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Jun 19, 2006

Gitmo: Parting The Curtains ... Somewhat



Certainly, there's a limit to the number of telephoto guard towers pictures one person can stand.

If you've been scanning for substantive images of Gitmo these past few years, you've likely been as bored and frustrated as The BAG.    With the Administration bleeding from the news out of Cuba and with international condemnation rising, however, we might finally be on the verge of greater access.

A significant opening occurred last week as the result of a visit by journalists from the Charlotte Observer.  It might have been because the base commander, Col. Mike Bumgarner, hails from Kings Mountain, 25 miles west of Charlotte, and many of the Gitmo soldiers come from the same area.  In any case, reporter Michael Gordon and photographer Todd Sumlin were granted permission to do a feature.

Who would have imagined, however, that the visit would commence the same day three prisoners would successfully commit suicide in their cells?  Although Bumgarner's whereabouts and status (presumably due to his involvement with the reporters) are now undetermined, and the Charlotte journalists were kicked off the island by the Pentagon, this didn't take place until after the reporters had spent three days chronicling Bumgarner's response to the incident, and Sumlin was able to get fresh photographs inside the facility, along with a video interview with Bumgarner.

I should emphasize, though, that the pictures above are not part of the series taken by Sumlin. 

Instead, these shots -- taken inside the Gitmo cellblocks -- suddenly appeared on the newswire at the end of last week.  Dated April 6, 2006, the images were labeled as "file photos" which had been "reviewed by US military officials." (The shots were taken by AP photographer Brennan Linsley.)  Besides Linsley's shots, the next five most recent images in the YahooNews Gitmo thread (as of this evening) were dated, respectively, 2002; August 25, 2004; 2004; and Sept. 27, 2002.

So, what's up?  From The BAG's vantage, it appears the Pentagon is moving quickly to get out in front of the Charlotte story, and to garner/salvage whatever PR advantage it can to both offer and control media access to Gitmo.  (The Observer reports that Gitmo media access is scheduled to resume today -- although limited to Dutch and French journalists supposedly based on pre-arranged permission.)

From a PR standpoint, the situation seems so far gone, the military probably has no choice but to (at least, partially) raise the shades on Gitmo.  Judging from Michael Gordon's reporting, however, the situation between inmates and management is so contentious, it will take a careful balancing act to give the press greater access, but still keep it at bay.

These pictures above speak to those terms.  Although we're inside a cell block, these strange, unpopulated and rather abstract photos (the second one looks more like a scale model) come up far short in terms of telling us much of anything about life there.


Same with this shot Todd Sumlin came away with.  Although representative of a different cell type and location  -- with more editorial content and animation, especially with that lower half-body at attention  -- this photo only whets our appetite to know more.

>> Todd Sumlin Guantanamo photo gallery and video interview with the base commander.
>> Michael Gordon Guantanamo series:

Day 1 Report (3 detainees found dead at Guantanamo" -- 6/11);
Day 2 Report (Officer expects more suicide tries -- 6/12)
Day 3 Report (Guards tighten security to prevent more deaths - 6/13)
Bumgarner Profile (Career crisis hovers over Guantanamo commander -- 6/18)

(image 1 & 2: Brennan Linsley, file/AP.  April 6, 2006.  Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Via YahooNews  .image 3: Todd Sumlin/Charlotte Observer.  June 13, 2006.  Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


I'm glad to see more pictures than what we usually see of Guantanamo, but now that I've seen them, I feel sick.

"Honor Bound to Defend Freedom"? Whose freedom? There's no one there who's free, including the soldiers.

The close-ups in that slide show are very moving: the shackles hanging there ready to be used; the Quran hanging in its sling (which brought tears to my eyes... it's better than letting it sit on the floor, but...); the arrow pointing to Makkah (usually seen in hotels, so the travelers know which way to face for prayers); Col. Bumgarner's nameplate (he and his name are right out of Central Casting); Col. Bumgarner's face with the shades and cigar.

Please read this piece in the other (London) Observer:

How US hid the suicide secrets of Guantanamo,,1800218,00.html

Many of these guys were rounded up and handed in for the bounty which was promised for any foreigner, and many of them were not even there to fight. If there are any charges against them, they should be tried; if not, they should be released (as many already have been).

If those three men took their own lives, they had to have been out of their minds with despair (and medication?).

By the way, those top pictures look like dog kennels, except that dog kennels are probably nicer.

