Censors put limits on Guantánamo photos

by CAROL ROSENBERG, Miami Herald

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Pity the photographer who takes a picture of five tents in a row at ``Camp Justice.''

Or two whole tents and slivers of two others.

Under the latest rules for ''operational security,'' there's now a three-tent rule for photos the public can see of the tents that house journalists and support staff at the expeditionary legal compound, where reputed al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 co-conspirators are due to get their first taste of military commission justice June 5.

Censorship of news photos has evolved to show, well, less and less across the 6 ½-year Defense Department venture in detaining and at times interrogating war-on-terrorism suspects here.

And numbers do count.

At Camp Delta, the prison camps, photographers are forbidden from showing two guard towers -- or, for that matter, any one detainee's face, except in shadows that make him look like nobody in particular.

Broadly, the military explains the need for operational security, or OP-SEC, two different ways.

First, they seek to shield from public view any details of this remote base that might help al Qaeda or other enemies of the United States stage an attack.

Second, they want to shield from public view the faces of detainees because the Geneva Conventions prohibit the parade or humiliation of prisoners of war.

• Heard at the war court:

An Air Force judge, Lt. Col. Nancy Paul, at one point told defendant Ibrahim al Qosi, 47, that if he wanted to arrange a phone call home to Sudan through the International Committee of the Red Cross, ``This is up to you.''

The slight, dark man with a salt-and-pepper beard looked stunned.

''Me?'' he sputtered.

``What can I do? I'm a detainee. I cannot do anything about anything.''

The one thing he could do Thursday, for hours, was refuse an effort by his Pentagon-appointed defense attorney, Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, to help orchestrate the call.

• Mindful that the audio broke, the video froze and the power went off earlier this month, military commissions staff spent much of Tuesday testing the technology at their two courtrooms at Camp Justice.

Guards played judge, lawyers and, sometimes detainees, while a technician posed as a witness and an Arabic language translator hired by the war court at one point sat in an alleged terrorist's seat.

The goal is glitch-free simultaneous hearings at the old retrofitted courtroom as well as the $12 million state-of-the-art expeditionary legal compound, once the war crimes trials get rolling sometime after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in late June.

So Tuesday morning, U.S. forces were reading from a fake script of a trial of a fictional war on terror detainee named Abdul Khadr of Yemen during a daylong equipment check.

Declared one guard playing a presiding officer: ''Mr. Khadr, this commission has convicted you of conspiracy.'' Next Khadr's jury of military officers, called commissioners, were going into secret session to see the evidence against him.

So the presiding officer ordered the feed cut to the media's press room.

But the feed kept going, and reporters at an adjacent media center got to watch the guard playing a detainee get convicted twice before lunch.

No one could explain who exactly wrote the fake script and why.

But by afternoon the war court script was gone and guards were back in their places, reciting lines from the 1988 Hollywood hit Big -- the Tom Hanks tale of a boy who makes a wish and suddenly finds himself living the life of a man.

article originally published at http://www.miamiherald.com/guantanamo/story/545576.html.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey