10 March, 2007

info wars - free, the press

Independent Reporting Drew Army Coverup, Secrecy, Delays

Officials in the US military, from the Pentagon on down, tried to thwart reporters for the LA Times who uncovered deaths and possible torture of detainees in Afghanistan.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times decided to undertake something quite unusual: The newspaper would conduct a parallel investigation to the one being undertaken by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) into how a small U.S. Special Forces detachment in Afghanistan could be tied to two detainee deaths and two apparent cover-ups in less than two weeks.

The Army’s investigations had been launched initially in September 2004 after the Times and the Crimes of War Project, a Washington-based nonprofit educational organization, had revealed that a young Afghan soldier had died in the custody of the Special Forces team after allegations that he had been tortured. The Pentagon said it had no record of the death.

The Times’s disclosures remain one of the rare instances since American troops went to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 in which independent reporting has uncovered potential war crimes by U.S. servicemen that had apparently been covered up, not only from the public, but from the military itself. The Times’s 2004 story was published just two months after the Army’s inspector general had issued a detailed report on detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its conclusion: that it had found “no incidents of abuse that had not been reported through command channels.”

And while the Times’s story led to the Army launching two criminal probes, human rights organizations at the same time were raising questions about the relatively low number of successful military prosecutions in criminal homicide and prisoner abuse cases and whether the military is capable of policing itself in times of war.
. . .

When we went through official channels, the United States Army and all of its relevant subordinate commands declined requests for comment. But their posture was not always passive. The U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC), a part of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), sent out hundreds of e-mails instructing its members to refer any inquiries that might come from us to their public affairs office and to alert their chain of command of the contacts.
. . .

Donald H. Rumsfeld labored six years as defense secretary to build a lighter, faster military for high tech warfare. What he left behind is a public affairs apparatus-at the Pentagon level and at military bases and headquarters-that refuses to shed its siege mentality. Part of the problem is that the people who work in these positions don’t regard their job as responding to journalists’ questions. Their work is “to transmit the policy and message of the United States,” as a sign in the Public Affairs Office at Camp Eggers, Kabul, reminds its staff. Journalists often are perceived to have their own agendas.
. . .

In Afghanistan, among Special Forces who are in the field, "media engagement training" can be pretty basic. After Green Berets confiscated some videotape from CBS News in December 2002, the top Special Forces commander issued a directive to his men saying that they did not have authorization to kill journalists "for the sole purpose of recovering film or videotape" unless it was in self-defense.

Back at the Pentagon, one might expect a bit more of a sophisticated understanding of how press and public affairs operations interact. Near the tail end of our investigation, I contacted the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology to ask about the procedures used by Special Forces to report a detainee death at one of their bases. My questions could have been cleared by Army brass within 24 to 48 hours and answered definitively in 20 minutes without violating Department of Defense guidelines or weakening our national defense. Instead it took more than two months of e-mails and telephone calls for the Army's medical branch to give us an incomplete reply. Some of the information they did dispense was inaccurate.

A freelance photographer working for The Associated Press and a cameraman working for AP Television News said a U.S. soldier deleted their photos and video showing a four-wheel drive vehicle in which three people were shot to death about 100 yards from the suicide bombing. The AP plans to lodge a protest with the American military.

The photographer, Rahmat Gul, said witnesses at the scene told him the three had been shot to death by U.S. forces fleeing the attack. The two AP freelancers arrived at the site about a half hour after the suicide bombing, Gul said.

"When I went near the four-wheel drive, I saw the Americans taking pictures of the same car, so I started taking pictures," Gul said. "Two soldiers with a translator came and said, 'Why are you taking pictures? You don't have permission.'"

It wasn't clear why the accredited journalists would need permission to take photos of a civilian car on a public highway.

Gul said the U.S. troops took his camera, deleted his photos and returned it to him. The journalists came across another American, showed their identification cards, and he agreed that they could take pictures.

A Western military official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to release the information said the troops were Marine Special Operations Forces, the Marine Corps component created in February 2006 of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

"The same soldier who took my camera came again and deleted my photos," Gul said. "The soldier was very angry ... I told him, 'They gave us permission,' but he didn't listen."

Gul's new photos were also deleted, and the American, speaking through a translator, warned him that he did not want to see any AP photos published anywhere. The American also raised his fist in anger as if he were going to hit him, but he did not strike, Gul said.
. . .

Khanwali Kamran, a reporter for the Afghan channel Ariana Television, was in a small group of journalists working alongside Gul. Kamran said the American soldiers also deleted his footage.

"They warned me that if it is aired ... then, 'You will face problems,'" Kamran said. Taqiullah Taqi, a reporter for Afghanistan's largest television station, Tolo TV, said Americans were using abusive language. "According to the translator, they said, 'Delete them, or we will delete you,'" Taqi said.

A freelance cameraman for AP Television News said that about 100 yards from the bomb site, a U.S. officer told him that he could not go any closer to the scene but that he could shoot footage. The cameraman asked not to be named for his own safety.

"Then I started filming the suicide attack site, where there was a body and U.S. soldiers, and farther away, there was a four-wheel drive vehicle in which three people were shot to death," he said.

As he was filming, he said, a U.S. soldier and translator "ordered us not to move." The cameraman said they were very angry and deleted any footage that included the Americans, as well as part of an interview from a demonstration. Hundreds of Afghans had gathered to protest the violence.


The US opened military hearings at Guantánamo Bay . . . into the 14 suspects described as "high value", allegedly the most dangerous of all the inmates with direct links to al-Qaida.

Journalists were barred from the hearings for the first time since detainees began arriving at the US base in Cuba in 2001.

The Pentagon says the reporting ban is because of the potentially sensitive nature of the evidence. But human rights activists say the real reason is the Pentagon does not want to be embarrassed by revelations of the secret CIA prisons and torture suspects were subjected to.

A Pentagon spokesman said today that transcripts of the evidence would be made available to the press but probably not until the end of next week because of the time involved in translation and typing.

The Pentagon will edit the transcripts to remove anything it regards as damaging.

Attytood on Josh Wolf (h/t to Madman at Liberal Street Fighter):

And so am I actually saying that I think that 24-year-old Josh Wolf is more of a journalist than the Pulitzer Prize-winning Judy Miller?

Yes, I am.

Josh Wolf may hold some extreme views, but given the choices, I'd rather see a lot more journalists willing to speak truth to power (and willing to go to jail to protect that right) than journalists who not only are cowed by those in power, but bend over backwards to defend them.

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