Everything's black and white..except for the bloody light, which stretches to the horizon.

The first two photos remind me of holding pens for animals going to slaughter.

This is very disturbing. Now I am having mental images of the Nazi concentration camps.

The spots on the floor in the first photos, what, pray tell, could those be?

Like Asta, I'm reminded of the propaganda photos the nazis put about the death camps during WWII. Like the Americans in Guantanamo, they prided themselves on the camps' supposed cleanliness and order. This makes the torture all the more premeditated and chilling.

How many pictures have we seen of Abu Ghraib, the building?
Could anyone identify it?
How many pictures of the (12?) new american bases being built?
How many pictures of the green zone from the outside? Who could identify these buildings?
The self censorship of the western media is a screaming indictment of their complicity.

"hiawatha turned the furside inside, skinside outside"

How many pictures of the prisons at Bagram in Afghanistan and others that are even more secret than Guantanamo?

Concentration camp? Don't exagerate. The real issues with Gitmo are the indefinate detentions and psychological interrogation and research that's going on there--all of which are against Geneva. These photos merely reveal a dreary yet clean facility. the bottom photo looks like every horrible public school I've ever attended...I'm sure 95 percent of the world's prisons are far nastier than Guantanamo.

Shaun, don't be an idiot. You're missing the point completely, of course, because someone mentioned concentration camps. Try reading what people are saying more carefully. Thanks *precisely* to people like you, Guantanamo can be intellectualized away, and we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief. "Hey, it looks cleaner than my apartment!" does not lead logically to "There is nothing wrong here." Would you like to present your credentials as to your firsthand expertise on what goes on at Guantanamo? If not, your extrapolation of what Gitmo is like from 3 images and comparing them to your own experience in *public school* is fucking useless. Thanks for your own complicity in the outrage of our government's actions at Guantanamo. I would have thought you would know better than that.

Gitmo is located on the island of Cuba so that no one here in the states will have personal experience of what's going on there. Clever, those Neocons.

Sigh, I guess I should stop making comparisons between our creeping fascism here and now, and a certain bunch of crazy men who saw fit to turn certain members of society into slaves back then and over there.

Shaun, you go there for a year without reasonable human contact, or hope of release, then tell me again it's not a concentration camp. This is horror for the human soul who lives in it. Another kind of horror awaits for the human souls who built it, and that includes all who do nothing to prevent this place from existing or excuse it.

US is now a full-fledged fascist state, and it will take generations to put it right.

Man, some of those photos sure look like the stalags of WWII. I suppose the comparison is inevitable though, considering lack of advancements in concentration camp architecture over the past seventy years.

EVERYTHING looks so very well scrubbed! Not a memo or a butt out of place. They probably rake the sand. If it looks good, it must BE good. No abuse here, folks, absolutely nothing to see.

". . . 'no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own. They are smart, they are creative, they are committed. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare against us.'"

Note this is always said about an enemy of a different race. I don't remember anyone saying that the Nazis had no regard for their own lives. And WTF is "asymmetric warfare?" For that matter, what is symmetrical warfare? War is war and it kills people. Period.

I scanned most of the Charlotte pieces, but they were quite repetitive. The impression I got was that these reporters wanted to make nicey nicey with local boy now in command. Um, and to keep their jobs. Thanks for the Observer link, ummabdulla. Oh, to see ourselves as others see us. It's sometimes a shock.

Asta: I thought the reason they were being held at gitmo (Cuba) is because that way they didn't have to follow US laws. Also they can better control who gets in and out (as in the Observer article).

Cactus, oh, yes, I totally agree with you on "that way they didn't have to follow US laws". And they aren't following the Geneva Convention rules either.

We really don't know who is at Gitmo, or how many, do we? If I googled for that, would I find out anything? I doubt it.

And who knew that we had such efficient detention buildings in Cuba. Oh my. Polished concrete floors. Nice. Easy to clean, repair, and doesn't stain easily.

What do you all suppose happened to the three "detainees" (such a clinical term) who committed suicide in their attempt to war against us asymmetrically? Were their bodies returned to their families? Or is there a high-tech, energy efficient cremation room there for such matters?

Asta: Cremation room? How gruesome. The Observer link from ummabdulla does answer some of your questions. As to how many? I've heard figures in the 300-400 range but I'm not sure anyone really knows outside of the military. I did hear last week that only ten have been charged with crimes. The rest in limbo.

