Pentagon should disclose evidence, charges against Afghan journalist

New York, February 26, 2008—U.S. authorities should disclose evidence and specify charges against Afghan journalist Jawed Ahmad, who has been held by the military since late October, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. In a February 22 letter to CPJ, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Ahmad had been designated an “unlawful enemy combatant” but did not disclose the allegations or evidence against the journalist.

Ahmad, a locally hired journalist for Canadian television network CTV in Afghanistan’s southern provincial capital of Kandahar, was arrested on October 26 at the air base in that city that is used by International Security Assistance Force troops. He was transferred some time after that to the U.S.-run detention facility at Bagram Air Base in the north of the country. Today marks Ahmad’s fourth month in custody. He has not been charged with any criminal offense.

“Although the Pentagon has made a very serious assertion, it has yet to disclose any supporting evidence. And despite holding Jawed Ahmad for four months, authorities have yet to charge him with a crime,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge military officials to either charge Jawed Ahmad with a recognizable criminal offense or, if they have no intention of doing so, to release him immediately.”

Ahmad, also known as Jojo Yazemi, is believed to be 22. U.S. military officials had previously confirmed his detention but declined to give details. Ahmad’s brother disputed the military’s characterization in an interview with CPJ.

“All the journalists in Kandahar know him and know he is a journalist. He didn’t do anything wrong,” Jawed’s brother, Siddique, told CPJ today through a translator. He said the military did not notify the family that Ahmad had been designated an enemy combatant. Siddique last had contact with his brother though a video link supplied by the International Committee of the Red Cross on January 29.

A local journalist who works for an international news organization in Kandahar, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak about the case by his employer, told CPJ that fellow reporters were concerned by Ahmad’s detention. “We don’t know why he was arrested,” he said. “We just know that he was our colleague.”

Whitman said the case had gone before an enemy combatant review board, and that Ahmad had been given a chance to make a statement. He said the review board would examine the case periodically. It was unclear whether Ahmad had a lawyer.

The Pentagon did not specify when the military made the “combatant” designation. The February 22 letter to CPJ was the first time the Pentagon had disclosed the designation.

CPJ research shows the U.S. military has engaged in a pattern of open-ended detentions of journalists in Iraq and South Asia. “We’re alarmed by this recurring practice in which journalists are held for prolonged periods during which U.S. officials refuse to detail the basis for a detention or provide any recognizable due process,” said CPJ’s Simon.
Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameraman for the Al-Jazeera news channel, has been designated an “unlawful enemy combatant” and held by U.S. authorities for more than six years, most of that time at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. U.S. authorities have yet to charge al-Haj with a crime or disclose any evidence against the journalist.
In Iraq, dozens of journalists have been detained by U.S. troops, according to CPJ research. While most have been released after short periods, in at least eight cases documented by CPJ Iraqi journalists have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge. Several of the detainees were photojournalists who initially drew the military’s attention because of what they had filmed or photographed.