Friday, January 4, 2008

Legally & Transparently

On January 2nd this year, I did one of the coolest things I've ever done in my life. I got to take a tour behind the wire of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay (JTF). What that means is that at about 1030am, January 2nd I was standing not more than ten feet from a group of "unlawful enemy combatants" (a.k.a. the men who would have killed me and the entire tour group and guards if the fence and some M16's weren't in the way) who were praying in their recreation area. It was absolutely the most moving, reaffirming, empowering event that I've ever experienced.

We started the day with a briefing in one of the administrative buildings that is behind the Roosevelt Gate, which separates Naval Station Gitmo from JTF Gitmo. The briefing was the same brief they give to the men and women who come to work at the JTF, just minus the classified information. The Chief of Staff and every other major player in the running of the camps was there to inform our group of what exactly their section does and how they do it. We reviewed the meals, medical, and recreation of the detainees extensively. We also got to eat the same lunch that the detainees were eating that day. And, if I may say so, it was actually great food. Meatloaf, veggies, wheat bread, cake, an orange, apple juice, salad, and water. All of this is just one part of the 5000 calorie a day- religious and health conscious- diet the detainees get.

Speaking of health conscious, the detainees get the greatest health care on the planet. There is a fully staffed hospital with all the latest in modern technologies inside. A detainee died recently from colon cancer.... but it wasn't because it couldn't be treated, it was because he refused treatment in hopes that his death could make the JTF look bad. Everything from advil to muscle relaxers to x-rays to full surgical procedures can and has been performed on detainees who have needed medical help. There is no expense that is spared and no second wasted when one of the detainees has an ailment. On the other hand, the United States Residents of Guantanamo Bay often have to wait days to get on a plane to go see a specialist in Jacksonville if anything goes wrong. In particularly dire situations sick Americans can be Med-Evac'd over Cuba to a hospital but that's a last resort. I find great irony in the fact that the citizens the detainees want to kill have a lot more trouble keeping themselves healthy than the detainees do. But if we didn't their lawyers would hear all about it and we'd be the bad guys.... fortunately that's not the case.

During the briefing they explained that the JTF GTMO is not a prison, it is a detention center where things are operated "legally and transparently". Basically, a place where people who are a danger to the missions can be held until the fight is over.... just like the Geneva Convention says. They also explained that people (cough, cough liberals) often make the mistake of saying they want to close Guantanamo Bay. Closing Guantanamo Bay means they want to shut down the world's oldest overseas military base, and the only U.S. Military installation on the soil of a country with which we have no diplomatic relations. Basically, if you want it closed, at least know what you're talking about... they want the JTF closed, not Guantanamo Bay.

We reviewed some of the bad press that the JTF gets, the Chief of Staff informed us that anyone who has asked for a tour and briefing about the facilities has gotten it. Also, many of the groups who bad mouth the JTF have been sent numerous invitations and turned them down (hint: it rhymes with Amnesty International).

One particularly interesting fact they gave us is that the United States has never, ever released detained enemy combatants during a time of war.... never. Until JTF Gitmo was opened, now the US has released more detainees than it keeps. Although a few have gone back to the fight, an overwhelming amount return to their lives.

The final thing that was stressed in the briefing was that no matter how many concessions we have to make for these men, no matter how normal their everyday lives seem, no matter how much they try to convince us they're normal... they are dangerous men who want(ed) to kill Americans.

The briefing took about an hour then we started the tour. We began in Camp 4 which is the most "compliant" of the camps. Meaning that in Camp 4 the detainees are given the most freedom possible without sacrificing the safety of the guards or the mission. Camp 5 is a maximum security camp, as is Camp 6. Although Camp 6 was originally built as a "medium security facility" the Government learned very quickly that there is no such thing as a medium security terrorist. The detainees are constantly trying to find ways to harm and humiliate the guards, they're constantly trying to find ways to harm themselves so that it gets into the media, and they're constantly working together.

Because of the no isolation, no incommunicado, no solitary confinement policy the detainees are allowed to talk to each other all of the time. In fact, I even got to hear some of them talking to each other. Their ability and right to communicate with each other allows for the detainees to maintain their plotting and planning at JTF Gitmo. The same organization that is hidden in the mountains of the middle east, makes it's way 5000 miles across the globe to manifest itself in the place where the entire mission is to stop that group. Thus comprimising the safety of the guards.

It's mind-blowing to me to think that there are men and women down in the JTF who walk the same fifty feet of hallway for ten hours a day, being taunted, yelled at, unable to retaliate, bored out of their minds and sacrificing their safety for the rest of us and who in the US really cares? Not a whole lot of people. We go about our nice lives never stopping once during the day to pray for a single soldier, or think about finding someway to contribute to the effort.

Anyway, in Camp 5 the tour group walked into one of the pods (one of those 50 ft long hallways with the cells in it) to look at one of the living spaces. At the end of the hallway one of the detainees starts yelling, "It is so cold! I am so freezing! ...... what group is it?" He's whining and complaining about having air conditioning and then wondering what group is listening to him. Once he finds out which group it was he'll be sorely disappointed. The point of whining that loudly is so that the media or whomever is coming through thinks he's got it so bad down there. Fortunately, his complaints fell on deaf ears, I was with a group of the wives and daughters of the men who work in the camps and we couldn't care less how cold he is.

Its hard to put into words the impression that the tour made on me. It's one of those things where "wow" isn't even an ambiguous enough word to encompass everything that goes through my mind about what happens inside that wire. "A war is being waged mentally and emotionally everyday" and that's just astounding. My passion and fervor for my personal crusade to support the JTF has been refueled and is even more important to me than ever. I feel like I have the information and the experience to shoot down anybody who is fabricating seditious lies about the operation. Freedom is actively being defended at the JTF, and it's comforting to know that the entire operation from the top down and vice versa is a well-thought out, constantly evolving operation. Despite the long work hours, and the discouragement that comes along with dealing with detainees day in and out I hope that one day the people who work there can look back and realize what a service they have done for their Country.


There's no In Other News this time around.... simply because my blog was just that important.... go read it again. :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let's discuss over coffee....or wine....or a few beers tonight. I want to hear ALL that you legally can tell me :)