I thought of another reason to use annoy Castro.

Remember the quote "We're going to Gitmo-ize the operation" that Major General Geoffrey Miller said to now-demoted Brigadier General Janis Karpinski about Abu Ghraib? If not, this article is a good reminder and discusses the (documented) U.S. policy of torture connecting Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib:

A sampling of Gitmo articles for anyone interested in why I blew a gasket earlier.
* Voices From Guantanamo, from The Independent (UK):

* Guantanamo Abuses Caught on Tape, Report Details, from The New Standard:

* The Children of Guantanamo Bay, from The Independent (UK):

* It's surely *bad* when the FBI identifies abuses at Gitmo and CNN reports it:

* Then there's always Human Rights Watch on Gitmo:

But for a *Constituional* refresher about why Gitmo should matter profoundly to all Americans, I found this excellent discussion of the issues by Jonathan Hafetz on JURIST:

Some quotes:
"Since early 2002, the United States has tenaciously maintained a lawless enclave at Guantánamo, detaining more than 700 individuals (nearly 500 remain) without charge, without due process, and without legal protections against torture and other abuse." Hafetz goes on to cite the international condemnation, calls for closure, and charges of torture by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the International Committee for the Red Cross.

Hafetz continues: "For the first time in its history, the United States has created and institutionalized a system of indefinite detention without charge. It is not, of course, the cement cell-blocks and barbed wire that make Guantánamo exceptional among U.S. prisons. Rather, it is Guantánamo’s legal foundations — the boundless definition of an 'enemy combatant'; presumption of guilt; and imprisonment without trial."

"Freedom from physical detention, as the Supreme Court emphasized in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 'is the most elemental of liberty interests.' The safeguards to prevent unlawful detention by the Executive form a nucleus of the protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The Constitution forbids indefinite detention except in the most exceptional circumstances and, only then, when subject to rigorous procedural safeguards. Due process does not simply prevent erroneous deprivations of liberty; it also preserves principled limits on executive power and reinforces the system’s legitimacy when it deprives individuals of their freedom."

Any of the experts above can speak to the problem of Guantanamo better than I. But just because there are no Abu Ghraib-like photos for our consumption doesn't mean crimes and atrocities aren't happening there.

God what a bunch of reactionaries! Readytoblow, your the one who needs to read the posts more carefully--not only did I not conclude that because Guantanamo is clean nothing wrong is going on, but notice that I was the first one to mention the key issues of indefinate detentions and psychological interrogation and testing.

By the way, it is totally idiotic to think you can extrapolate from those meaningless pictures that Guantanamo is a "concentration camp." Rather than critically approaching the images, as usual several readers here are just superimposing their knee-jerk liberal views onto them.

How can the photos both be a whitewash of the real issues under the surface and look like the horrors of WWII era prison camps (which were visably grotesque)? And don't give me any of that Hanah Arendt bullshit either--those photos tell you next to nothing (which is the point, right?).

It just never ceases to amaze me how the sophisticated subject matter on this blog regularly fails to provoke subtle debate, instead just a bunch of self-righteous back-patting...

readytoblow, by disagreeing with the argument about the US' moral equivalency to Nazi Germany I am complicit in torture? Man, that's right up there with 'why do you hate freedom?' Is that really the best argument to convince the American public that what's happening in Guantanamo should stop? you're working for the demogogues, bro.

Sorry to have pounced with, perhaps, two left feet Shaun. I think you might be pretty young, since those of us who've been around a while have seen this shit before, and it was not good. I do credit your thinking, and appreciate your input. I'm going to try to link to the Stanley Milgram psych study of prisoners/jailers and see if young Shaun has read it.

OK, just google Milgram study, or wikipedia that and you find the horrible truth about ourselves (all of us) when put into situations like this.

It looks like The Bag has just hit the tip of the iceberg with this post. In addition to all of readytoblowagasket references, I'd like to add one from a blog I check occasionally, "Watching America" and the item from "El Tiempo" in Colombia. This is the url and the original Spanish follows the translation:

The photos with this article are not prettied up like the ones from the Charlotte article. They make the concentration camp look like a.......concentration camp. Not to dis the photographer above, I'm sure he was closely watched.

Also, the RudePundit has a very good, and outrageous, post on this.

