Sunday, June 18, 2006

Kicked out of Paradise

Anybody want to know why we're not hearing more details about the three men who died at JTF Guantanamo, last weekend? For the answer to that, you need look no further than journalists David Rose (The Observer) and Carol Williams (LA Times). Seriously, look no further! Nothing to see here! Everybody out of GTMO!

Rose and Williams are two of at least 5 reporters who were either blocked-en-route or kicked out of GTMO after news of the suicides broke. Why is it significant? According to David Rose [all emphasis mine]:
Closing Guantanamo to the media meant there were no reporters there as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service team went about its work; none when pathologists conducted post mortem examinations; and none last Friday when, after a Muslim ceremony conducted by a military chaplain, the first body - Ahmed's - was prepared to be flown home. It was also impossible to gauge the impact of the deaths on the 460 inmates.
Yet our bizarre experience raises a fundamental question: when it comes to Guantanamo,
can the world believe a single word that [Lt Cmdr Jeffrey] Gordon and his numerous cohorts say? There is, to say the least, an alternative explanation for the three Guantanamo deaths. Since early 2003, when the Red Cross issued the first of many reports stating that inmates were experiencing high levels of depression, there has been mounting evidence that detention there has wrought havoc on some prisoners' mental health. It is not so surprising: most prisoners get just two 30-minute periods out of their cells - the size of a double bed - each week, except when being interrogated. Some have endured this since 2002, and have no idea when, if ever, they may leave.
By the time of my own visit in October 2003, a fifth of them were on Prozac and there had been so many suicide attempts - 40 by August 2003 - that the Pentagon had reclassified hangings as 'manipulative self-injurious behaviours'. Cannily, perhaps, it has refused to give exact statistics on how many SIBs have occurred, claiming that since the reclassification there have been (until last week) only two genuine attempted suicides.
But wait, you ask: doesn't this indicate that reporting from GTMO is frustrating and highly-censored at the best of times? What's this "only two genuine attempted suicides"? Clearly that's B.S. So why bother going at all if you're just gonna get cock-blocked (er...censored)? For the answer to that, we turn now to Carol J. Williams:
What little we learn often comes to light by accident, through casual slips-of-the-lips by military doctors, lawyers and jailers innocently oblivious of their superiors' preference for spin. A battery of questions to the prison hospital commander — who for security reasons can't be identified — elicited that prisoners are force-fed through a nasal-gastric tube if they refuse to eat for three days and that 1,000 pills a day are dispensed to treat detainee ailments, anxiety and depression.
Those details became relevant when two prisoners attempted suicide May 18 by consuming hoarded prescription medications. Likewise, we understood why a hunger strike early this month began with 89 prisoners but swiftly fell off to a few defiant handfuls with the onset of painful and undignified force-feeding. During an interview last month with the new detention center commander, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., we queried him on plans for handling detainee deaths — a theoretical exercise until two Saudis and a Yemeni hung themselves June 10.
I've been to Guantanamo six times. It was during my first visit in January 2005 that I learned how expressions of polite interest in minute details can elicit some of the most startling revelations. As Naval Hospital commander Capt. John Edmundson showed off the 48-bed prison annex, for instance, I asked, apropos of nothing, if the facility had ever been at or near capacity.
"Only during the mass-hanging incident," the Navy doctor replied, provoking audible gasps and horrified expressions among the public affairs minders and op-sec — operational security — watchdogs in the entourage, none of whom were particularly pleased with the disclosure that 23 prisoners had attempted simultaneously to hang themselves with torn bed sheets in late 2003.
What?! I didn't know that. Did you? Twenty-three attempted simultaneous hangings seems like, oh I dunno...NEWS to me. God knows what else a skilled reporter could elicit from these guys, with a little oblique prodding.

So what happened last week? Why were reporters shut out of GTMO in the aftermath of the three suicides? According to Rose, his clearance was revoked at the last minute by the Pentagon itself. Then, in a hamfisted attempt to muddy the issue, the banning of the British reporters was used as a reason to ban the American reporters (including Williams, although Rose doesn't mention her by name):
Meanwhile, three US reporters at the base were ordered to leave. According to a Pentagon spokesman quoted by the US media, the reason was that two barred British reporters - us - had threatened to sue if the Americans were allowed to stay. This was, of course, untrue.
Judging from Williams' account, it appears as though her expulsion from GTMO was rather abrupt and included a hastily arranged flight back to Miami on--of all things--the plane's TOILET seat:
I ended up on that plane, on that seat, because of a baffling move by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office, in which the only three newspaper reporters who managed to surmount Pentagon obstacles to covering the first deaths at Guantanamo were ordered off the base Wednesday. Rumsfeld's office said the decision was made "to be fair and impartial" to the rest of the media, which the government had refused to let in.
Meanwhile, The Miami Herald has posted a copy of the email sent to journalists on base Tuesday night. Other than that, I have been unable to find a detailed account from this paper regarding their journalist's (Carol Rosenberg) experience at the base last week. Rosenberg filed a report about the ambiguous plans to repatriate the three bodies to Saudi and Yemen, but made only passing allusions to her own "repatriation" to mainland-USA:
The Pentagon earlier this week emptied the base of independent journalists and attorneys.
'There has been no 'ban' imposed on habeas counsel visits,'' said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon at the Pentagon. "During the past week, several previously scheduled meetings between detainees and their . . . counsel had to be canceled due to . . operational support of the investigation related to the detainee suicides.''
Media tours and lawyer client visits are expected to resume next week.
And the forced feedings, restraint chairs, mass hangings...when will they resume? What say you, torture apologists?

Dick Cheney: "They got a brand new facility down at Guantánamo. We spent a lot of money to build it. They're very well treated there. They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibility want...There isn't any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we're treating these people." 4 Stars!

Republican senator Jeff Sessions: [GTMO] "would make a magnificent resort" 4 Diamonds!

Republican congressman, Duncan Hunter: "The inmates have never eaten better ... they've never been treated better, and they've never been more comfortable in their lives." 4 Golden Truffles!

Well fuck me...I guess I didn't get that brochure.

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