After VICE published my previous piece about my first visit to Gitmo, "It Don't GITMO Better Than This," a Department of Defense spokesman phoned my editor, upset that I'd made him look like "a tool." A former camp doctor, Monty Granger, sent me over 100 tweets calling me a "#pathetic #Islamist #apologist."
I first came to Gitmo to cover the military commissions. During my second trip, I was the third artist granted permission to draw the prisons. The Joint Task Force offers journalists a carefully choreographed tour—the point of which is to show that the Bad Old Gitmo of public perception is not Gitmo Now.
Bad Old Gitmo existed from approximately 2002-2007. Its orange jumpsuits, water-boarding, detainees sleeping in what Granger, who served at Guantanamo in 2002, gleefully described as "dog kennels." Its guards pummeling prisoners in revenge for September 11. Bad Old Gitmo, like so many icons of the Bush era, is Not Humane.
And "humane" is the catchword of Gitmo now.
Guantanamo Bay has the air of an imperial backwater. On a horseshoe of Cuba, the United States turns its full military might to guarding 164 aging Muslim men. The president calls Gitmo a terrorist recruiting tool. In August, the Daily Mailreported that William Lietzau, the architect of Guantanamo's military commissions, told them that it should never have been built. And yet it remains, in the sun and razor wire, waiting for America to declare the war on terror over.
At its height, Guantanamo Bay's prisons held nearly 700 detainees. They are so called because no formal charges are leveled against them. They are neither criminals who can confront their accusers in court, nor POWs of any war that can end. In the words of former guard Brandon Neely, "Prisoners have rights. Detainees don't."
By the end of his second term, former President George W. Bush released more than 500 men—anyone from a country capable of the security measures the US demanded. Now, 164 remain, 84 of whom are OK'd to leave the base. Most are Yemenis, whom we won't repatriate for fear that they will, in a Gitmo cliché, "return to the battlefield" in a country where al Qaeda holds significant sway. The detainees' officially confirmed recidivism rate is 16.9 percent (the New America Foundation puts it at 4 percent) far below that of American criminals. But some politicians think that even one incident is too much.
Behind electrically locking doors, detainees have lived out a decade in legal limbo. They are banned from speaking to the press. Visiting journalists sign contracts saying they will ignore any attempt at communication, though detainees try. In 2009, Uighur prisoners crayoned "America is double Hetler in injustice" [sic] on their prison-issued sketchpads.
Gitmo spokesman Robert Durand told me that Geneva Conventions prevent me from speaking to the detainees. For them to be allowed interviews would make them a spectacle. Silencing them, it is implied, is for their own good.Go to the link for the rest of her commentary and more images.