BTW, let's dial back the rhetorical name-calling a couple of notches. Shaun, most of us on this blog are progressives and of the 'been-there-done-that' stage of life. A guard tower reminds us of a Nazi stalag or the guard towers at Manzanar. We can't help but make that connection between what was done in WWII and what is being done now......except that it's us doing it. And that still shocks us. It breaks our heart. That's why we tend to get emotional and (to your eyes, perhaps) over-reaching. Just bear with us, but there's no need to attack.

Yes the detainees bodies were flown back to their home countries.
The reason we have to use "such a clinical term" like detainee is because you and all of your little friends trow a fit if they refer to them in any other way.
I wonder what all of you would have them do with the people they would put in places like Gitmo, maybe you have some room on your couch where the Gov't could put them. Instead of just sitting in front of your computers and bitching and moaning all day, why don't you get up and do actually do something about it. I mean if you are so smart and experienced I am sure there is something much more proactive to do if you want changes made.

Shaun, there's a difference in meaning between "Now I am having mental images of the Nazi concentration camps" or "I'm reminded of the propaganda photos the nazis put about the death camps during WWII" and your translation of those two sentences, which is (essentially) Guantanamo = Auschwitz. No one in this thread extrapolated "from those meaningless pictures that Guantanamo *is* a 'concentration camp.' " So no one in fact exaggerated, as you originally charged (and continue to charge, I might add).

However, many people outside of this blog have connected the term "concentration camp" and Guantanamo. Perhaps you were thinking of them:

I think that just recently, they did provide a list of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. And just for the record, they've released almost 300 of these guys, so they must not have been such dangerous terrorists after all. (One of the guys who killed himself was slated for release, but he didn't know it.) After 4 years, if they can't come up with any evidence against the rest of them, then it's time to let them out and close the place down.

ummabdulla, as of May 15, the DoD has released the *names* of 759 former and current Guantanamo detainees, the result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Associated Press. From a DoD press release:

"Today's release of information is the fourth such release brought about by a lawsuit filed under the federal Freedom of Information Act by the Associated Press."

You can view a PDF of the names via a link at the bottom of that press release. The DoD says 460 detainees remain at Guantanamo.

Wikipedia lists the detainees' names and keeps this work-in-progress up-to-date:

I'm not sure what my age has to do with anything but if you mean you were around during WWII and saw fascism and nazism firsthand and I didn't, fine. However, not that it matters, but I have a degree from a major School of Foreign Service and I have actually studied and written on Congressional oversight of detention issues (books, not just articles), including at Guantanamo.

I am also quite familiar with the Milgrim experiments, the 'Zimbardo' experiments, etc--the 'situational' versus 'dispositional' hypotheses about cruelty, which are versions of Hanah Arendt's 'banality of evil' theory, which I already mentioned above...

Anyway, I disagree with just about everything happening in Guantanamo Bay and believe people are being tortured there against the Geneva Convention. I also believe the multiple hyperbolic comparisons to Nazis and 'concentration camps' above are hack, harmful and display extraordinary ignorance about the complex issues involved.

But that's just my opinion.

"I have actually studied and written on Congressional oversight of detention issues (books, not just articles), including at Guantanamo." -- Shaun

Well, I guess that explains everything.

Your right, Asta, I shouldn't have even mentioned it. I only meant that I probably have as much "experience" with the issue as anybody else commenting on it here...

Gee, I thought the pictures were sort of bland and uninteresting.

I also assumed before reading that they were some sort of holding pen. My first thought was of a chicken farm or an animal shelter.

Based on some of the reactions to the pix and comments, I don't think I was too far off. This stuff dehumanizes us even when we aren't there.

I'd be interested to know, Shaun, if your work ever brought you into contact with, or the ability to question, someone imprisoned at Gitmo or other. Any info you have could be good info we could use here for discussion on this. Also, during your work, have you ever undergone any "training" as a "prisoner"? It'd be good to know how the foreign service is training it's people these days.

Shaun > "..and display extraordinary ignorance about the complex issues involved.

Globally millions of ignorant people myself included, patiently await your extraordinary scholarly opinion on the *complex issue of Gitmo*. Recalling the pre/post Afghanistan and Iraq experts, we are more adequately experienced in identifying bullshit. Some from a legal or moral, political or economic basis, others may have different concerns. From a historical perspective the rise of empires "now called super power" and this US adventure is not confusing to may outsiders, and Gitmo merely a minor symptom of a more complex problem. If you care to opine on the minor complex one of Gitmo I'm interested, for all details are helpful.

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