June 1, 2009
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Via facsimile 202-456-2461
Dear Mr. President,
The Committee to
Protect Journalists is writing ahead of your scheduled speech in Cairo on June
4 to bring to your attention important matters that are crucial to the long-term
success of your stated goal of engaging the people--and not just the regimes--of
the Arab and Muslim worlds.
In a few days,
hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims will be listening to you with a mix
of skepticism and hopeful anticipation. I would like to suggest concrete steps
that you and your administration can take to bring U.S. policy in the region in line
with the country's unwavering commitment to press freedom and free expression,
not just at home but also across the globe.
detention of journalists without due process has markedly damaged U.S. prestige
worldwide and especially in the Muslim world. It is likely that it has also
contributed to an overall increase in imprisoned journalists by authoritarian
regimes that have used this policy as a pretext for sidelining critical
journalists in their own countries. To date, 14 journalists have been held by
the United States for
extended periods of time without adequate legal consideration in Iraq, Afghanistan,
One remains in custody.
photographer Ibrahim Jassam was detained by U.S.
forces at his home just outside Baghdad
on September 2, 2008. A November 30 Iraqi Central Criminal Court decision found
that there was no evidence to hold Jassam, and an order that U.S. forces
release him was rejected by U.S. military authorities, who concluded that he
"continued to pose a serious threat to the security and stability of Iraq." The
military did not provide evidence to corroborate that finding. In
correspondence dated February 9 of this year, Chief of Public Affairs Major
Neal Fisher told CPJ that Jassam "is awaiting release ...as [are] the other
remaining approximate 14,800 detainees" in accordance with a "ranking based on
their assessed threat" level. Fisher could not provide more detail as to when
that would take place.
The prompt release
of Ibrahim Jassam, the last remaining journalist in U.S. custody, and a firm
commitment that any journalists detained in the future will be guaranteed a
timely judicial review would send a clear message to the people of the Muslim
world that the United States has brought a difficult chapter of history to an end
and is upholding its stated commitment to press freedom.
Since 2003, at least
16 journalists have died and an undetermined number have been seriously injured
by U.S. fire in Iraq. CPJ
research indicates that the U.S.
military has investigated less than a handful of these deaths, and has absolved
troops of wrongdoing in all of them. The substantive results of these cases, such
as the 2003 strike on Al-Jazeera's Baghdad
bureau that killed correspondent Tareq Ayyoub, have not been made public.
military authorities should conduct thorough investigations into all instances
of journalists killed by U.S.
fire. The results of these investigations must be made public and their
conclusions should be integrated into the military's operational procedures.
Such a step is not only beneficial for future U.S. military objectives, it is
also an essential element in winning over the masses of Muslims who have been
disillusioned by the real or perceived lack of accountability for journalist
and civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. CPJ's own report into a U.S. tank
shelling of the Palestine Hotel in 2003, which killed Spanish cameraman Jose
Couso and Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk, concluded that an apparent
breakdown in operational command and control was a contributing factor.
when we wrote to you in January just before you assumed office, we asked you to
ensure that as U.S. troops find themselves increasingly engaged in fighting foes
that move among the civilian population, they are trained to accommodate the
presence of journalists who have a legitimate right to cover the conflict. Far
too often CPJ gets reports from local journalists in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq
of verbal and sometimes physical abuse and detention by U.S. troops.
As you know, the
Middle East and North Africa have some of the
most repressive environments for journalists in the world. Journalists in Egypt, for
example, must endure numerous implicit and explicit threats to their safety and
physical integrity to bring news of corruption, mismanagement, and negligence
to their audiences.
We commend you for
your statement on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, in which you said that the
United States "sound[s] the alarm about the growing number of journalists
silenced by death or jail as they attempt to bring daily news to the public."
We ask that you reaffirm this commitment when you travel to the heart of the
Arab world by seeking the release of journalists unjustly jailed merely for
doing what their colleagues in the United States do every day: Report
the news as they see it.