Military police in Ohio confiscated cameras from a newspaper photographer after she photographed a tank on display in front of a government-owned plant from a public street Friday, telling her that she was under “suspicion of terrorism.”
At first, they told the Toledo Blade newspaper that they would return the cameras after a “plant security coordinator” would have a chance to review the images, but he wouldn’t be in until Monday, so they would have to just wait it out.
However, the newspaper got a congressman involved who “was able to persuade the military police to release the cameras after they reviewed the photographs,” according to the Toledo Blade.
But when the cameras were returned seven hours later, several photographs had been deleted.
Now we have to go through the trouble of using Google Maps to see what is so special about the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, a tank-building plant owned by General Dynamics Land Systems that is described as a government-owned, contractor-operated facility.
So for all we know, the military police described in the Toledo Blade article were only contracted security guards. Not that it makes a huge difference considering they were acting under color of law, depriving photojournalist Jetta Fraser of her First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.
But if they were in fact military police, then it appears they were in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids military police from enforcing state laws except during times of martial law. Not that any state laws were broken here.
They might have been Department of Defense federal police officers, judging by the photos from this company website that installed turnstiles at the facility.
Whoever they were, they had no right to detain and much less confiscate the cameras. And under no circumstances did they have the right to delete the images. That was made clear in 2012 by the United States Department of Justice.
It boils down to this. If you can see it, you can photograph it. There might be some exceptions on military bases that are usually isolated from urban areas, but they would have to have signs posted, according to Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association.
And this is not even a military base. It is simply a tank-building facility. A very proud tank-building facility judging by the tank on display out front.
According to the Toledo Blade:
Military police detained a Blade reporter and a photographer Friday outside the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center and confiscated the photographer’s cameras.Blade reporter Tyrel Linkhorn and photographer Jetta Fraser said they went to the driveway entrance of the tank plant operated by General Dynamics’ Land Systems on Friday afternoon. They stayed outside the plant’s gate and did not pass an unmanned guard shack. The pair were leaving when they were stopped by military police.
After protest by The Blade, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s office made a call to General Dynamics. Keith Deters, manager of the plant, said Friday evening he was able to persuade the military police to release the cameras after they reviewed the photographs.
Despite getting the equipment back, John Robinson Block, The Blade’s publisher and editor-in-chief, called the incident disturbing.
“I’m personally shocked by this incident,” Mr. Block said. “I believe our people were totally in the right.”
In 2012, NPR reported that the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center was going through cutbacks because the United States was running out of places to spread freedom abroad, going from producing two tanks-a-day in 2009 to only one take every two days three years later.
It was a sad time for the plant that had been forced to reduce its staff by a third after building tanks for the military since World War II.
Although there were rumors of shutting the plant down, Congressman Portman was able to get them $255 million to keep building tanks, even though the army said they didn’t need anymore tanks. One, after all, can never have enough tanks.
Just last year, General Dynamics Land Systems landed a nice contract with Saudi Arabia to build tanks for its army, which probably wouldn’t hesitate to use them against citizens who try to photograph them, considering they are ranked almost last in the world when it comes to freedom of the press.
Perhaps we can include a couple of military police officers along with the tanks because they would certainly feel right at home in Saudi Arabia.