20 Comm. Law. 1 (2002-2003)

handle is hein.journals/comlaw20 and id is 1 raw text is: iAle
Publication of the Forum
on Communications LawM
American Bar Association a
Volume 20, Number 1, Spring 2002
How the U.S. Government Has Undermined
Journalists' Ability to Cover the War on Terrorism

War coverage blankets the nation's air-
waves and newspapers every, day, giv-
ing the impression that Americans know
or can know almost all there is to under-
stand about the United States's involve-
ment in the conflict in Afghanistan. But
how much information does tile public
really have? Consider:
 The escalation of U.S. forces before
the October 7 attacks on Afghanistan
generally occurred without a media
presence. When bombing strikes
began, reporters watched from afar,
with only a few enjoying a vantage
point within Afghanistan itself and
none with troops in active combat.
* Pentagon officials denounced reports
of a late-night raid on October 19
involving U.S. Army Rangers and
other special forces near Kandahar,
particularly an account from
Seymour Hersch in a New Yorker
article that detailed the mission as a
glorified failure. Yet officials still
Phillip Taylor (ptaylor@ reporters
comnittee.org) is the 2001-02
McCormick Tribune Journalism
Fellow at the Reporters Committee.
Lucy Dalglish (ldalglish@reporters
contittee.org) is Executive Director,
Reporters Cotinittee for Freedom of
the Press, Arington, Virginia.

decline to offer details.
 Press restrictions early in the war
constrained coverage so much that
American reporters learned second-
hand about the fall of Mazar-e-Shafif,
a strategic city because of its airfields
and roads to Uzbekistan where U.S.
troops were based. Other raids and
victories transpired without independ-
ent witnesses.
 The Defense Deoartment continually
refuses to field uifficult questions
concerning the January 24, 2002,
raid at Oruzgan. where Afghan resi-
dents claim that U.S. Special Forces
beat, shot, and killed men without
giving them a chance to surrender.
These issues raise important ques-
tions about the ability of a free press to
cover a profoundly important national
and international initiative. This article
will discuss restrictions on two fronts.
First, it will assess the state of access
on the Afghanistan front. Second, it
will assess the equally important issue
of secrecy on the homefront.
Lack of Access to the Battlefield
Defense officials describe the war in
Afghanistan as a different kind of war,
one that the Pentagon often describes as
a war with multiple battles along multi-
ple fronts and possibly against multiple
and sometimes unknown enemies. For

journalists, that's become code for
restricted access.
We are in a whole new world here,
Assistant Defense Secretary Victoria
Clarke told Washington bureau chiefs
during a September 28 briefing. We're
trying to figure out the rules of the road.
We are trying to figure out how to work
with you, how to make sure you get
what you need... while protecting the
national security and the safety of the
men and women in uniform.
Journalists had heard this talk before,
more than eleven years ago as American
forces limited press access during parts
of the Persian Gulf War. Corralled into
pools and daily briefings, reporters later
said they felt the Gulf War was remark-
ably uncovered. As with the Persian
Gulf, this new war arena, the deserts
and mountains of Afghanistan, offered
little hope of easy access to those
reporting the war to the world.
Compromises with the Pentagon
during peacetime have not stuck. A
post-Gulf War agreement-a nine-point
statement of principles forged in
1992--designated open coverage, not
pools, as the default coverage system
during wartime.'
If journalists had hoped that such an
agreement would stand, they were
quickly disappointed. Despite personal
(Continued on page 23)

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