Each year, CPJ compiles an annual census of journalists
imprisoned around the world, and every year since 2001, the U.S has figured on
this list of infamy.
During this period, journalists have been imprisoned right
here in this country for refusing to reveal their sources; imprisoned by the
U.S. military in Iraq for long periods without charge; and, in at least two
cases, declared "enemy combatants" and held at U.S. military prisons in
Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Last week, U.S.
military authorities released one such journalist, Jawed Ahmad, who was held
for 11 months at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Ahmad, a field
producer for the Canadian broadcaster CTV, was jailed without charge or due
Even worse, he claims that he was abused in U.S.
Ahmad's detention and release conforms to a pattern that
began with the advent of the "war on terror." Journalists have been detained on
the battlefield, held for extended periods, and subsequently released without
any charges having been filed.
This record of prosecutorial failure raises questions about whether there was ever any real evidence against any of these detained
journalists. The most sinister possibility is that military authorities
never intended to prosecute any of them and labeled them "enemy
combatants" or "imperative threats to security" as a way of stifling scrutiny
of their cases.
Unquestionably there is a pattern: Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami
Al-Haj, detained for more than six years at Guantanamo;
AP photographer Bilal Hussein, released earlier this year after two years in
custody in Iraq; and Jawed
Ahmad, held in Afghanistan,
were all released with no wrongdoing ever having been proven.
Currently, there is only one known journalist in U.S. custody.
Ibrahim Jassam, a freelance photographer for Reuters, was arrested earlier this
month during a raid at his home near Baghdad.
2006, the U.S.
military promised to review the cases of detained journalists within 36 hours,
but the procedure does not appear to have been followed in Jassam's case.
The record of journalist detentions is bad enough, but the
lack of due process is even more troubling. If there is evidence that Jassam
committed a crime then there must be a legal process to try him.
Because the U.S.
government has detained dozens of journalists and never managed to prosecute a
single one, I am hopeful that Jassam will eventually be released. But I wonder
if months or years of his life will be lost in the process.
The annual appearance of the United States on CPJ's imprisoned
list since 2001 corresponds precisely with a dramatic upsurge in the total number of
journalists imprisoned around the world. At the end of 2001, the number of
journalists in prison worldwide shot up from 81 to 118, eventually reaching a
high of 139. At the end of last year, there were 127 journalists in prison,
including two held in U.S.
CPJ will publish its next imprisoned list at the end of the
year, and it is my hope that by then Jassam will be out of jail by then and the
will not be on it.
I also hope that the disappearance of the U.S. from our
imprisoned list will contribute to an overall decline in the number of
journalists imprisoned around the world. While the U.S. has made a relatively small
contribution in numerical terms, the long-term detention of journalists without
due process has set a terrible example. It has reduced the United
States' standing in the world and may have contributed to the overall global increase in
jailed journalists by making it that much easier for the many tyrants who are
looking for any excuse or justification to throw critical journalists in jail.