June 19, 2006

Gitmo: Parting The Curtains … Somewhat



Certainly, there’s a limit to the number of telephoto guard towers pictures one person can stand.

If you’ve been scanning for substantive images of Gitmo these past few years, you’ve likely been as bored and frustrated as The BAG.    With the Administration bleeding from the news out of Cuba and with international condemnation rising, however, we might finally be on the verge of greater access.

A significant opening occurred last week as the result of a visit by journalists from the Charlotte Observer.  It might have been because the base commander, Col. Mike Bumgarner, hails from Kings Mountain, 25 miles west of Charlotte, and many of the Gitmo soldiers come from the same area.  In any case, reporter Michael Gordon and photographer Todd Sumlin were granted permission to do a feature.

Who would have imagined, however, that the visit would commence the same day three prisoners would successfully commit suicide in their cells?  Although Bumgarner’s whereabouts and status (presumably due to his involvement with the reporters) are now undetermined, and the Charlotte journalists were kicked off the island by the Pentagon, this didn’t take place until after the reporters had spent three days chronicling Bumgarner’s response to the incident, and Sumlin was able to get fresh photographs inside the facility, along with a video interview with Bumgarner.

I should emphasize, though, that the pictures above are not part of the series taken by Sumlin. 

Instead, these shots — taken inside the Gitmo cellblocks — suddenly appeared on the newswire at the end of last week.  Dated April 6, 2006, the images were labeled as “file photos” which had been “reviewed by US military officials.” (The shots were taken by AP photographer Brennan Linsley.)  Besides Linsley’s shots, the next five most recent images in the YahooNews Gitmo thread (as of this evening) were dated, respectively, 2002; August 25, 2004; 2004; and Sept. 27, 2002.

So, what’s up?  From The BAG’s vantage, it appears the Pentagon is moving quickly to get out in front of the Charlotte story, and to garner/salvage whatever PR advantage it can to both offer and control media access to Gitmo.  (The Observer reports that Gitmo media access is scheduled to resume today — although limited to Dutch and French journalists supposedly based on pre-arranged permission.)

From a PR standpoint, the situation seems so far gone, the military probably has no choice but to (at least, partially) raise the shades on Gitmo.  Judging from Michael Gordon’s reporting, however, the situation between inmates and management is so contentious, it will take a careful balancing act to give the press greater access, but still keep it at bay.

These pictures above speak to those terms.  Although we’re inside a cell block, these strange, unpopulated and rather abstract photos (the second one looks more like a scale model) come up far short in terms of telling us much of anything about life there.


Same with this shot Todd Sumlin came away with.  Although representative of a different cell type and location  — with more editorial content and animation, especially with that lower half-body at attention  — this photo only whets our appetite to know more.

>> Todd Sumlin Guantanamo photo gallery and video interview with the base commander.

>> Michael Gordon Guantanamo series:

Day 1 Report (3 detainees found dead at Guantanamo” — 6/11);

Day 2 Report (Officer expects more suicide tries — 6/12)

Day 3 Report (Guards tighten security to prevent more deaths – 6/13)

Bumgarner Profile (Career crisis hovers over Guantanamo commander — 6/18)

(image 1 & 2: Brennan Linsley, file/AP.  April 6, 2006.  Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Via YahooNews  .image 3: Todd Sumlin/Charlotte Observer.  June 13, 2006.  Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. charlotte.com)

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Michael Shaw
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