obama administration have placed on reporting from Guantanamo Bay. Last month, a lawyer representing the New York Times, the Washington Post, Dow Jones, Reuters, and other major media organizations threatened to sue the Obama administration over the restrictions it has placed on Guantanamo coverage. Then the Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg chronicled the indignities of the Gitmo reporters’ trade in a widely circulated column. This week, as the first war crimes trial under the Obama administration’s new military commissions kicks off, media complaints about Gitmo restrictions are becoming the focus of reports from the base.

The latest example of this genre comes from the Times’ Jeremy Peters, who filed a pretty negative story on Wednesday about the tours the military conducts of the prison camp. According to Peters, the tours are essentially a propaganda exercise:

Much of the media tour is intended to convey that the 176 men the government is holding at Guantánamo are being treated humanely. Camp guards describe the curriculum for detainees, which includes a living-skills course on home budgeting and résumé writing. Military personnel frequently point out the arrows that have been stenciled to the floors of many rooms. They point to Mecca, officials explain, so Muslim detainees know which direction to face when they pray. Camp personnel also often mention that the detainees are given 20 minutes of quiet time five times a day in which to pray….

…Most of the camp guards and personnel have scripts for the visiting media and largely stick to them. On a tour of Camp 5, a maximum-security camp for detainees the military deems “noncompliant,” the commanding officer rattled off statistics about the building. It was modeled after a prison in Terre Haute, Ind. It was shipped in pieces to the naval base on a barge, then assembled.

As he wrapped up his presentation, which he conducted with his back to [a] … television camera to conceal his identity, he said flatly: “This concludes my tour. Do you guys have any questions?”

I’d be surprised if any of this changes any time soon. If you read Rosenberg’s article, you’d understand that it’s been getting harder, not easier, to report from Gitmo ever since the prison camp opened. Obama certainly hasn’t improved things. The best way for the media to force the Pentagon to change the rules for the better is to sue. I suspect that’s what the Times, the Post, and their allies will eventually do.

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