< Veteran Reporter Barred From Guantanamo


Friday, May 14, 2010

BOB GARFIELD: In 2002, U.S. forces captured 15-year-old Canadian-born militant Omar Khadr during a raid on an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. Badly wounded during the raid, Khadr spent time recuperating at Bagram Air Base where prosecutors say he confessed to, among other things, planting landmines and killing an American soldier with a grenade, all of which earned him a trip to Guantanamo Bay, where he was deemed an enemy combatant and charged by the United States with murder. Khadr’s military tribunal is now underway, but his defense attorneys argued recently that his confession should be thrown out because, they say, it was coerced. To help make their case, they called as a witness the alleged coercer, identified in court as Interrogator 1. Now, according to the ground rules for reporters covering such tribunals, anonymous witnesses cannot be named. So when three Canadian journalists and The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg did just that last week, they were barred by the Pentagon from further coverage of any and all trials at Guantanamo. Rosenberg is the most veteran of all reporters covering Gitmo, which raises the question, why would she break the rules? She joins me now. Hey, Carol, welcome back to the show.


BOB GARFIELD: Okay, before we get to the particulars of your dispute with the Pentagon here, I want to talk for a moment about this ex-soldier called Interrogator 1.

CAROL ROSENBERG: Interrogator 1 was the first soldier to interrogate Omar Khadr, and he did it within two weeks of his being captured, this 15-year-old Canadian shot through the back and out the chest and blinded in one eye with shrapnel. And he said that his was a clean interrogation, that he followed all of the rules that were available to him at the time and that he disputed Omar Khadr’s claim that Omar Khadr was threatened with rape.

BOB GARFIELD: Didn't threaten him with rape but told him a cautionary rape tale, right?

CAROL ROSENBERG: What he said was he told him a story, a fictitious story, about an Afghan kid of similar circumstances who didn't help his interrogators, and in the end he was raped and died. He said he just told him a story about another boy’s rape.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, the reason I know about this guy, I know his name, is he gave an interview in The Toronto Star back in 2008, and in that interview freely discussed the Khadr case, more or less a sneak preview of his testimony at Guantanamo May 5th. Is that about right?

CAROL ROSENBERG: Yes. He sought out The Toronto Star reporter who has reported most on the case of Omar Khadr, and he said, I'm Interrogator #1, and I want to clear my name. And then he proceeded to give her an on-the-record interview, with his name attached. So I, in 2008, learned his name the same way you did. Fast-forward two years, and I'm sitting at Guantanamo and Interrogator #1 is coming to testify. And so, I included a single paragraph in my article that said, “Interrogator #1 has been identified in the Canadian media as Sergeant Joshua Claus, who was subsequently court-martialed for detainee abuse not involving Omar Khadr.” That’s what I wrote.

BOB GARFIELD: You were in a weird sort of bind because, although you did know his name and it had been made public, you had also agreed to Pentagon ground rules strictly forbidding you from naming anonymous witnesses. And when he testified, he was testifying anonymously as Interrogator 1.

CAROL ROSENBERG: We have always been allowed to insert outside information into our stories. We have always been allowed to say what other newspapers in other countries reported about Guantanamo. And I will tell you that in week three of the detention center’s existence, the same kind of ground rules banned me from naming prisoners. Back then, the detainees were anonymous. But in week three, I wrote that Australian media reported that David Hicks was in the cages at Camp X-Ray. Nobody considered me importing information that was in the public domain in a newspaper overseas into my article to be a violation of the ground rules. The question is, why is it now?

BOB GARFIELD: Let's talk about why the ground rules are there to begin with. Whom or what is the government trying to protect?

CAROL ROSENBERG: Well, the government has good reason to protect these interrogators and to protect security people in the U.S. military. For different reasons, they seek protection for different people. They're concerned that they won't voluntarily testify because if their name is out there they believe their families could be at risk. They're concerned that they won't be able to redeploy them and call them up back for service because if they put them out into, you know, the combat area, they would be more at risk than any other interrogator or security person. They're concerned that there is no subpoena power for certain people to Guantanamo and that they will not get cooperation from people if they don't believe they can be anonymous.

