Touring Gitmo (“Rules Inconvenience Reporters”)

From the New York Times’s Jeremy W. Peters, who recently took a “media tour” of Guantánamo Bay:

Several times a month, the military parades groups of journalists through the detention camps at the naval station here in an effort to clear up what it says are “common misrepresentations” about the way the camps’ 176 detainees are treated. The tours … offer what the Pentagon promotes as a behind-the-scenes peek into one of the government’s most secretive missions in the campaign against terror.

Gleaning any information about the system of camps and military tribunals operating in the constitutional gray area that is Guantánamo Bay has always been difficult for the reporters and nongovernment observers working here. And this week, as the first detainee trial since President Obama took office opened, the question of access for journalists has become a particularly tense point of dispute.

Military officials and lawyers for news organizations that are fighting the Pentagon’s ground rules, including The New York Times, are working to agree on conditions that permit greater openness. For now, though, the journalists covering the trial of Omar Khadr, who was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan at age 15 in 2002, operate in an environment where access to the most basic information about the identities of the detainees and details of the legal proceedings against them are kept from the public.

But so, too, are even innocuous-seeming details about daily life inside the Guantánamo detention camps…

Cmdr. Bradley A. Fagan, a public affairs director for the Navy in Guantánamo Bay…and his staff say repeatedly that they go to great lengths to accommodate the news media, and they seem to feel they are often punished for their efforts at transparency. On a dry erase board in Commander Fagan’s office last week was a note to his staff: “Top story this week: Rules inconvenience reporters.”

Peters’s story is accompanied by a photo slide show by Richard Perry, titled “A Redacted View of Guantánamo Bay,” which includes this image of some cans of Ensure and a feeding tube. And, among “the reading material available to detainees:” a dated USA Today (reporting that “Specter upended by PA Democrats.”)

For additional reading: the St. Petersburg Times’s Meg Laughlin reported on her Gitmo media tour in June 2009. In part:

The media tour of Guantanamo in June was touted by media handlers as an “opportunity to see how transparent it is.” Before we went, an Army general, who had been deputy commander in 2008, told me staff “will open the whole kimono and show you everything.” But what we saw and heard - like the forced feeding tour - was set-up displays and cheerful staff speeches. Maybe the Guantanamo prison has become the “caring old folks home for terrorists” that Gen. Greg Zanetti described to me on the phone. But, since we weren’t allowed to find out for ourselves, it was impossible to know.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.