Two years later, in February 2004, Rosenberg was the first reporter to identify and describe Salim Hamdan, who was one of the first detainees slated for trial before the Bush administration’s early military tribunals. She got that story by endlessly calling Swift, Hamdan’s attorney. Swift, who is now in private practice in Seattle, remembers those phone calls vividly. “Carol was not the first journalist to contact me, but she was the first to get an interview, because she pushed,” he says. “I think one of the things that drives Carol is, when you say, ‘I don’t want to tell you that, I don’t want to show you that’—with Carol Rosenberg, she comes right back with, ‘Okay, we’re going to talk about that, and you’re going to show me that.’”
‘She’s a Hard-ass’
During the August visit, Rosenberg’s interactions with Guantánamo’s public-affairs officers seemed mostly cordial, with only occasional flashes of conflict. Her clashes with those officials, she says, have typically been with upper-level representatives from the Secretary of Defense’s office. Her worst relationship by far, according to several accounts, was with Navy Commander Jeffrey (J. D.) Gordon, who preceded Major Bradsher as the Western Hemisphere spokesperson.
In July 2008, Gordon wrote to the Herald’s executive editor, Anders Gyllenhaal, to complain about Rosenberg’s conduct. A year later, he sent Gyllenhaal another note, and this one was leaked to the press. He accused Rosenberg of bullying her colleagues and making homophobic comments to him: “Have you ever had a red-hot poker shoved up your ass?” and, “I know you’re hot for your interns and bring them down as your ‘companions,’ but seriously, if I’m going to do their work anyway, what purpose do they serve?”
The Herald spoke with more than three-dozen people before releasing a brief statement that exonerated Rosenberg. “It was an unfortunate and sort of a mysterious series of questions that he raised,” says Gyllenhaal. “We spent a lot of time on it, talked to a lot of people, tried to sort through it, took it seriously. The end result was that his complaint didn’t hold together.”
Rosenberg declined to talk on the record about the incident other than to say, “This was a deliberately manufactured smear from inside the Pentagon, a bid to discredit me with my employer. I didn’t harass anyone.”
Jane Sutton, who covers Guantánamo for Reuters and who is a friend of Rosenberg, says that she found Gordon’s accounts implausible. His letter was “shockingly ridiculous,” Sutton says. “I have known Carol. I’ve been there. I’ve shared a tent with her. I’ve never heard her say anything remotely like that.”
But Gordon has a corroborating witness for at least one of the episodes he described. Captain Kim Kleiman, a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard who served as a public-affairs officer at Guantánamo during part of 2008, says that she heard Rosenberg ask Gordon the “red-hot poker” question. The comment came, Kleiman says, during a conversation about why a detainee had been sitting on a pillow in court, which led to Rosenberg’s speculating about abuse by guards. “She asked Commander Gordon how it felt, or if he would like it—one of those two, I’m not sure exactly,” Kleiman says. “It seemed to me that if it was a man saying that to a woman, there would have been much more of an outcry. I think Commander Gordon just got tired of comments like that.”
Kleiman adds that she respects Rosenberg, whom she recalls as one of the hardest-working reporters at the base. “We had a lot of wonderful interactions,” Kleiman says. “But then, depending on her mood, she could get a little stressed.”
Gordon retired from the Pentagon in late 2009, and is now a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. In an e-mail message, he said that several people gave similar testimony to the Herald during its investigation.
Gyllenhaal says that he cannot recall such comments, though he did not personally participate in every part of the investigation. But on the contrary, he says, “We started hearing from all sorts of people unsolicited”—including both reporters and military personnel—“about how wrong this was.”
Bob Franken, who is now a regular contributor to MSNBC, says that he saw Rosenberg get into plenty of arguments with public-affairs officers during the early years of Guantánamo, but he never saw her cross the line into unprofessionalism. “We’re not exactly choirboys,” Franken says. “She’s a hard-ass. She’s tough as nails, as you’re supposed to be. But she doesn’t cut corners. The military sometimes seemed like they only wanted us to offer light color commentary and root for the home team, and Carol never played that game.”