Washington, 16 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Among the most surprising findings of a report released this week in New York by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was the inclusion of the United States as a one of the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.
In last year's CPJ census, the United States had only one journalist serving time: A television reporter in the state of Rhode Island serving a six-month sentence of home confinement for refusing to reveal a source.
This year, however, the U.S. military has detained five journalists -- four in Iraq and one at its facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. CPJ Director Ann Cooper said none of the detained journalists have been charged.
"They have detained Iraqis who are trying to cover the news in terrible conditions, extremely dangerous conditions. They could be bombed. They could be shot. And now they also could be detained by the U.S. military and held without charge.”
The actual guilt or innocence of the detainees seems to be almost beside the point when a decision is made to arrest them, according to Cooper. “The military says, ‘We’re not sure. They may be involved in subversive activities.’ And they hold them for days or weeks or months at a time, and then release them and they're never charged."
This year's CPJ census names China, Cuba, Eritrea, and Ethiopia as the world's leading jailers of journalists. The four countries together jailed two-thirds of the total 125 editors, writers, and photojournalists imprisoned in 2004.
The United States, with five people behind bars, is the world’s sixth largest jailer of journalists, a distinction it shares with Myanmar, or Burma. Uzbekistan is fifth, with six journalists in prison.
Cooper said by jailing members of the press, the United States is acting against its own stated goals.
"One of the things that is so terrible about [the detentions of journalists without charges] is the U.S. has said that it wants to promote democracy in Iraq. It wants to promote the growth of democratic institutions. Well, how is that promoting democracy to detain people and hold them without charging them? There is no due process in these cases and that certainly is a fundamental part -- due process -- of a fair and equitable justice system in a democracy."
The managing editor of the politically-conservative "National Review Online" said he isn’t worried about the impact of the CPJ ranking on the U.S.'s international reputation.
Jay Nordlinger pointed out that the report was issued in the same week that Iraq held national elections.
"A lot of Iraqis thrust those ink-stained fingers into the air and one country primarily is responsible for that: the United States,” he said. “So I don't think anyone else really has the right to say who is doing what for democracy and freedom in the Middle East."
Three of the four journalists detained by U.S. troops in Iraq were affiliated with Reuters, and the fourth worked for CBS News.
In comments made last September, Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger objected to the fact that the military had not charged his employees but continued to hold them. "I am extremely concerned at the lack of transparency and due process in the procedures that have led to two legitimate journalists in our employ being held without any public airing of the specific charges against them."
Although the military’s detention of the Iraqi journalists did receive some coverage, the imprisonment of an American reporter by U.S. authorities in the spring of 2005 garnered much more attention.
Judith Miller, a 28-year veteran of the "The New York Times" who covered national security issues, served 85 days in jail for refusing to tell a grand jury the name of her source. The jury was investigating the leaking of a secret CIA agent’s identity. Miller has since resigned from the paper.
However, Miller was not one of the jailed journalists included in CPJ's U.S. count, because she was released in October, and the list is a snapshot of conditions for journalists on just one day each year: 1 December.
Cooper said the committee uses this method because it would be virtually impossible to track how many journalists are detained throughout the year:
"Unfortunately, there are a lot of countries where police or other authorities almost routinely detain journalists. Knowing about every single one of those cases is virtually impossible because it just happens so often. And in many cases, the journalists are held overnight, maybe held for a few hours or a couple of days and then let go without charge."
The CPJ has been keeping a tally of imprisoned journalists worldwide since 1981.