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.”
In the early months of the detention center, Rosenberg signed up as often as she could for the routine daily tour—the one given to members of Congress and journalists who were visiting briefly. Through those tours, Rosenberg says, she was able to establish rapport with a huge array of personnel: cooks, guards, nurses. Over time, cultivating those sources paid off.
When the Pentagon quietly established a new joint task force to conduct interrogations at Guantánamo, Rosenberg was the first reporter to deduce who its commander must be: Major General Michael E. Dunlavey. From sources on the base, “I had started to hear that there was something going on down at the brig,” Rosenberg says. “And we were hearing that there was a secret intelligence unit, JTF-170. I kept asking Bill Costello, the public-affairs officer, Who are they? Who runs it? And Costello kept saying they were not ready to talk about it. But one day I was down at the airfield and I saw a two-star”—that is, a major-general—“hanging around the lounge. I walked up to him and said, ‘I think you’re the secret commander of JTF-170.’ And Costello appeared with his hand on my elbow and led me away. And I said, ‘Bill, that was him, wasn’t it?’ And Costello said, ‘We’ll work something out.’”