On Jan. 11, 2002, the first group of al-Qaida and Taliban suspects arrived at the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba, four months to the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed 2,976 people.
On a hillside some distance away, Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg was among a knot of reporters who were there, taking notes while sitting on the dirt. No news photographers or TV crews were allowed to capture that moment. What we thought we saw that day came from that pool of reporters, who chronicled the prisoners shuffling off the plane in shackles, wearing masks and ear muffs.
Later, iconic images show the 20 detainees hours after their arrival, on their knees in a cage and clad in bright orange jump suits.
Since that first visit, Rosenberg has been to Guantánamo scores of times — she stopped counting in 2002 after 150 nights — more often than any other reporter. During that time, thousands of troops, hundreds of public affairs escorts and 13 prison camp commanders have rotated through the camp. After more than a decade on the beat, she has become the recognized expert on what takes place in this often-secret world, originally designed to be out of reach of the American people and U.S. courts.
It is an important but difficult story to cover.
The War Court functions like no other.
Spectators listen behind soundproof glass or on a secure video feed with a 40-second delay. Censors must clear unclassified motions and the names of those testifying under subpoena before the information is given to reporters. Writers send their dispatches uncensored, but it is a closed military zone. Only journalists who agree to submit their photo or video images to military review are allowed in.
Three years ago, Rosenberg was one of four journalists the Pentagon attempted to ban from covering Guantánamo for publishing the already publicly known name of a witness.
The Miami Herald led a coalition of news organizations that complained such restrictions were unconstitutional and illegal under the military commissions act of 2009. The Pentagon lifted the ban. As a result, we are part of a consortium of major media organization attorneys that engages the Pentagon on its War Court and administrative secrecy at the detention center.
We have systematically pushed back against efforts to restrict us, ban us and censor us as a condition of access to the proceedings and we’ve threatened to sue more than we have sued, using the Freedom of Information Act to get information. In response to one Miami Herald suit, the government for the first time released the names of 48 detainees deemed too dangerous to release — but are ineligible for trial.
On Oct. 9th, the Miami Herald sued the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act over its refusal to divulge details of the cost to build and operate the center’s Camp 7. That is where 16 high-value detainees are held, including the accused 9/11 conspirators. Rosenberg has been asking for the price tag of the secret prison building since 2008, although construction and operating costs have been released for all other facilities at the detention center. Overall, since the detention center opened, total spending stands at $5.2 billion.