Pentagon upholds ban on Guantanamo reporters, but offers possibility of return

The Department of Defense said Monday it acted correctly when it barred three journalists, including reporter Carol Rosenberg of McClatchy's Miami Herald, from covering military hearings at Guantánamo Bay.

But it left open the door to reinstating the reporters.

David A. Schulz, the attorney representing Rosenberg and reporters from Canwest News Service and the Toronto Star, had asked for a reversal of the coverage ban. The exclusion also affects a fourth reporter from The Globe and Mail who appealed independently.

"It is my determination that officials of the Department were correct to take the actions they did against these three individuals,'' Bryan G. Whitman, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, wrote Monday in a letter to Schulz.

But he added that the department would "consider lifting the coverage ban on these reporters if they individually request reinstatement.''

"While the Department of Defense has upheld the ban, it did open the possibility of reinstating our reporter and that is what we're working on now,'' said Miami Herald Managing Editor Aminda Marques Gonzalez.

The case stems from a hearing for Canadian-born Omar Khadr, 23, who has been held since being seized on a battlefield in Afghanistan at the age of 15 after allegedly lobbing a grenade that killed Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer. Khadr claimed abuse under interrogation and sought to exclude evidence gleaned from questioning.

Before the hearing, the four journalists printed the name of a witness the government identified as "Interrogator No. 1.'' Although military rules prohibit the publication of such "protected'' information, the witness' identity had been known for years after he gave newspaper interviews about his role as Khadr's interrogator. Before that, the witness had been convicted and sentenced to five months in prison by a U.S. court martial for abusing a prisoner in Afghanistan in ways similar to Khadr's allegations of abuse.

Schulz pointed out the reporters did not obtain the name of the witness at the hearing.

But in his response, Whitman said, "The information I have leaves no question that the reporters were aware of which witnesses were covered by the protective order.''