First published on August 26, 2015
By Lorra B. Staff Writer
US defense Secretary, Ash Carter, is being asked by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) to amend a new Pentagon manual that is labeling war journalists as spies, unprivileged belligerents and saboteurs.
Is this new manual an indication the U.S. government is openly marking journalists who challenge Washington’s objectives?
An open letter was published by RWB to Carter about the Law of War Manual. The manual has infuriated reporters “for saying war reporters may be held liable for ‘engaging in hostilities’ or spying, sabotage and similar acts behind enemy lines’,” according to The Guardian.
The War Manual, was published on June 24 and is 1,176 pages of revisions, the first revisions since 1956.
The revisions include terminology marking journalists stating “in general, journalists are civilians,” and that in some instances these reporters may be viewed as “unprivileged belligerents.”
But what does unprivileged belligerents really mean? Well, ‘unprivileged belligerents,’ according to veteran war corresponded Don North, simply replaces the term ‘unlawful combatants’ and that journalists, therefore are looked upon as nothing more than those in the ranks of Al Qaeda.
Based on this assessment, broad interpretation and hazy wording, journalists could not only be asked to leave military bases but they could also be detained for perceived wrongdoings.
Secretary General Christophe Deloire of Reporters Without Borders stated, “This terminology leaves too much room for interpretation, putting journalists in a dangerous position.”
“Liking journalistic activity to spying is just the kind of ammunition certain repressive countries like Iran, Syria and China would seek out to support their practices of censorship and criminalization of journalists.”
Columbia Journalism Review’s managing editor, Vanessa Gezari, stated, “It’s very threatening. I believe it contradicts at least the spirit of customary battlefield relationships, if not the letter. The relationship between journalists and combatants has always been complicated. The way the language about spying is placed in there is alarming to me in that is says, ‘journalism is a lot like spying’ and then it leaves that to people to make up their own mind. It gets at the commonalities but not the differences.”
The craftily worded manual sets journalist in a whole new category. Journalists will not be classified as either civilian or soldier and therefore have no protections. The manual states that ‘like other civilians, civilian journalists who engage in hostilities against a State, may be punished by that State after a fair trial.”
The “relaying of information,” according to the new manual, may be construed as such an act.
Governments, according to the manual, “may need to censor journalists’ work or take other security measures so that journalists do not reveal sensitive information to the enemy.”
Censor journalists’ work? Really? This does not sound like the ‘America The Free’ I remember. Press freedoms are vitally important to America remaining free. Without them we will become no better than a dictator state.
When the Pentagon begins to crack down and round-up all journalistic work to be reviewed and possibly censored then we will be playing in a whole new ball game and not one for the betterment of American citizens.
Will we become nothing more than the New China or New Russia? When we begin to censor and impede on journalistic freedoms then we start chipping away at the very fabric this great nation was built on. Just where that chipping will lead is a road I, for one, don’t wish to travel.
By Lorra B.
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