BOB GARFIELD: Sort of a witness protection program, at the trial itself.

CAROL ROSENBERG: For sure, but my point is you protect the secrets you have. But a man who two years ago called up the newspaper and identified himself, that’s not a secret they're protecting. They're protecting the prerogative to not identify people who are already publicly identified.

BOB GARFIELD: All right, fair enough. But in a background conversation with our producers, the Pentagon said that what happens outside of the court has no bearing on the rules within the court and that you just flat-out flouted those rules. And maybe they're worried about setting a dangerous precedent.

CAROL ROSENBERG: Well, I think the editors are worried about setting a dangerous precedent because if this ban continues, it means the Pentagon can reach into newsrooms across America, across the world, and tell editors what previously published information cannot appear under a Guantanamo dateline. They're telling editors, even if you reported it five days ago from Washington, D.C., don't put that paragraph under a Guantanamo dateline or you won't be allowed to cover this. Even the Bush administration didn't have this policy. They allowed you to import previously published information under a Guantanamo dateline.

BOB GARFIELD: Well, since you invoked the Bush administration, let me invoke the Obama one. Back in 2007, candidate Obama said that he was going to reject the Military Commission’s Act that I guess undergirds the Guantanamo procedures and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. And the Khadr trial is the first military commission to play out under Obama’s watch. What do you suppose happened?

CAROL ROSENBERG: He went in and worked with Congress and made some changes that he thinks make them fairer. They used to have a rule that said only tortured evidence could be excluded from the trial; you’d have to prove torture. Under the Obama commissions, it has to be a voluntary confession. What they've tried to do is bring them into more alignment with a federal criminal court that you would see in the States. That’s what they tried to do.


CAROL ROSENBERG: But no court in America would tell you only write what happens when you walk through this door. They would say watch what happens through this door and write whatever it is you think the reader should understand.

BOB GARFIELD: All right, let's just say that the Pentagon’s ruling is, indeed, absurd and arbitrary. What do you think is behind this?

CAROL ROSENBERG: Eight-and-a-half years have taught us that sometimes the Pentagon’s understandings of their authority later change. Remember, at the beginning they told us that the names of prisoners were protected information, and then the AP went to the courts and they got the names declassified. At the beginning, the Pentagon said they have no right to habeas corpus and that they don't get lawyers. Sometimes understanding of the rules by which we operate at Guantanamo change.

BOB GARFIELD: Okay, so maybe they will reverse their decision, but you and these Canadians are among the most inveterate reporters down there. Do you think that anything about this is punitive beyond the case at hand?

CAROL ROSENBERG: I guess what maybe you’re asking is whether the people who handle the Guantanamo message don't want experienced reporters down there. And I can say that it does thrive on the confusion and inexperience and ignorance of the people who are first-timers. They have for years brought people down in hope that they'll tell the same story over and over again. That’s why the package tours boast that they've had hundreds and hundreds of reporters through there. The only way you cover Guantanamo well, I argue, is by going back again and again and covering it when you’re not at Guantanamo, and reading the files and reading the motions and being prepared before you ever go down there to understand the totality of the story. They want to create the impression that this is battlefield-style justice. You know, you pull everybody in, stick them in some tents, throw together a court, and have a variation on a court-martial. You know, they have rotations of guards. They have rotations of escorts. Even the lawyers haven't been the same for all these years. The only people who are the same in this instance are the detainees and the reporters. And I don't think that they're necessarily comfortable with the fact that we've logged more hours and perhaps know the history of this case better.

BOB GARFIELD: All right, Carol. Well, thank you very much.

CAROL ROSENBERG: Thanks a lot, Bob.

BOB GARFIELD: Carol Rosenberg is a reporter for The Miami Herald, where she’s been covering Guantanamo Bay for eight-and-a-half years. As I mentioned, we talked to a Pentagon spokesman who, because of ongoing negotiations with The Herald, declined to speak to us on the air.