Toronto Star national security reporter Michelle Shephard, who, over the course of her career, has visited the detention facility at sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba fifteen times, gives an essential summation today of what she calls “a place of jarring juxtapositions”:
Suicides of the detainees became “asymmetric warfare” and force-feeding prisoners on hunger strikes was “assisted feeding.” Captives did not have “interrogations” but had “reservations.” And signs posted on the road to the camps listed the “Value of the Week” as “Pride” or “Respect” even as Washington debated the definition of torture.
[…]Journalists have been the public’s eyes and ears at the base for the last seven years and the ever-changing rules have at times hampered our efforts to tell the whole story.
Security regulations surrounding photos and videos were perhaps the most confounding.
Last week, censors erased a photographer’s shots of the tents at “Camp Justice” where journalists reside because there were more than three tents in the frame. A television reporter’s clip was deleted because the shot showed her talking with an orange barricade in the background. No one could explain why that was a problem.
Tight shots of razor wire were okay, except if it surrounded the courthouse, even if the courthouse wasn’t shown. I tried to point out that I didn’t think Al Qaeda would be surprised that razor wire was being used as security.
Detainees couldn’t be interviewed or identified in photographs because of the Geneva Conventions, Pentagon spokespeople and military commanders told us.
The international treaties state that prisoners of war must “at all times be protected … against insult and public curiosity.” The PoWs should be afforded “respect for their persons and their honour.”
But the Bush administration created this offshore prison in an effort to sidestep those same Geneva Conventions. U.S. President George W. Bush, who left office last week, famously stated that only the “spirit of” the Geneva Conventions would be respected at Guantanamo.
Our military escorts would correct us if we referred to captives as prisoners because these were not “prisoners of war” but “detainees.”
And if the reason for censoring photos was to protect a captive’s right to privacy and honour, then the Pentagon violated its own rules when it released Guantanamo’s most famous picture. The photo, taken in 2002, showing shackled prisoners in orange jumpsuits kneeling in the hot Cuban sun while dogs and soldiers bark at them, was actually taken by a U.S. sailor.
When international furor erupted, the Pentagon quickly labelled the photos “For Official Use Only” in an attempt to prevent further distribution. But it was too late.
The entire article is a must-read, if only to counter revisionist attempts to distort the legacy of Guantanamo, such as this unfortunately (if tellingly) titled op-ed from Sunday’s Washington Post, ‘When Gitmo Was (Relatively) Good,’ in which writer Karen J. Greenberg tries to construct a ‘One Good German’ counternarrative lauding “small initial efforts at decency” on the part of detention officials.
Purported good intentions aside, Guantanamo was an immediately tainted effort once the decision was made to, according to Greenberg, “act in a manner “consistent with” the conventions (as the mantra went) but not to feel bound by them [emphasis added].” As soon as the US untied itself from binding international law, specifically and deliberately design a detention facility in order to sidestep regulation and oversight, the entire enterprise was doomed to debasement, no mater how hard officials initially tried to voluntarily (key word) “go with the Geneva Conventions,” as Staff Sgt. Anthony Gallegos, quoted by Greenberg, put it.
Keep that statement–“not to feel bound by them“–in mind as the new administration ties itself in knots trying to untangle the legal and moral mess left behind by the previous–and, as GOP leaders like John Boehner continue to peddle the Club Gitmo myth, also remember Shephard’s stark recounting of Guantanamo’s true legacy.