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Carol Rosenberg, Adjectives, and the Media at Gitmo

Nouns give an essay substance, and verbs give it motion. Adjectives transform it from black and white into color.

Consider Carol Rosenberg’s piece on the rules at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Like Ansel Adams, she works with black and white, giving us a picture of the administration of justice, such as it is, at Gitmo. Spencer Ackerman calls Rosenberg the “world’s leading authority on Guantanamo Bay” and her mastery allows her to describe a stunningly ugly scene.

I’m here to tell you what it’s like to be a reporter at Guantanamo. It’s hard.

Not just because you sleep in tent city where the ventilators and generators sound like you’re inside a jet engine. Nearly everyone else expected in court gets housing elsewhere. The lawyers have trailers. The translators get townhouses and the judge and juries get guest quarters. The reporters get tents because if you protest, guess what they say: Don’t come.

Did you know there are hotels at Guantanamo? We used to get rooms there, and now we can’t check into them.

The image she describes, in the black and white of nouns and verbs, is a system of handling the media that could have been designed by Kafka, fleshed out by imitators of the jailers at Robben Island and the so-called tour guides of the Soviet-era Intourist, and flavored with a sizable dose of East German and Chinese paranoia. Reading her story, the adjectives leap to mind, even though she doesn’t use them herself:
Once, a Chinese reporter, an official guest of the foreign press center, filmed her standup from a pre-approved spot. Escorts took her there, and watched while she did it. The next day she came to me bewildered. They deleted the shot in the spot they approved because there was a fluorescent orange barrier in the distance. Surely, I said, you must’ve said something that was protected. Not likely. The censor shut off the sound and fast-forwarded through the standup because he didn’t speak Chinese.

No adjectives to describe the escorts and censors are given, but “craven” and “arrogant” and “duplicitous” come to mind.

The government censor stands in front of a No Photography sign and says, “New policy, the sign and scene behind are now OK. Have at it.” You take your camera to a shed for a security review a few minutes later and a sergeant says, “Um, ‘No Photography’ signs are forbidden.” “They just told us it was OK,” I say. “For real?” he asks. “For real,” I reply. He deletes it anyway. There was a sliver of concrete in the frame. The fringes of a bunker you’re not allowed to see.

Surely there was a “silly” in there somewhere, as in “The silly government censor . . .”

Some of the treatment seems petty.

How about this: They control the access to food at times and somehow forget there have been, consistently, Muslims and vegetarians among the media. Some years back an officer with the Louisiana National Guard declared it too inconvenient to let us go out to eat and sent us to our quarters with a stack of pork pizzas. Two journalists from Canada who had been working full tilt all day went hungry until breakfast.

Petty is being kind. Try “vengeful” or “bullying” or “manipulative” or “third-grade-ish.” Bull Connor would be proud.

When the topic comes up in court of what psychotropic drugs were given another accused 9/11 conspirator, Ramzi bin al Shibh, the courtroom censor hits a white noise button so reporters viewing from a glass booth can’t hear the names of the drugs. Why? One minder said it’s because Ramzi bin al Shibh has HIPAA health privacy rights. In a place where they still argue that the Constitution doesn’t apply.

Clueless. Cowardly. Confused.

C’mon, people — the DOD and DOJ argue that the accused may have no habeas corpus rights, but they get HIPPA rights? (And if I read the HIPAA regs properly, legal testimony is on the list of exceptions.) Please.

But of all the idiocy Rosenberg recounts, my favorite piece is this:

It’s a place where they clear the court so only those with security clearances can see a video of a Canadian agent questioning Omar Khadr. We are taken back to the filing center, where we watch it on YouTube. Canadian courts released it more than a year ago.

This is the vision of justice that the DOD and DOJ want to hold up to the world? I am appalled, and Holder and Gates should be ashamed. Rules like this belong with Alice in Wonderland, not any system of justice administered by the United States of America.

When Rosenberg and three of her colleagues were banned from Gitmo, Spencer described an exchange he had about it with one of the Pentagon media folks:

“What was the problem with her?” I asked.

“Well,” the guy said, “she was so–so– so PUSHY. Relentless, she just wouldn’t let things GO…”

I didn’t feel it necessary to say that the guy just described everything that reporters value. He then proceeded to talk shit about Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, who in my opinion is the best national-security journalist alive.

Since then, I’ve never come back to Guantanamo Bay. Carol has made dozens of trips. She knows more about this place and what happens here than anyone alive. Public-affairs officers come and go. Military deployments end. Officials and administrations change. Carol stays. She is the institutional knowledge of Guantanamo Bay.

And God bless her for being so pushy, for not letting go, and for being that institutional knowledge. Those three things are what give her power, and what make her a threat to the folks who want Gitmo to disappear from the news.

Holder and Gates may not do much for the reputation of the US with their work overseeing what passes for justice at Gitmo, but Rosenberg and her protests against an overbearing government does the constitution proud. Rosenberg described her job of reporting from Gitmo like this: “I don’t break the rules. I protest the ones that make no sense.”

That’s obviously a full-time job, with or without adjectives.

(photo h/t Rogue Sun Media)

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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