The Pentagon’s massive new Law of War Manual drew criticism from the New York Times editorial board on Monday for its section on how to treat journalists, which the Times said would “make their work more dangerous, cumbersome and subject to censorship.”
The manual delineates the military’s power to embed journalists with U.S troops, censor their work, and even deem them “unprivileged belligerents” should they be suspected of somehow spying for, or supporting the work of, the enemy. Legally, people deemed “unprivileged belligerents” are no longer considered civilians, and are afforded even fewer protections than actual combatants.
The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern that the manual would allow for arbitrary detention of journalists as well as lower the bar on freedom of the press internationally, in a time when a record number of reporters are being murdered and captured abroad. In particular, for reporters who write critically of U.S. efforts, the line between spy or insurgent and journalist might become blurred.
Organizations representing military and foreign correspondents are also raising concerns about the new legal guidelines. The Military Reporters and Editors Association announced this week that it intends to contact the Pentagon to urge them to revise the guidelines.