Monday, May 30, 2005

NYT: Lawyers are going to Guantamo, Carlotta Gall on Afghanistan, Seeyle on ombudsmen; editorial regarding an article by the Times

In the last few months, the small commercial air service to the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been carrying people the military authorities had hoped would never be allowed there: American lawyers.
And they have been arriving in increasing numbers, providing more than a third of about 530 remaining detainees with representation in federal court. Despite considerable obstacles and expenses, other lawyers are lining up to challenge the government's detention of people the military has called enemy combatants and possible terrorists.
A meeting earlier this month in New York City at the law firm Clifford Chance drew dozens of new volunteer lawyers who attended lectures from other lawyers who have been through the rigorous process of getting the government to allow them access to Guantanamo.
The increase in lawyers for Guantanamo detainees was set in motion last June when the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration and said the prisoners there were entitled to challenge their detentions in federal courts.
The rate at which lawyers have stepped forward for the task may be a reflection of the changing public attitudes about Guantanamo Bay and its mission.
"In the beginning, just after 9/11, we couldn't get anybody," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a group based in New York that is coordinating the assigning of lawyers to prisoners. The earliest volunteers, Mr. Ratner said, were those who regularly handled death-penalty clients and were accustomed to representing the reviled in near-hopeless cases.

The above is from Neil A. Lewis' "In Rising Numbers, Lawyers Head for Guantanamo Bay" in the New York Times.

Rachel e-mails to note Carlotta Gall's "Gunmen Kill Afghan Cleric Who Condemned Taliban Leaders:"

A senior pro-government cleric was shot dead in his office on Sunday in the southern city of Kandahar in a brazen attack by suspected Taliban supporters firing from a motorbike.
In Kabul, meanwhile, kidnappers of an Italian aid worker, Clementina Cantoni, released a videotape of her to a television station and demanded that the Italian authorities speed up negotiations for her release.
The cleric who was killed, Maulavi Abdullah Fayaz, leader of the Council of Clerics of Kandahar, was well known for his support for the government of President Hamid Karzai and his strong stance against the remnants of the Taliban leadership that continue to foment an insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Eli notes Katharine Q. Seelye's "Ombudsmen Rebuff Move by Public Broadcasting:"

The Organization of News Ombudsmen, which represents nearly a hundred print and broadcast ombudsmen from around the world, more than half of them in the United States, voted at its annual conference here last week to change its bylaws to allow full membership only to those who work for news organizations. The corporation, a quasi-governmental organization, provides some federal funds for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System; it does not itself gather or produce news.
The change allows for the corporation's ombudsmen - and others in allied fields but who are not part of a news organization - to become associate members. As such, they are denied voting privileges and the stamp of legitimacy as independent ombudsmen that full membership would suggest.
"We want members who are responsive to readers, not to governments or lobby groups," said Jeffrey A. Dvorkin, who was president of the ombudsmen's organization until last week when his term ended and is the ombudsman for NPR. "I was worried about the political nature of the appointment and I was worried about the precedent."
The move is a rebuff to Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the corporation, who decided that the corporation should have two ombudsmen as a way to bring balance to what he sees as a liberal bias in public programming and an anti-Israeli bias in NPR's Middle East coverage. (A survey by the corporation itself has shown that viewers and listeners do not share those perceptions.)
The move could also heighten tensions between Mr. Tomlinson and NPR because of Mr. Dvorkin's role in opposing the corporation's appointees. Mr. Dvorkin abstained from voting on the matter and from presiding over discussions of it, ceding to complaints within his organization that he had a conflict of interest. But he was instrumental in setting the policy.

Eli notes that while he'll applaud the decision not to include the two, he'll refrain from personally applauding Dvorkin who initially met with one of the two CPB overseers (let's not call them ombdusmen) to discuss the application. Eli steers us to this section of Seelye's article:

One of the critics of Mr. Dvorkin's handling of the matter was Jamie Gold, the readers' representative at The Los Angeles Times, who protested by quitting her post as the organization's treasurer, resigning from its board and declining to attend the conference.
"It was the ONO president's attempt to manipulate the CPB ombudsmen's application process from the beginning that I objected to," Ms. Gold wrote in an e-mail. "ONO values transparency. Jeffrey Dvorkin could have taken steps early on to make the entire process - their membership application, their request to attend the conference - transparent by recusing himself and handing it over to the ONO board. He didn't."

And that's really it for anything that interests members or myself this morning. That's partly due to it being Monday and a holiday. Monday's are a traditionally slow day for the paper. (And probably has to do with the fact that on Sundays we do the "stories from outside the US" items so we've already covered a number of topics that will make the Monday paper.)

