Pentagon Under Fire For Guidelines That Liken War Reporters To ‘Belligerents’

The Defense Department’s new Law of War Manual that was published in June not only supports censorship of journalist’s work, it likens war correspondents to spies and says that in some instances they can be treated as “unprivileged belligerents.”

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The Telegraph Reports:

Defenders of press freedom have accused the Pentagon of endangering journalists with new legal guidelines that liken war correspondents to spies and say they can be treated as “unprivileged belligerents” in some circumstances.

The details were buried in the Department of Defence’s 1176-page Law of War Manual, which was published in June.

On Monday, the New York Times added its voice to condemnation. In a bluntly worded editorial, the newspaper said it would make the work of journalists covering armed conflict “more dangerous, cumbersome and subject to censorship”.

It follows criticism from the Committee to Protect Journalists that the manual’s language reflected that used by repressive regimes such as China, Ethiopia, and Russia to justify imprisoning journalists.

The manual says journalists, in general, are civilians. However, it adds that in some circumstances they might be considered “unprivileged belligerents” – the same broad category that includes guerrillas or members of al-Qaeda

“Reporting on military operations can be very similar to collecting intelligence or even spying,” it continues. “A journalist who acts as a spy may be subject to security measures and punished if captured.”

It also sets out conditions under which journalists’ work will be censored.

Although the US is proud of its First Amendment which guarantees freedom of expression and protects journalists’ rights, the country has slipped down press freedom rankings compiled by Reporters Without Borders

The report cited the US campaign against Wikileaks and the persecution of Jim Risen, a New York Times reporter who was asked to reveal his sources in a high-profile leak case.

The latest guidelines, says The New York Times in a furious editorial, will allow authoritarian leaders around the world to claim they are acting in accordance with American standards of press freedom.

“For the Pentagon to conflate espionage with journalism feeds into the propaganda of authoritarian governments,” it says. “Egypt, for instance, has tried to discredit the work of Western journalists by falsely insinuating that many of them are spies.“

And it dismisses angrily the central comparison of journalists with belligerents.

“The manual’s argument that some reporting activities could be construed as taking part in hostilities is ludicrous,” it says. “That vaguely-worded standard could be abused by military officers to censor or even target journalists.”

Its stance echoes that of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

“By giving approval for the military to detain journalists on vague national security grounds, the manual is sending a disturbing message to dictatorships and democracies alike,” wrote Frank Smyth, its senior adviser for journalist security. “The same accusations of threats to national security are routinely used to put journalists behind bars in nations including China, Ethiopia, and Russia to name just a few.”

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