Bloggers and tweeters called the New York Times op-ed by a Guantanamo Bay prisoner “powerful,” “shocking,” and “deeply disturbing.” But what did the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg — the most veteran of Gitmo reporters — think of the piece? I wondered. I asked and she replied from Gitmo:
I thought the most interesting thing was the lawyer’s ability to give a specific detainee a voice, and to humanize a forced-feeding process that has gone on for many, many years here. As a reporter who has covered the camps since Day 1, I’ve never been allowed to speak with a detainee here, at Guantanamo. I have only heard from former detainees by phone and email, after their release, and I had never seen a forced-feeding but heard many stories.
There was a period down here some years ago when the Navy medical team offered on successive trips to feed ME that way, to demonstrate what it was like. I chose not to do it. I decided it would not inform my reporting. Volunteering to do it was far different, and the staff would surely be ultra careful to make sure it was not a painful or humiliating experience. So if it didn’t hurt, didn’t feel humiliating because it was voluntary, there was really no nexus to the experience of a captive who is strapped into a chair twice a day with no choice. So I passed on the invitation, which they haven’t extended in some years.
To me, as a journalist, I found the column interesting because it was a rare opportunity for a captive to tell his own story without rebuttal. Very unusual. I read it with interest, and I was curious to know more about the man who wrote it beyond the column. So I went to his leaked risk assessment on our website, a snapshot in time of what U.S. military intelligence believed him to be in 2008. Here it is. The military argued, at the time, that he one of the ‘Dirty 30’ — a group of suspected Osama Bin Laden bodyguards captured after coming down from Tora Bora into Pakistan. I noted, and then posted on Twitter, his photo for folks to see. These come from Wikileaked risk assessments that McClatchy got from Julian Assange. And then I also noted from my list that the op-ed page author was not among the 55 detainees that the Obama administration has said could be released without restrictions. It doesn’t diminish the power of column. Just informs it a bit more.
And btw I wrote this from Guantanamo, where I’m struggling with the military for more than show-tour brief access to the two main prison buildings here.