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New president, same old war against press freedom in Iraq

Is it audacious to hope that a new president promising change might at least put an end to America's unwarranted and indefinite jailing of journalists without charges in the Iraq war zone?

Apparently so.

While President Obama came to office promising the world that America would once again respect the rule of law and the cause human rights, with a high-profile (and not yet fulfilled) promise to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, a new commander-in-chief has meanwhile done nothing to halt the U.S. miltary's abhorrent practice of jailing journalists without trials, evidence, habeas corpus, etc.

The most recent case is that of Ibrahim Jassam (pictured at top, Reuters photo):

Aug. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Each time I report on a journalist imprisoned for committing journalism, a few readers call me a hypocrite for not turning the spotlight on my own country. Here is one case nobody should ignore.

Ibrahim Jassam, 31, is an Iraqi freelance photographer. Since Sept. 2, 2008, when U.S. soldiers seized him at his home near Baghdad, he has been held without charge in American military prisons. He's currently at Camp Bucca, in the southern part of the country, according to Lt. Col. Patricia Johnson, a U.S. Marine Corps spokeswoman in Iraq. Jassam is a security threat, Johnson said, "as the result of his activity with an insurgent organization."

No details of that alleged activity were offered. Journalists often make contact with opposition forces in the course of their work. Last November, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq ruled that Jassam is not a security threat and asked the Americans to release him. The American response has been to politely ignore the court and keep the photographer in prison as his first anniversary in jail approaches. 

Like Bilal Hussein, the Pulitzer Prize-winning AP photographer written about frequently in this space (and eventually freed), Jassam has worked recently for a major Western news organization, Reuters. In the Bilal Hussein case, the photographer's ability to get pictures of the Iraqi insurgents -- part of his job -- and transmit them to the world got him falsely branded as a terrorist, and for all we know that is also what happened here as well. But when a man is detained on "secret" evidence, as if in some kind of backwards or totalitarian nation, it's really hard to speculate on the question of why.

Here's more info from the San Francisco Chronicle, which I credit for this ballsy headline (on Page 1, no less):

"U.S. Take on Detained Journalists Hypocritical":

In the world community, where Washington periodically assails other nations' press crackdowns, the U.S. detentions have opened the government to accusations of promoting a double standard.

Since 2001, the United States has jailed 13 foreign reporters in Afghanistan and Iraq for at least several weeks as suspected terrorists or insurgents, and many others for shorter periods, said the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization of media representatives. None has been charged or given a trial to confront the evidence against them, the group said.

None of this has prevented Obama from coming out with the same pablum about press freedom that George W. Bush use to issue every year on World Press Freedom Day:

In every corner of the globe, there are journalists in jail or being actively harassed: from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, Burma to Uzbekistan, Cuba to Eritrea. U.S.-occupied Iraq -- oops, I added that last part. Leading press organization have written to Obama seeking action on the case of Jassam, to no avail of course. This isn't something the president has to get past a GOP filibuster;  as commander-in-chief all he would have to do is (proverbially) click his heels three times and order the man's release. But Obama has given the military and the intelligence community carte blanche to continue operating as it has done for the past eight years, even when those policies are recognized around the globe as harmful to human rights. If this all weren't bad enough, the Pentagon continues to contract with a private firm to rate the work of reporters seeking to embed with military units in Afghanistan, a chilling abuse against the 1st Amendment that the president pledged back on Jan. 20 to defend and uphold:

WASHINGTON — Contrary to the insistence of Pentagon officials this week that they are not rating the work of reporters covering U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes has obtained documents that prove that reporters' coverage is being graded as "positive," "neutral" or "negative."

Moreover, the documents — recent confidential profiles of the work of individual reporters prepared by a Pentagon contractor — indicate that the ratings are intended to help Pentagon image-makers manipulate the types of stories that reporters produce while they are embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Today, I lend my voice of support and admiration to all those brave men and women of the press who labor to expose truth and enhance accountability around the world.