- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

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.

I pulled together the story, interviewing eyewitnesses and senior NATO and Afghan officials, who told two contrasting views of the event.

The story broke on July 30. And all hell broke loose.

Termination was immediate, with no chance to defend myself, and calls to the regional command for help went unanswered. I was ordered to pack up and was run out of Dodge on the first armored vehicle going to Kabul.

The anger is understandable. The bad news could not have been more ill-timed.

July was the deadliest month for the United States, with 66 lives lost. That month, WikiLeaks revealed 92,000 documents, some exposing civilian Afghan casualties from “friendly fire.” Then a CBS poll showed “62 percent of Americans say the war is going badly.” The ouster of popular Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal also was still on many minds.

In less than 24 hours after publication, I was charged and convicted at a 15-minute “hearing” held alongside a busy airport terminal. The verdict had been decided long before the trial. It was “Alice in Wonderland Goes to Kabul.”

The official charge was “posting video of wounded personnel,” which is not a crime. Showing identities is. The Washington Times and I respectfully disagree that an identity was shown.

NATO senior commanders cannot say the same, as they never saw the video but ruled it was a violation. Seeing actual evidence also seems “not relevant.”

My 15-page appeal cites 10 examples where the military failed to adhere to the media rules and American rules of fairness. But these democratic ideals fell on deaf ears.

Even if you argue that our Constitution and court opinions are not technically enforceable in Afghanistan, surely their purpose and value should be applied. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander in Afghanistan, said we must “live our values” there. NATO has overruled Gen. Petraeus.

America deserves better treatment from NATO, considering the price we’re paying. The nation has 98,000 personnel in Afghanistan, far more than any other country. And NATO has the gall to say our values of fair play are not relevant there? NATO’s comments were issued from Brussels, but I wonder if NATO is on another planet.

Wayne M. Anderson has been a freelance correspondent for The Washington Times. More details on the case are available at theandersonreport.com.

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