Washington: The Pentagon is drawing fire for new legal guidelines that liken war correspondents to spies and says that in some instances they can be treated as "unprivileged belligerents."
The guidelines received little notice when they were published in June in the Defense Department's new Law of War Manual, a compendium of legal advice for commanders and others in the US military establishment.
But in an editorial on Monday, New York Times slammed the guidelines and called for their repeal, warning they would make the work of journalists covering armed conflict "more dangerous, cumbersome and subject to censorship."
The manual's section on the treatment on journalists says that, in general, they are civilians who should be protected from attack.
But, in some vaguely defined instances, it says journalists may be "unprivileged belligerents," the same category assigned to guerrillas or members of al Qaeda.
"Reporting on military operations can be very similar to collecting intelligence or even spying," the manual says.
"A journalist who acts as a spy may be subject to security measures and punished if captured. To avoid being mistaken for spies, journalists should act openly and with the permission of relevant authorities."
The manual also supports censorship of journalist's work.
"States may need to censor journalists' work or take other security measures so that journalists do not reveal sensitive information to the enemy.
"Under the law of war, there is no special right for journalists to enter a state's territory without its consent or to access areas of military operations without the consent of the State conducting those operations."