Starving for Guantánamo Info
As word of mouth about horrendous tortures and a secret CIA interrogation center leaks out of Guantánamo Bay, we're left hungry for more information on the War of Terror. Subway spokesman Jared Fogle may be the only recent visitor to the Pentagon's sunny torture chamber in Cuba who was allowed to circulate freely. Typically, though, he kept everything he learned under wraps.
Last June, probably about the same time that the Israeli flag was being used to torture at least one Muslim captive, people of the chewish persuasion stopped in at the local Subway at Gitmo to see Jared present the Most Inspiring Health Improvement essay contest award to supply manager Rebecca Jeffries (see photo).
Two months later, when the unconstitutionally delayed (and unconstitutional) tribunals of mostly foreign prisoners were launching, the Navy conducted "media training" seminars to remind all Gitmo personnel to keep a lid on things (see photo).
The local rag, the Guantánamo Bay Gazette, carried the warning from Assistant Public Affairs Officer Gabe Puello of an invasion by reporters:
- This media presence on board GTMO will be sustained between 10 to 25 days each month until January 2005. Schedules beyond January 2005 have not yet been projected, but with the number of detainees about to be charged with crimes increasing, Puello anticipates media interest in the commissions to be ongoing for some time.
It must be tough to resist chewing the fat about what's going on down there. I mean, what if someone saw some tinpot Torquemada draping an Israeli flag over a Muslim prisoner? And can you imagine how difficult it would be to put a crimp in the Gitmo grapevine after some soldier tells you he stuck a lit cigarette in some Muslim's ear or slapped him upside the head? Puello apparently didn't talk about any of that, but he did tell the Gazette:
- "Planning and executing a media-relations strategy that tells the story accurately is critical. The media can be your biggest ally, or your worst nightmare. Media training can prepare you to project a comfortable, competent on-camera image, while providing meaningful messages with confidence and sincerity."
Not too meaningful, of course. But that job has been easier—and the American public has been kept in the dark—by the Pentagon's strict squelching at Gitmo. The Gazette story noted:
- All media are required to have a military escort at all times. If media personnel badger or harass you, politely terminate the conversation/interview and contact the NAVBASE Public Affairs Office at 4502/4520.
Once again, those numbers are 4502 and 4520. Call now if you're afraid of reporters.
But you probably won't have to, because reporters who dare go to Gitmo have it rough. Until October 2003, reporters had to sign a goddamn form promising not to ask questions. After protests from news organizations and other groups, the Pentagon relented. Here's how Reporters Without Borders put it in 2003:
- U.S. authorities have lifted a ban on journalists asking questions about ongoing investigations when visiting the U.S. military base at Guantánamo. Five journalists flying there from Florida on October 14 were required to sign a form saying only that officials would not answer such questions. In an earlier version last week, three visiting journalists had been obliged to agree not even to ask them.
Guantánamo spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Pamela Hart confirmed the ban had been lifted and said the U.S. military had been "momentarily a bit too conservative" in its intention to "protect the integrity of the investigation and ongoing assessment" at the base. Among the latest group of five journalists were a reporter from the daily Miami Herald and one from Vanity Fair magazine.
The new version of the form still forbids journalists from communicating with or identifying prisoners on pain of losing their accreditation, banning them from taking pictures on which detainees can be identified, recording remarks by them, or covering the transfer of prisoners from one part of the base to another.
Props to the ACLU for its dogged pursuit of the explosive files it released at the beginning of this week. Other watchdogs are also doing great work at trying to shine light on what's happening at Gitmo. A good place for the curious to start with is Global Security.org's Guantánamo Bay page. For grins, check out the Pentagon's official Gitmo site.
Or, the next time Jared comes to your town, promise to buy him a sandwich, but first grill him.