Military limits Hicks trial coverage
AM - Tuesday, 24 August , 2004 08:08:00
Reporter: Leigh Sales
TONY EASTLEY: American military officials at Guantanamo Bay are preparing for
the trial of Australian terrorist suspect, David Hicks, later this week.
The security restrictions at the military base are extreme and reporting of
the proceedings will be limited.
There'll be no pictures allowed of David Hicks, no audio from the courtroom,
no pictures of the defence, prosecution or presiding officer entering the
building, and military camera operators will choose what images are broadcast
via closed circuit television to most journalists covering the hearing.
North America Correspondent Leigh Sales will have a seat in the courtroom
itself, but as she reports from Guantanamo Bay, her ability to report on the
trial will be limited.
LEIGH SALES: The tone for this week was set at our very first security
briefing at Guantanamo, where a bald, burly navy official laying down the
rules, snapped GITMO means 'git, no'.
Can journalists walk 100 metres from our accommodation to a nearby mess hall
to get food or drink? Not without a military escort.
Can we take a souvenir photo of our barracks? No.
Can we even conduct a taped interview with anybody on our side of the bay, a
20 minute ferry ride from the detention camps and courtroom? No.
And those restrictions look like a breeze when you see the limitations imposed
on reporting the actual court hearings.
Some of the regulations are bizarre and have no parallel. For example,
journalists in the courtroom can't use phone lines to file stories during
breaks in the proceedings.
If you get up to go to the toilet, you are then barred from the courtroom for
the rest of the day.
Colonel David McWilliams is the spokesperson for this week's proceedings.
DAVID MCWILLIAMS: Security for around the building and on the island at this
time is such that we can ensure the security, the protection of the people
participating in the tribunals, of the operation itself.
We don't know that there's a credible threat, but certainly not something we'd
take a chance on.
LEIGH SALES: How realistic is it that there could be any sort of threat here?
We're in the middle of nowhere, the security procedures to get in are
paramount. How could something happen here?
DAVID MCWILLIAMS: I wouldn't speculate, we have specialists who look at
different kinds of risk assessments.
LEIGH SALES: At this stage, the Australian public will not get to see any
images of David Hicks. Photographs of Hicks are already in the public domain,
so identifying him here doesn't pose any additional security risk.
As for his right to privacy, his lawyers and family don't mind if he's
pictured, and the US military itself films him 24 hours a day via a camera in
Colonel McWilliams says the Pentagon is considering media requests for one
picture of Hicks.
DAVID MCWILLIAMS: I understand that you can go to public record and find
photographs of people who appear as defendants in this court.
That still does not relieve the United States Government of its responsibility
under the Geneva Conventions, does not relieve us of the responsibility to
protect their identity, to not hold them up for public ridicule, and to ensure
LEIGH SALES: The United States Government ignored the Geneva Convention to
establish this entire detention facility, so why would you quote the Geneva
DAVID MCWILLIAMS: The Geneva Convention has always been adhered to at
Guantanamo Bay to ensure the humane treatment of people who are detained here.
LEIGH SALES: But their actual status as enemy combatants was designated so
that they would not be afforded prisoner of war protections under the Geneva
DAVID MCWILLIAMS: Because they're not prisoners of war, they're enemy
LEIGH SALES: Can you see how it may look that the US Government adopts the
Geneva Convention or cites the Geneva Convention when it's convenient, but
chooses not to do so at other times?
DAVID MCWILLIAMS: The United States Government has applied the principles of
the Geneva Convention to the detention of the people here at Guantanamo Bay.
LEIGH SALES: Even if David Hicks is found not guilty in this trial, he won't
DAVID MCWILLIAMS: If he is found innocent, he still has to be determined to
not be an enemy combatant. The status of whether or not someone remains
detained at Guantanamo is based upon whether that person is determined to be
an enemy combatant by a separate review panel.
LEIGH SALES: Another restriction here, is that no sound or pictures whatsoever
will be taken of the military commissions, even though they're one of the most
important legal aspects of the Bush administration's war on terrorism, and the
first proceedings of this kind since the Second World War.
Even the US Supreme Court, the highest in the land, allows audio broadcasts,
so the public can hear what's going on, and so the discussions are preserved
This is Leigh Sales in Guantanamo Bay for AM.