Doing their jobs and breaking no laws, a reporter and photographer for The Blade were illegally detained by military police on March 28 near the General Dynamics tank plant in Lima, which is owned by the U.S. Defense Department.
The three police officers handcuffed the photographer, threatened her physically, and seized her cameras. They destroyed photos she had taken legally before they returned the cameras hours later, after U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) intervened on The Blade’s behalf.
Pentagon officials, from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to the Army commandant at the plant to the rawest recruit, need to understand and acknowledge that such conduct was intolerable and can’t be allowed to recur, anywhere. This is not special pleading on behalf of The Blade or news media in general; no American citizens deserve to be mistreated as our colleagues Jetta Fraser and Tyrel Linkhorn were.
The Pentagon has disdained accountability in the incident; to the contrary, officials at the plant have indicated that police would commit the same outrages if the situation were to arise again. That’s why The Blade has filed a federal lawsuit as well as an FBI complaint.
Any suggestion that Ms. Fraser and Mr. Linkhorn were jeopardizing national security by taking pictures at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center is ludicrous. Both journalists displayed professional credentials. A “security” booth at the tank plant was unoccupied at the time.
The newspaper employees’ actions in a public area were not surreptitious. Everything Ms. Fraser photographed is readily visible from the road outside the plant, and is available to anyone with Internet access via Google Maps.
The initial effort by the police officers to determine what the journalists were doing may have been proper. But everything they did afterwards was not. They, and their employers, must be held accountable for their illegal actions.
Since the 9/11 attacks, some law enforcement and intelligence agencies in this country — military and civilian — and their apologists have used the threat of terrorism as a catch-all excuse to justify violations of individual freedoms. But the two values are not incompatible; one cannot survive without the other.
The abuses of the constitutional rights of our Blade colleagues, as journalists and citizens, by the military police are indefensible in an advanced democracy. How do we condemn Russia’s military adventurism in Crimea while brushing off what happened on Buckeye Road?
The Defense Department needs to review this incident thoroughly, and make whatever changes in its policies and procedures that will ensure something like this does not happen again. And it needs to do right by Ms. Fraser, Mr. Linkhorn, The Blade, and its readers.
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