But we aren't yet done. We're about to do an editorial. And note that when I'm offering my opinion it should be considered an editorial or an op-ed. Members grasp that and are quite aware that I can be wrong and often am. And that I admit that openly. But a number of visitors seem to be confused over this so we'll note clearly that what follows is an EDITORIAL. (You can pretty much look at everything here that way. Whether it's from members or myself. Even what we we choose to highlight is an editorial -- from stories in the Times to announcements of events.)


Three members have sent in a lengthy article on two US citizens arrested yesterday on charges that the reporters (Julia Preston and Michelle O'Donnell) are more than happy to repeat at length as well as public statements from officials. As members ask in their e-mails: So where's the other side?

There hasn't been a conviction but it's hard to tell that from the article. Two reporters for the Times (O'Donnell gets the byline) and the best they can do is to note a remark made in a Florida paper. Balance and "balance" are under a lot of criticism these days. Most of it deserved. If there's one area that balance is needed, it's when it has to do with criminal chrages. Trials convict, not the press.

I'm not seeing it in my edition of the paper, the story, but Lucy, Bryan and Kayla e-mailed it to the site. Possibly it's an early version of a story that will go into print tomorrow.

If that's the case, it should be pulled until the Times does something more than read a Florida newspaper (one of the two men is from Florida, the other from the Bronx). With Lawrence Franklin the point was made, here, from the start that he was under suspicion, that he had been charged, and that he had been convicted of nothing. I am not inclined to think favorably on Franklin on many political issues, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

I'll praise the Times for their restraint in leaping to conclusions regarding Franklin (while noting again that if they were to do an investigation of their own and come up with details, they should publish them).

I won't praise the reporting online today. A statement unearthed from a Florida paper and a statement from a neighbor who never spoke with the suspect from the Bronx doesn't count as balance. Especially considering the serious nature of the charges.

What's the paper to do if they can't get anyone to talk? Well for starters, don't turn the entire piece over to chatty cathy Paul J. Browne of the New York police department. Now maybe after taking down all that dictation, bodies and minds were too tired to seek out the other side. Not too tired to review the charges and the public statements made by other law enforcement agencies. And this statement: " There was no answer late last night at Mr. ____'s apartment on Grant Avenue in the Bronx." quite frankly doesn't cut it. The two men were arrested on Friday, in raids on their homes, and the Times only learned of it "yesterday."

These are serious charges and if the paper can't determine who the men's lawyers are (must be about the only speculation authorities didn't want to share with the reporters) and can't do much in the way of research other than a) a trip down to the Bronx where they find a neighbor who knows nothing about one suspect and b) reading a Florida newspaper than the story, as written, doesn't need to be online.

Chatty cathy authorities are usually chatty cathies for a reason. The Times knows that. To construct an entire article around what authorities with vested interests in the charges isn't the reason we have freedom of speech in this country. We have free speech in this country to hold those in authority accountable.

The story, based on the information the Times actually has, is a two paragraph story at best:

First paragraph:

Early Friday morning raids took place in the Bronk and in Florida to arrest ____ and ____ who are now charged with conspiring "to train and provide medical assistance to Al Qaeda terrorists." Attempts to determine whom was legal counsel for either men were unsuccesful.

Second paragraph would be a brief summary of the charges. And that would be it. Not what public statements the FBI made, not what public statements David N. Kelley made. Not what public statements the police made. And not what the chatty cathy told reporters directly.

The Times has one side of the story and by going into, at length, presenting the prosecution's side (and only that side), they aren't serving the public interest. If the two men are guilty, a court will determine that, not the Times being spoonfed statements from authorities and not some chatty cathys. Had the Times launched their own investigation and found details of guilt, by all means share that. However, that's not the case -- as is made obvious by the fact that the Times can't even determine the name or names of whom is representing the two men charged.

The Times may feel that they live in die by their official stories. In this instance, the burden of proof is on the prosecution and that case will have to be made in court. As for the paper, its burden is to present both sides of very serious charges. Official sources or not, this is still America and we still, at present, operate under the presumption of innocent until proven guilty -- even if two reporters choose not to act under that presumption.

If serious efforts were made, the article gives no indication that they were, and the two reporters came up empty handed, the article should have been a two paragraph story as noted above. If the reporters were then pressed by editorial staff for more details . . . That an editor for the paper did not see the problems with this story is very sad. Reporters can get too close to a story and editors are supposed to provide more than a spell check or fact check (at the Times editors are supposed to be the fact checkers), they are supposed to be ensuring perspective. That didn't happen here. Maybe someone had a bad day.

Or maybe it was thought that since it was just going online and possibly not in print it didn't matter. That's not the case. Three readers of the Times have already spotted and e-mailed this site. There's no telling how many others have spotted it and will continue to spot it throughout the day. (I've read it since it was sent in, so up the known count to four.) Rudith Miller and the training at Hack University aside, the role of the press is not to argue the prosectuion's case for it. The article, as it is, does not belong up at the Times' web site.

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