A rare sight of Guantanamo: through the eyes of a photographer

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Carol Rosenberg has reported from the US Navy base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba since 2002, first for the Miami Herald and, since 2019, for the New York Times. She is often the only journalist on the base. She estimates that she spent 1,500 nights there, many of them in a journalists tent on a broken tarmac next to the courtroom.

Ms. Rosenberg has written hundreds of articles on military commissions and the prison of war where 39 men are held under the auspices of the US government’s war on terrorism.

Although she spends much of her time reporting on detention operations, she knows there is more to it: a 45 square mile base with 6,000 people that the United States leases from Cuba. since 1903. While walking, she passes in front of military vehicles in slow motion. in McDonald’s drive-thru and the pontoon boats available for hire, and knows those scenes aren’t what most Americans envision when they think of Guantánamo Bay.

“It’s almost impossible to convey what it feels like in this small town anywhere,” Ms. Rosenberg said.

She is always looking for opportunities to offer a trip to a photographer and recently found a buyer in Erin Schaff, a Times photographer based in Washington. Ms. Schaff spent eight days at Guantánamo Bay in September; the photos she took on that trip, along with a text from Ms Rosenberg, appeared in The Times last month.

The footage showed a side of life rarely seen: one with suburban-style housing, fast food restaurants, and a K-12 school for children of military personnel.

Journalists should ask the Defense Ministry for permission to visit Guantanamo. Under pandemic restrictions, a journalist can only travel to attend a hearing. Once on base, photography is limited: taking pictures of prisoners, conditions in the prison complex, and court proceedings is prohibited. Photographers are accompanied by a military guard while they work and must agree to show their photos before leaving. Base officials censor images they believe compromise policy or security.

Ms Schaff arrived on September 19. The next day, she and Ms Rosenberg attended a hearing in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi man accused of organizing the bombing of Navy destroyer Cole in 2000 She spent the remainder of her trip in taking pictures of whatever she could, engaging her keeper on what was classified and what was not. It captured a DJ working at Radio GTMO, the Navy-operated station on the base, and men hoisting drums above their heads during an Oktoberfest celebration. Ms Schaff also photographed two Marines – part of the unit that secures Guantanamo – in the middle of their twice-daily flag ceremony outside their headquarters.

“There’s not much you can do to prepare for what it’s like to be out there,” Ms. Schaff said. “I was looking for things to illustrate everything Carol was saying about this strange place.”

Representing the rhythms of life there is only a small part of Ms. Rosenberg’s commitment to covering all American interests at Guantanamo. Other journalists have moved on over the years since the military first captured there in 2002. But Ms Rosenberg said the reason she remained dedicated to covering wartime trials and prison was was simple: someone should do it.

“Show up, and you just have to get there to be able to cover the story,” she said.

She wrote her accompanying essay to Ms. Schaff’s photograph after reviewing the images. She said they allowed her to write about an aspect of the American presence there that didn’t fit on any other cover.

“I write about all aspects of Guantanamo that I think should be written,” she said, adding, “The photo report really tells a richer story that people usually don’t see.”

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