“Of course what I said was, ‘Let them all in. Send them all down. I’ve got an empty bed in my room,’” Rosenberg says. “It was absurd to use that as a reason to force Carol and me to leave.”

The decision may have been driven partly by embarrassment. Rear Admiral Harold B. Harris Jr., the naval officer who had just taken command of the base, was being widely ridiculed for describing the suicides as “an act of asymmetric warfare against us.” (Rosenberg believes that talking point was developed by the Pentagon and that Harris shouldn’t be personally scorned for it.)

“It was a stupid decision to push them out,” says Charles Swift, a former military attorney who represented Salim Hamdan in a successful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the Bush administration’s initial, ad hoc system of Guantánamo military tribunals. (After that case, Congress formalized the new system of military commissions.) “It was an absolute effort on the part of the administration to control the news.”

In contrast to Iraq and Afghanistan, where Swift believes the military is reasonably sophisticated about the news media, he says the dynamic at Guantánamo has always been crude. “The whole time, it’s been the standard press book,” he says. “We’re here to spin the story to our advantage. And when the story could be bad, what we want is no story. In this case, it’s resulted in all kinds of crazy rumors.” (In Harper’s this year, for instance, Scott Horton published a long essay suggesting that the three prisoners died during or following grueling interrogations.) “My client was three cells down,” says Swift, “and he believes these were suicides. I had a firsthand source tell me that. But when you don’t give reporters any access, I can understand why this raises suspicions with the press and the public.”*


‘We’re Going to Talk About That’

Rosenberg majored in journalism at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she graduated in 1981. In 1987, she moved to Jerusalem and worked as a stringer for UPI. Three years later, she landed a permanent job on the Herald’s staff. One of her first major assignments was to cover the Gulf War. At one point during that conflict, the 1st Marine Division barred Rosenberg and Newsday’s Susan Sachs from covering them in retaliation for asking “rude” questions. She remained in Kuwait, where she covered reconstruction and political reform in the aftermath of the war.

By the late 1990s, she was based in Miami and covering military affairs and Cuban-American relations. But she continued to travel to the Middle East. In December 2001, just weeks before the prison at Guantánamo opened, she covered the aftermath of a suicide-bomb attack in Jerusalem. “That’s one thing that drives me crazy about the hate mail I get,” she says. “People write to me and say, ‘Why don’t you have the Guantánamo detainees move into your house, if you’re so sympathetic to them.’ They think I’m a naïve American who has no real knowledge or experience of terrorism. But that’s not true at all.”

Rosenberg’s Herald beat included the Southern Command, the Miami-based nerve center of U.S. military operations in Central and South America. So there was never much question that she would cover Guantánamo. Shortly before Christmas 2001, “I started to hear that they were building space for two thousand prisoners,” she says. “So I called up SouthCom and a guy said to me very authoritatively, ‘It’ll only be a hundred, and they’ll be the high values, the worst of the worst.’”

“My expectation was that this was not going to be a long-term thing,” says Mark Seibel, who hired Rosenberg at the Herald and is now the managing editor of the Washington website of McClatchy, the Herald’s parent company. “But I sort of jokingly suggested that she should just stay down there. It only cost us ten dollars a day, so it was a great bureau.”

David Glenn is a staff writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education.