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Unprecedented threats to American civil liberties and encouragement to repressive regimes around the world who want to crack down on independent media are two consequences of America’s war on terror, according to journalists who discussed “The Perils of Wartime Reporting” at this year’s Lovejoy Convocation November 13 at Colby College in Maine. After the 2002 Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award was presented posthumously to Daniel Pearl, four journalists spoke in Lorimer Chapel.
Chicago Tribune war correspondent Noreen Ahmed-Ullah recounted experiences covering U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan; executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists Ann Cooper talked about dangers faced by journalists around the world; Anthony Lewis, retired New York Times columnist and 1983 Lovejoy Award recipient, warned of unprecedented abrogation of American civil liberties; and David Broder, syndicated columnist and 1990 Lovejoy Award recipient, described news gathering in Washington as the country seemed headed toward war against Iraq.
Lewis, a constitutional and legal scholar said, “If the administration has its way legally, anyone in this room, any American citizen anywhere, could be picked up and detained indefinitely in a Navy brig or prison, barred from seeing a lawyer, not subject to indictment or trial but just detained indefinitely. How? Simply by the president designating that person an ‘enemy combatant.'” He said, “It’s a claim of presidential power, I think beyond anything that I’ve known in my life, over individuals.”
Cooper said the Committee to Protect Journalists documents more than 500 attacks worldwide on the press each year. Cooper warned that the U.S. war on terrorism, with its rhetoric and restrictions on the media, has made life worse for journalists around the world. In Zimbabwe, for example, journalists have been labeled as terrorists.”“When these limitations are put on American journalists, by the U.S. military for example during the conflict in Afghanistan, we believe they set a terrible precedent. They are watched by other leaders, who use them as an excuse to clamp down on press freedom in their own countries.”
Broder talked about the Bush administration’s “intense desire” to control the information and messages that the Americans receive from their government. “It’s a highly organized and a highly centralized effort to channel information in ways that serve the policy purposes and, incidentally, the political purposes of the administration,” he said. “This particular government is not unique in any respect in that regard. But they are perhaps more efficient about enforcing it than some of the other administrations, notably the Clinton administration, which leaked all over the place.”
Ahmed-Ullah gave a view from the conflict zone, talking about her experience and the risks she encountered as one of the first Western journalists into Kandahar. “After we first entered Kandahar, I walked through the remains of Mullah Omar’s home, going through his cabinets, desk drawers, bedroom dressers, walking into rubble of bombed out remains. There could have easily been undetonated devices there. These were places that could easily have been booby-trapped for stupid journalists like me,” she said. She described chasing rumors of Al-Qaeda in remote villages and pushing across dangerous terrain. “People talk of the fog of war, and in this war the fog was really heavy,” she said.