WASHINGTON — Guantánamo's Camp Justice is a place where you can sit at your laptop or by your phone only if there's a member of the military within earshot.
It's a place where you can go to court only in the custody of a military public affairs officer. Inside, if there's only one escort — this happened recently — and somebody has to go to the bathroom, every reporter has to leave court, too.
It's a place where a soldier stands over your shoulder, looks in your viewfinder and says 'Don't take that picture, I'll delete it.'
This happened earlier in July. The government censor stands in front of a No Photography sign and says, "New policy, the sign and scene behind are now OK. Have at it." You take your camera to a shed for a security review a few minutes later and a sergeant says, "Um, 'No Photography' signs are forbidden." "They just told us it was OK," I say. "For real?" he asks. "For real," I reply. He deletes it anyway. There was a sliver of concrete in the frame. The fringes of a bunker you're not allowed to see.
And it's a place where the Pentagon believes it can tell you not to include in your story the name of a man who outed himself in a newspaper interview in 2008 to clear his name.
It's a place where, if you ask why, they tell you, "That's the rules ma'am." If you say that wasn't the rule a year ago, a month ago — they shrug and say that's the rule today.
You can't write that man's name any more. Never mind that reporters at the same war court reported that same interrogator's name in Guantánamo stories in 2008.
I go to Guantánamo to write about a place the government intentionally chose to be outside the rule of law. The Supreme Court decided otherwise.
It's a place the Pentagon likes to call the most transparent detention center on Earth. Hundreds of reporters have visited there, they say, since the first al Qaeda suspects arrived eight years ago.
They skip the part about how few go back more than once — stymied by the sheer frustration at the rules, the hoops, the time, and the costs of doing basic journalism. Being a court reporter. Writing a feature story. Conducting an interview.
I'm here to tell you what it's like to be a reporter at Guantánamo. It's hard.
Not just because you sleep in tent city where the ventilators and generators sound like you're inside a jet engine. Nearly everyone else expected in court gets housing elsewhere. The lawyers have trailers. The translators get townhouses and the judge and juries get guest quarters. The reporters get tents because if you protest, guess what they say: Don't come.
Did you know there are hotels at Guantánamo? We used to get rooms there, and now we can't check into them.
A reporter can't just fly to Guantánamo either. To cover a 3.5-hour hearing on Monday, I flew from Miami to Washington on Saturday, stayed in a hotel and went to Andrews Air Force Base Sunday morning to pay $400 to ride the Pentagon plane that reporters are required to take to cover commissions. I've been doing this a long time. Sometimes I can find a direct flight from South Florida to Guantánamo. I used to take them. Not anymore. Now it's forbidden.