GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The Defense Department has relented and said journalists could report the name of a former Army interrogator testifying in a war crimes trial that begins this week for a Canadian held at Guantanamo.
The about-face came three months after the Pentagon banned four journalists from attending tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base because they used Army Sergeant Joshua Claus’ name in reporting from the base in May.
A Pentagon spokeswoman said the military had decided his name could now be used because the interrogator’s own actions — giving media interviews — made it unnecessary to conceal his name during the murder and terrorism conspiracy trial of Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr.
The rules about what is secret in the Guantanamo tribunals often seem capricious and leave journalists scratching their heads as military personnel repeatedly insist that the trials offer “an unprecedented level of transparency.”
In nonsecret court documents publicly released in the Khadr case, someone blacked out the names of several other potential witnesses who have testified publicly and allowed or even solicited media interviews.
In a May order compelling Khadr to undergo mental examination by government doctors, court personnel blacked out the names of two doctors who examined Khadr for the defense.
Both of them, psychologist Kate Porterfield and psychiatrist Stephen Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general, had been interviewed by journalists and been publicly identified as working with Khadr’s defense team.
Xenakis spoke at a July news conference at Guantanamo, readily spelling out his name for every journalist who asked.
Khadr’s military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson, said on Sunday that he does not expect the government to present any secret evidence at the trial and has no idea why the doctors’ names were blacked out.
“The redaction process I have nothing to do with and I’m very proud to say I have nothing to do with that,” Jackson said.
Evan Kohlmann’s name was blacked out of recent court documents debating whether he can testify for the prosecution as an al Qaeda expert. Kohlmann has openly testified in a score of terrorism trials, including two others at Guantanamo.
He writes a counter-terrorism blog under his own name, has appeared as a commentator on television news shows, and has encouraged journalists to call him as a news source.
A spokesman for the Guantanamo tribunals, Joe Dellavedova, said he had no idea who blacked out Kohlmann’s name or why.
“Evan Kohlmann is not a protected witnesses,” he said.
Some of the secrecy is for obvious reasons. Guantanamo judges issued orders protecting the names of jurors and other military and intelligence witnesses who fear for their safety because of their role in U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.
But Claus’ name was added to the secret list in 2007 even though news reports had widely identified him as an Army interrogator in 2005, when he was publicly court-martialed for abusing a prisoner who died at the Bagram base in Afghanistan.
Journalists reported his name in 2008 when they learned at a Guantanamo hearing that Claus was one of Khadr’s first interrogators. Claus later phoned a Canadian journalist, denied abusing Khadr and gave an interview saying he wanted to clear his name.
Bloggers writing from the base published Claus’ name on the same day the four newspaper reporters were banned for using it. The ban has since been lifted, but other Guantanamo secrecy measures remain.
Journalists may not take photographs showing the layout of the Guantanamo base, which is clearly visible from the hills of Cuba, America’s long-time ideological enemy.
Journalists may not photograph the outside of the ragged old airplane hangar that houses the press center where they work, nor can they photograph the long rows of tents where they live during trials.
But at an arrival briefing in which the rules were explained on Saturday, they were encouraged to “embrace the uniqueness of Guantanamo.”