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Censorship by the U.S. Military in Turkey

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Censorship by the U.S. Military in Turkey

Article excerpt

Censorship by the U.S. military in Turkey

At Incirlik Air Base in southeast Turkey, where the U.S. Air Force launched thousands of strikes against Iraq and housed more than 1,500 Marine and Army ground troops, reporters were barred from the massive facility by American officials and denied any information about the mission there.

U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Turkey repeatedly informed reporters requesting visits to Incirlik or information about the waves of heavily armed American planes seen taking off from the base day and night that they wanted to accommodate the media but were prevented by the Turkish government.

In fact, I discovered after more than a month of bureaucratic dodges and half-truths from U.S. military and diplomatic officials, the Turks were willing to grant reporters access to Incirlik but the Americans were not.

Although the U.S. Air Force has occupied Incirlik since 1966, it technically belonged to the Turks and they had the final say over media access, according to American officials.

"There is a great story here to tell, but the Turks are running the show and they don't want any media," the chief military spokesman at Incirlik, Air Force Lt. Col. Philip J. Crowley, said in February.

This was the explanation given to me shortly after arriving in Turkey to cover the northwest from of the Gulf war for three American publications. On its face, it made sense to me and the other hundred or so reporters based in Turkey.

The sprawling Islamic nation's president, Turgut Ozal, took a big gamble by allowing the United States to strike at Iraq from his country. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had already threatened to bomb Turkey for cooperating with the United States and a fundamentalist backlash from Ozal's countrymen and neighbors could erupt at any time.

In January alone, more than 20 NATO or U.S.-related targets in Turkey were bombed and an American civilian employee at Incirlik was shot dead by a terrorist group protesting the "bloody schemes of U.S. imperialism" in the Gulf.

In light of those threats, according to a U.S. diplomat in Ankara, the Turks were just not prepared to "stoke the fire" by allowing journalists to give blow-by-blow reports of Turkey's role in the war.

During an off-the-record chat in early February with a senior official of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, many of the 40 or so journalists there took the opportunity to say in no uncertain terms that press restrictions at Incirlik were untenable as well as inconsistent with the policies of the United States and its allies in the Gulf. The Turkish diplomat said his government was just not willing at that time to allow visits to Incirlik or to divulge any information about its mission.

During a meeting with him the following day, I explained that his government was missing an opportunity to shed some light on an important but little-known country and to show that Turkey was a responsible member of the world community, I told him that readers were curious about the fate of U.S. troops in Turkey. My aim was not to divulge information that would compromise U. …

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