Exclusive: The Pentagon’s new “Law of War” manual puts some journalists in the category of “unprivileged belligerents,” meaning they can be tried by military tribunals as spies, a further sign of U.S. government hostility toward reporting that undercuts Washington’s goals, writes veteran war correspondent Don North.
By Don North
Honest war correspondents and photographers who try to cover wars effectively are about to become suspect spies if a new Pentagon manual, “Law of War,” is accepted by U.S. military commanders. I can confirm from personal experience that reporting on wars is hard enough without being considered a suspicious character secretly working for the other side.
The 1,176-page manual, published on June 24, is the first comprehensive revision made to the Defense Department’s law of war policy since 1956. One change in terminology directly targets journalists, saying “in general, journalists are civilians,” but under some circumstances, journalists may be regarded as “unprivileged belligerents.” [p. 173] That places reporters in the same ranks as Al Qaeda, since the term “unprivileged belligerents” replaces the Bush-era phrase “unlawful combatants.”