Mon. Sep 21st, 2020
I Expected 2020 to Be a Hectic Year at Guantánamo. I Was Wrong.


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At the press space at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a decaying hangar, reporters talk ruefully about what has come to be identified as the Curse of the Curtain-Raiser. In the jargon of journalism, a “curtain raiser” is an report that tells readers what is coming in an engaging, informative way — perhaps an election, a playoff game or a congressional hearing of consequence.

But at Guantánamo it is a perilous pursuit. Only the most naïve or optimistic journalist dares to predict what may possibly occur at the spot President Barack Obama mentioned he would shut, and could not.

In the summer time of 2012, for instance, the Pentagon brought twenty journalists there for a pretrial hearing in the situation towards Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and 4 other guys accused of conspiring in the Sept. eleven, 2001, attacks. One particular reporter wrote that the subject would be torture. A further mentioned a challenge to court secrecy was on the agenda. A New Jersey paper wrote that a neighborhood couple was traveling there to “stare into the eyes of 5 guys accused of murdering their son and 1000’s of other 9/eleven victims.”

None of that took place. Initially, a train derailed in Maryland, severing safe communications to the courtroom in Cuba, forcing a delay. Then, a storm prompted the Pentagon to evacuate virtually everyone concerned in the hearing — 177 persons on a single flight to the mainland — leaving the prisoners and soldiers to trip out Hurricane Isaac. But the storm veered north, sparing the base.

That is the issue about reporting on Guantánamo: Publish about it, and it will not occur.

In 2016 and 2017, reporters from a half a dozen information retailers wrote that the to start with guy to be waterboarded in the C.I.A. torture plan would testify about the problems at Guantánamo’s most clandestine prison, Camp seven. It is 3 many years later on, and the prisoner identified as Abu Zubaydah has but to get the stand.

At times legal tactic or sickness derails the routine. Other occasions logistics or the climate are to blame. It is never ever straightforward to hold a hearing at the Expeditionary Legal Complicated, whose courtroom is within a constructing encased in corrugated metal on a cracked, obsolete airstrip, with a close by tent city and trailer park. Final 12 months, a hearing lasted two days simply because a Marine Corps judge had to be medically evacuated to Florida for emergency eye surgical treatment. It was also substantially for the Navy’s twelve-bed base hospital to manage.

So I must have identified superior in December when I consulted the calendar, counted up 215 scheduled court days and wrote about how 2020 was shaping up to be my virtually nonstop 12 months as a Guantánamo war-court reporter. (Most many years I concentrate as substantially on the prison and the persons as I do on the court.)

There was not a whiff of the coming coronavirus crisis. Nor was there a hint that the 49-12 months-previous job Air Force officer judge who had set an ambitious timetable of hearings towards an early 2021 trial for the Sept. eleven situation, would out of the blue retire in “the ideal interests of my family members.” However to occur was a prolonged-serving, 75-12 months-previous capital defender for one particular of the 9/eleven defendants, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, leaving the situation on his cardiologist’s suggestions, a separate supply of delay.

No hearing has been held because late February. No reporter has set foot on the 45-square-mile base of six,000 residents behind a Cuban minefield, amid them 250 college small children whose Navy and contractor dad and mom have mainly opted to send them to review at the base college rather than to discover remotely. None of the forty wartime prisoners there have had an in-individual legal meeting because the Planet Well being Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March eleven.

Guantánamo nowadays is in a bit of a combine-and-match existence. The fitness center, outside cinemas and churches are open, with social-distancing policies in spot. New soldiers from mainly Army Nationwide Guard units nonetheless arrive on 9-month excursions of duty and are place in isolation for two weeks. But right after confirming two Covid-19 circumstances in March and April, the military is now forbidden from discussing new circumstances.

Flights are infrequent, except for the twice weekly fridge plane that brings fresh fruits and greens. Guests are unusual. Judges in the two capital circumstances — towards the guys accused of plotting 9/eleven and a different guy accused of conspiring in the U.S.S. Cole bombing, in 2000 — have canceled 6 scheduled hearings so far. One particular declared the prison’s system for a 14-day quarantine for newcomers “unduly burdensome.”

Existence on the base has in some respects reverted to its time as a mainly forgotten backwater prior to the Marines walked twenty prisoners off a now defunct C-141 Starlifter cargo plane and opened Camp X-Ray on Jan. eleven, 2002.

Even the Worldwide Red Cross, which normally visits Guantánamo 4 occasions a 12 months, has canceled its finish-of-summer time check out — its 2nd cancellation of the pandemic. I outlined the organization’s planned journey in an report in May well, perhaps tempting the curse.

About that curse: When I to start with proposed creating about how foolhardy I was to propose a active 12 months at the court, which Congress exclusively developed devoid of a speedy trial provision, an editor teased: “You really do not believe you brought on the coronavirus pandemic, do you?” Of program not. But when it comes to predicting what would occur at Guantánamo, I must have identified superior.

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