Law School Prof. Barbara Olshansky is representing a journalist who ran into trouble while reporting from the Middle East: Jawed Ahmad, a 22-year-old Afghani working for Canadas CTV, didnt run into the usual threats, though, that are faced by war-zone journalists, such as kidnapping or roadside bombs. Rather, Ahmad was detained by the U.S. government.
On October 26 of last year, the young journalist simply vanished. Weeks later, reporters learned from Ahmads family that he had been arrested by U.S. troops, locked up in the U.S. military prison at Bagram Air Base and accused of being an enemy combatant in his home country.
Following his arrest, Ahmad was held without charges or trial for several months in the detention center at Bagram. This June, lawyers representing Ahmad filed a federal lawsuit challenging his detention on grounds similar to those cited in successful lawsuits on behalf of captives at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
They stopped sending people to Guantanamo and are sending them to Bagram instead, Olshansky said. In some ways, we have a stronger case than Guantanamo.
Unfortunately, Ahmads story is not the first of its kind; he is only one of over 600 detainees who are currently being held in the U.S. military prison at Bagram. What makes Ahmads case particularly troubling is that as a journalist, not only are his personal rights being put in jeopardy, but so is freedom of the press.
In the U.S., we believe that freedom of the press is an essential component of our democracy, but it appears that under military order, the U.S. government is detaining foreign journalists without basis and without due process, Olshansky said. That runs afoul of our beliefs and the law. It also interferes with our ability as citizens to get uncensored press reports from combat zones.
The Law Schools Human Rights Clinic, with Olshansky at its head, is petitioning for Ahmads right to a fair trial. Olshansky, who has been litigating Guantanamo cases since their commencement, believes that the grounds for Ahmads arrest do not justify his imprisonment.
It is not illegal under U.S. law to have contacts with an enemy, she said. Reporters need it to have a story thats how the news works.
Journalists working in failed states, amidst widespread war and corruption, have grown accustomed to threats on their lives and families, as well as to imprisonment by local governments and terrorist groups. But now they must also live in fear of being detained without trial by an unlikely agent: the United States.
The U.S. claims to be sowing the seeds of democracy, Olshansky said, and at the same time [the country] is undermining those very nascent efforts by putting journalists in jail.