Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
By Bob Strong
My visit to the U.S. naval station in Guantanamo Bay Cuba began much like any other military embed. I sent an application to the Press Affairs Office (PAO) explaining who I worked for and the reason for my visit, and a couple of weeks later the trip was approved. The base is divided into two sections, the naval station which has been in existence since 1903, and the Joint Task Force (JTF GTMO) which is where the detainees are held. A special ID is needed to access the JTF section of the base and most residents of the naval station never go there. My visit request was directed at the JTF side, but I was able to work on the naval section as well.
I was met at the airport by two Sergeants, who would be my escorts for the entire trip. Although technically I could walk around the naval base unescorted, taking pictures on any military installation often attracts attention, and I ended up doing all of my work while accompanied by PAO personnel. After I arrived I was briefed on what could and could not be photographed, and reminded that all photographs and videos had to be reviewed and approved by military censors. This generally took place at the end of the day and was referred to as the OPSEC (operational security) review.
There is a long list of items not to photograph but ironically, I was permitted to take pictures of the NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs posted everywhere. When I mentioned that every inch of the base was easily identified on Google Earth, everyone in the office nodded their heads and sighed.
The meat of any photography visit to Guantanamo are the prison visits. There are two prisons at JTF that journalists are permitted to visit, Camp V and VI, and these are where most of the detainees are held. There is also a third, top secret detention facility called Camp VII or Camp Platinum where ‘high-value detainees’, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are kept, but this is off limits to journalists.
On Day One we visited Camps V and VI. I was accompanied by my two PAO escorts, the JTF Deputy Commander, the U.S. Army Captains in charge of each camp, and several other soldiers. It was an impressive entourage. The Captain in charge of Camp V said there had been some unspecified disturbances lately and the prison was full, which meant there was no access to an upper level catwalk where photographers traditionally can shoot pictures of detainees. They opened one door to a cellblock and I was able to photograph a guard walking away from me past a line of closed cells. Not a good start.