- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

NATO has stated that the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court rulings are “not relevant” civil rights protections for American reporters in Afghanistan and expelling journalists from the war without a meaningful hearing is “valid.”

Furthermore, due process is an “undue distraction from the mission,” and giving defendants a fair hearing is too “exhaustive,” according to NATO. This exhaustion is evident in the fact that the war in Afghanistan has been dragging on for 10 years.

These startling findings are found in a newly released opinion issued from NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).

U.S. Army Col. Gregory Julian, chief of public affairs for SHAPE and Allied Command Operations, together with his team of legal officers, said they looked at the letter and principles of the Constitution and court rulings “thoroughly” and foundnone of it relevant in the expulsion case of a Washington Times correspondent - the last-known reporter kicked out of Afghanistan.

The administrative ruling has profound consequences for reporters risking their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whenever an international body declares the power to disregard basic democratic safeguards for reporters, it has a chilling effect on objective news reporting. Fear is a powerful tool.

Members of Congress, civil rights organizations and media groups were quick to react to NATO’s Jan.19 ruling.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, is calling for “fresh eyes” in dealing with this issue in his Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group, which will include a bill of rights for journalists.

NATO classifies embedded reporters as “guests.” But unilaterally kicking out reporter guests is “not appropriate,” Mr. Wolf said.

“The fundamental concepts of fair play are just nonexistent over there,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a national nonprofit organization that has been assisting journalists since 1970. “They are in control, and that’s it.”

Throwing journalists out of Afghanistan without due process is “not welcomed,” said Ricardo Sandoval, chairman of the International Journalism Committee for the Society of Professional Journalists.

“Anything that impedes the ability of a journalist to do his or her job in a democratic society is something that we take a look at with great concern,” said Mr. Sandoval, who is also an editor at the Sacramento Bee in California. “Something has gone awry in this situation.”

Last year, 1,669 reporters were embedded in Afghanistan and Iraq; four were expelled. NATO officials in Kabul declined to release this year’s embed figures: “We do not discuss any of that information.”

At the heart of the new NATO opinion is my reporting for The Washington Times on a controversial story involving the killing and wounding of American and Afghan soldiers and civilian contractors in northern Afghanistan.

On July 20, tragedy struck next to Camp Mike Spann, where three victims of an apparent Taliban suicide mission were rushed to the base hospital. I filmed the sad but heroic off-loading of the casualties.

The Media Ground Rules state that journalists are allowed to film war casualties, but showing a “recognizable face” without permission is prohibited.

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