From Military Reporters & Editors, April 27, 2005 :
A group of journalism organizations led by Military Reporters & Editors on April 27 asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to rescind restrictions placed on reporters covering the trial of Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar at Fort Bragg, N.C.
MRE officials stated the organization is prepared to go to court to force an end to the military's decision in this case to require journalists to sign agreements that limit their ability to perform their jobs under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The groups also asked the Defense Department to establish a policy forbidding such actions in the future.
In a letter to Donald Rumsfeld, MRE outlines its "concerns about restrictions imposed in Fort Bragg court martial of Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar.":
The most troublesome is an "agreement" that reporters were required to sign before gaining access to the proceedings, which includes a pledge to not interview soldiers at Fort Bragg about the case or ask legal advisors in the media room to speculate on the outcome. To ensure compliance with the agreement, reporters were escorted everywhere while on base and some were monitored as they went to the restroom. The agreement and the Army's actions under it are an affront to the First Amendment rights of free speech and press.
We understand the right of access is not absolute. When presented with an appropriate compelling interest a judge can, upon notice to the public and an opportunity to be heard, order limited closure of a courtroom. This can be done only after finding no reasonable alternative will safeguard that interest and after providing for a narrow closure based on specific findings that can be reviewed on appeal.
The purported "agreement" does not meet that test. No public hearing was held, no showing was made and no judicial findings were rendered to justify press restrictions of any sort. We therefore implore you to immediately renounce the constraints this document places on the press, so that we are not forced to bring this issue to a court's attention.
Reporter Jeff Schogol of The Express Times outlines some of the conditions of his agreement:
I can't talk to any soldiers or civilians on the base without permission.
I can be searched at any time.
I can't ask the legal adviser provided to the media to speculate on how evidence or testimony might affect the trial's outcome.
I have to be escorted everywhere I go on Fort Bragg. When I go to the men's room, my military escort waits patiently outside.
Breaking the rules means I will no longer cover the court martial.
It seems the Donald Rumsfeld of 1966
would disagree with the actions of his modern counterpart:
"Mr. Speaker, a recent speech by Presidential Aid Bill D. Moyers admonished the Nation's newsmen to appreciate that only the 'purest motives' govern the actions and statements of the executive branch of the Federal Government. Such advice, if heeded, would be heeded by the naïve and nondiscriminating. Citizens and the press will continue to question, to investigate, to doubt, and to seek the truth."