Part of the U.S. Navy base in southeastern Cuba was used by the Bush administration after February 2002 to detain men beyond the reach of U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions on detention and torture. Brennan Linsley, as the AP photographer in the Caribbean, made Guantanamo a priority. He has made many trips since 2005 and, like all journalists visiting Guantanamo, had to cope with official censorship and bureaucratic hurdles. The result is a collection of photos depicting life at Guantanamo during the Bush years.
Guantanamo has housed detainees with a wide range of life histories and circumstances which led them to the prison complex. They include the dozen or so men deemed “high-value detainees,” such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other alleged planners of the September 11, 2001 attacks, but also some men who U.S. military legal experts claim are being held with little tangible evidence against them. So, by most accounts, Guantanamo has, since 2002, been a holding place for at least some dangerous militants, and some innocents captured on bounties, on the basis of bogus rumors, or by mistake. According to observers, the majority are somewhere in the middle.
Over the years, Guantanamo has become symbolic for critics and supporters alike. For the critics of American policy, Guantanamo is emblematic of what they view as America’s arrogance and drifting moral compass during the Bush years. For Guantanamo’s many passionate defenders, the detention facility is a vital part of the overall U.S. strategy in the ongoing global fight against terrorism. Some, including the current U.S. President Barack Obama, and part of the intelligence community, have long believed that whatever immediate security benefit Guantanamo may offer is outweighed by the erosion it has caused of American credibility around the world.
Covering Guantanamo has been a challenge for the journalists who have visited over the years, and is, no doubt, a challenge for the military escorts who often do their best to help. Media visits are typically limited to a few days, and require planning and clearance weeks or months in advance. Guantanamo is a very tightly managed and controlled environment. The U.S. military public affairs units which oversee media when on the base operate under strict guidelines and must escort visiting journalists at all times during the day. Most visits to the detention camps are very short, and offer little to see. The officers and guards actually running the detention camps on a daily basis have other priorities than showing around packs of camera-toting journalists week after week, and state that their duty is to prevent agitating or angering the prisoners.
At the end of every working day for journalists at Guantanamo, all photo and video material is reviewed by U.S. Dept. of Defense “Operational Security” officials, who flag for deletion any material that they deem violates the official Op-Sec Ground Rules — a very long list of what is prohibited. Some material falls into a gray area between what is prohibited and what is allowed. In these cases, photographers and videographers often argue strenuously to retain their material, and charge that deletion of such material would constitute clear censorship. Often they win these battles, sometimes not. But the main problem in covering Guantanamo is not the list of official prohibitions. The real challenge is simply to gain enough time and access to detainee life as it is, and to come away with an honest approximation of that reality.
Please note that all photos were reviewed by a U.S. Department of Defense security official before they could be released. Often, the photos you see are the result of intense one-on-one debate between the photographer and the official about what may be shown to the public.