Attacks on the Press in 2008: United States

U.S. government actions against journalists abroad continued to sully the nation’s image. Authorities finally freed two long-detained journalists, one in Iraq and the other at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, without ever charging them with a crime or producing any evidence to support the imprisonments. But the military continued its alarming practice of holding journalists in open-ended detention without due process. At least one journalist was being held without charge when CPJ conducted its annual census of imprisoned journalists.

The U.S. military freed Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj in May after holding him for six years without charge or trial at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay. The military had made vague, unsupported accusations that al-Haj was a financial courier for armed groups and had assisted al-Qaeda. In Iraq, the military released Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein. Part of a team of AP photographers who shared in a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for photography, he was held for two years after being accused of collaborating with Iraqi insurgents. Hussein, freed in April, was never charged with a crime. In November, CPJ honored Hussein with an International Press Freedom Award.

The military continued to detain journalists without due process in Iraq and Afghanistan. In February, the Pentagon confirmed that the military was holding Jawed Ahmad, a field producer for the Canadian broadcaster CTV, at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Colleagues told CPJ that Ahmad was arrested in October 2007 while visiting another U.S. air base in Kandahar. Pentagon officials said in a letter to CPJ that Ahmad had been designated an “unlawful enemy combatant,” but they did not disclose specific allegations or evidence against him. U.S. officials released Ahmad in September, saying that he no longer posed a threat to U.S.-led forces. Ahmad, who was never charged with a crime, claimed that he had been mistreated in U.S. custody. A military spokesman told CPJ that Ahmad suffered broken ribs in an altercation with other detainees but was not mistreated by U.S. forces.

The U.S. military in Iraq detained Associated Press Television News journalist Ahmed Nouri Raziak for three months beginning in June after arresting him at his home in Tikrit. A U.S. military review board ordered that he be held “for imperative reasons of security” but did not reveal allegations or evidence against him. Military forces held Reuters cameraman Ali al-Mashhadani for three weeks in July after arresting him inside the Green Zone in Baghdad, where he had gone to renew his press card. Neither Raziak nor al-Mashhadani was ever charged.

In September, Reuters freelance photographer Ibrahim Jassam was arrested near his home south of Baghdad. A U.S. military spokesman told CPJ that Jassam was “assessed to be a threat to the security of Iraq and coalition forces.” Jassam remained in custody when CPJ conducted its December 1 census.

In at least 12 cases documented by CPJ since 2005, the U.S. military detained journalists in Iraq for weeks or months without due process. Two other journalists were held under similar circumstances by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Guantánamo. No charges have been substantiated in any of the cases.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III apologized to top editors at The New York Times and The Washington Post in August for having improperly obtained the phone records for each paper’s Indonesia bureau in 2004 as part of a terrorism investigation. The FBI did not explain what was under investigation or why it had obtained the journalists’ phone records.

Domestically, journalists in California, Texas, and Florida were threatened. Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post Newspaper Group, reported to Oakland police a planned attempt on his life, according to news reports. One of Cobb’s top staffers, editor Chauncey Bailey, was gunned down on an Oakland street in August 2007 after investigating allegations of criminal activities at a local business, Your Black Muslim Bakery. Cobb told police that two people associated with the bakery had tried to hire a third person to kill him, news reports said. The third person instead relayed the threat to Cobb.

Cobb and a number of other Bay Area journalists worked together to investigate Bailey’s slaying. The coalition, known as the Chauncey Bailey Project, raised numerous questions about the official police inquiry. Suspect Devaughndre Broussard continued to face murder charges in the case, although he had recanted an initial confession. In an October report, the Chauncey Bailey Project questioned whether police had mishandled evidence and whether the lead detective was protecting a potential conspirator in the crime. The report led local, county, and state officials to launch new investigations in the case. Police denied any improprieties in their probe.

The publisher of Pakistan Times USA, an Urdu-language newspaper in Houston, received telephone death threats in June at the same time that thousands of copies of the free weekly were removed in bulk from dozens of locations in southeastern Texas. The threats came after Pakistan Times USA published an advertisement by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect deemed heretical by some Muslims, Publisher Najam Ali told CPJ.

In July, CPJ asked the FBI to review a series of disturbing handwritten notes sent to Michelle Ferrier, a columnist with the Daytona Beach News-Journal in Florida. Each piece of correspondence was directed at Ferrier and included racial epithets and violent language directed toward her and the African-American community. Ferrier, who is black, changed jobs after receiving the fourth such letter.

Free press issues were tested in two courts during the year. In February, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered a domain name registry firm, Dynadot, to effectively shut down the Web site Wikileaks after the site posted what the court found to be proprietary documents concerning the Julius Baer Bank and Trust Company in the Cayman Islands. Wikileaks maintained that the leaked documents showed evidence of money laundering and tax evasion. After the ruling drew considerable attention and questions, Judge Jeffrey S. White narrowed and finally reversed his decision.

In February, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington held former USA Today journalist Toni Locy in contempt and ordered her to pay fines of up to $5,000 a day if she refused to reveal her sources in a civil lawsuit against the U.S. government. USA Today published two articles in 2002 under Locy’s byline concerning scientist Steven J. Hatfill and the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States. A federal appeals court stayed the fines in March while agreeing to hear Locy’s appeal. After Hatfill reached a $5.8 million settlement with the U.S. government in June, the appeals court dismissed the case against Locy.

The Free Flow of Information Act, which would help journalists under subpoena protect confidential sources, remained under consideration in Congress. The House passed a bill in 2007, but legislation stalled in the Senate in 2008.

Denver police arrested ABC News producer Asa Eslocker in August as his crew was waiting outside the Brown Palace Hotel to film politicians leaving an event hosted by donors during the Democratic National Convention. Police in St. Paul, Minn., arrested dozens of journalists in September as they were attempting to document protests related to the Republican National Convention. Those arrested in St. Paul included an AP photographer and three journalists from the nationally syndicated radio program “Democracy Now.” All charges were eventually dropped.

The Global Online Freedom Act, which would make it a crime for U.S. firms to turn over customer information to governments of “Internet-restricting countries,” was pending in the House of Representatives in late year.

After two years of negotiations, a group of Internet companies, academics, investors, and human rights groups, including CPJ, announced the creation of the Global Network Initiative. The initiative established voluntary guidelines for Internet and telecommunications companies to protect free expression and privacy. Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft joined the initiative and agreed to follow its guidelines when restrictive governments seek to enlist them in acts of censorship or surveillance that violate international human rights standards.

AMERICAS: Regional Analysis
Drug trade, violent gangs pose grave danger

AMERICAS: Country Summaries

Argentina Ecuador
Bolivia Guatemala
Brazil Mexico
Colombia United States
Cuba Venezuela
Other Attacks and Developments in the Region

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