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Pentagon Doesn’t Want Photos Sent

January 11, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Pentagon officials ordered several news organizations Thursday not to transmit images of masked and chained prisoners in Afghanistan.

A Pentagon spokesman said the decision was made because the Red Cross raised an objection, contending the images would violate international laws on the treatment of prisoners.

``The Geneva Convention prohibits humiliating, debasing photos,″ said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley. ``We need to be cautious in case there is a legal action somewhere downstream.″

But officials at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva said the organization had not contacted the Pentagon about photographs taken in Afghanistan.

``We have not raised this as an issue,″ said Vincent Lasser, a Red Cross spokesman. ``They may have our stance on the issue in their files but we did not raise an objection.″

Photographers and camera crews from CNN, CBS, and The Army Times and other organizations were allowed to take pictures of the 20 prisoners in Kandahar as they boarded a C-17 cargo plane for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But the journalists had to agree not to transmit the images until military officials gave them permission.

Shortly after the plane left the airport, they were told not to send the images.

It is unclear how much authority the Pentagon has to keep news organizations from transmitting images. CBS spokesman Kelli Edwards said the station has considered the Pentagon’s order and decided to air the images Friday morning on ``The Early Show″ anyway.

Rob Curtis, a photographer for The Army Times who often takes photos for The Associated Press, said the Pentagon seemed to be breaking an agreement made with journalists early in the conflict.

``We signed papers that said we would not publish photos that endangered a military operation,″ Curtis said. ``There are no military implications for these photos, only political (implications). This has never come up before.″

The Geneva Convention, which is accepted as international law on the treatment of war prisoners, says the captured must ``at all times be protected against acts of violence and intimidation, and against insults and public curiosity.″

Lasser said that in some cases this provision should be interpreted to prohibit a government from publishing photos of prisoners under their control.

``This is meant to protect prisoners from a government that would show off images of them in captivity,″ Lasser said. ``It is meant to protect the dignity of the prisoner as well as the safety of their family from those who would recognize them back home.″

Curtis said the images of the prisoners would not have made it possible to identify them.

``They were in red hats, with goggles and surgical masks on,″ he said. ``You would have been able to see the wire holding pens where they were held. We were kept at a distance.″

Quigley called the decision a ``legal policy call at the 11th hour.″

``We allowed people to collect images in case the answer came back″ that the photos and video could be used, he said. ``We didn’t want them to lose the opportunity to collect the images.″

He acknowledged this had not come up before, in Bosnia or Kosovo or Iraq, or even in recent days, when images of the detainees were printed and broadcast all over the world.

He said that the Pentagon has not classified the prisoners as POWs, rather as detainees but that they are being treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

___

On the Net: Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/91.htm

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