The Pentagon has banned four reporters from covering court proceedings on the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because they published the name of a former U.S. Army interrogator.
The journalists violated ground rules by reporting the name of a protected witness, Defense Department spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said.
Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, Globe and Mail reporter Paul Koring, Toronto Star reporter Michelle Shephard and Canwest News Service reporter Steven Edwards were notified by Defense Department officials Thursday.
Editors at the news organizations involved said the name of the man a judge asked reporters to describe as "Interrogator No. 1" in a Guantanamo court hearing Wednesday was already part of the public record.
"Banning the information now - when it is already known around the world - serves no apparent purpose other than to raise more questions about the credibility of the Guantanamo courts," Globe and Mail Editor-in-Chief John Stackhouse said in an article on the newspaper's Web site.
The stories in question named former Army Sgt. Joshua Claus as a witness in a hearing this week for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr. Claus spoke on the record to the Toronto Star in 2008 about his role as one of Khadr's interrogators and his name was widely published in accounts of his court martial in September 2005, the Miami Herald reported.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said kicking out the journalists was an unnecessarily drastic move.
"This man's identity has been widely known. There is video on YouTube that is available to virtually anybody. He has been giving on-the-record interviews about his involvement in the case," she told CNN.
But Lapan said past public mentions of the man's name were irrelevant.
"The fact that the individual's name was out at some time in the past doesn't change the fact that there was an order protecting his identity at this hearing," Lapan told CNN.
He said the ban applied only to the four reporters, and not to their news organizations. He said the news organizations could appeal the decision through the Defense Department.
"They all had copies of these ground rules, they were well-known, they were established," Lapan told reporters Friday. "... The judge had reminded them in court two days ago that the protective order, protecting the names, the identities of the witnesses, applied to them. Yet they published anyway."
Khadr, the Guantanamo detainee, has accused interrogators of torturing him at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
Prosecutors allege that he threw a grenade that killed a U.S. Army medic, received training from al Qaeda and was caught on a surveillance video making roadside bombs and planting them where U.S. troops traveled.
Defense attorneys representing Khadr, 23, say confessions he made during questioning were a product of torture and should not be admissible.
Editors at several of the news organizations have said they plan to appeal the Defense Department's decision to ban the reporters.
Dalglish said her organization has requested a meeting about the issue with Defense Department attorneys.
Banning the reporters has negative consequences for readers as well as news organizations, she said.
"The public is deprived of the very skilled reporting of journalists who have been covering this story for a long time," she said.
A story from McClatchy Newspapers, which owns the Miami Herald, said Rosenberg has covered every military commission hearing at Guantanamo Bay, with the exception of one week, since the proceedings began in 2004.
A story on the Toronto Star's website said Shephard is currently on her 21st trip to Guantanamo Bay. In the article, Toronto Star Editor Michael Cooke described the Pentagon's decision as "absurd."
"This is ridiculous and an unfair ban and the Toronto Star will object strongly to it," he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union also sharply criticized the Defense Department's decision.
"No legitimate government interest is served by suppressing information that is already well known," the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer said in a written statement. "We strongly urge the Defense Department to reconsider its rash, draconian and unconstitutional decision to bar these four reporters from future tribunals."