July 28, 2008

Media's water offers a double chill

A look at the Pentagon media machine at the first U.S. war-crimes tribunal reveals a $32,000 travel morgue that chills reporters' drinking water.

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Several dozen media members brought in last week by the Pentagon to watch a day or two of the first U.S. war-crimes tribunal since World War II got a ghoulish surprise when they went in search of drinking water at Camp Justice.
Bottled water in Tent City, where reporters are kept, is chilled in a 3,470-pound shipping refrigerator meant for the dead.
It's marked ''MORTUARY'' on the side and has shelves to accommodate eight body bags being airlifted by the U.S. Air Force.
It's all part of the ''Expeditionary Legal Complex,'' which can be dismantled and moved elsewhere should either presumed presidential candidate make good on his pledge to close the prison camps at Guantánamo.
An escort who briefs visiting news media assured that the $32,000 ADR-300 mortuary had never been used for its intended purpose.


Also a surprise, particularly to the foreign media, was what appeared to be a Confederate flag flying above Tent City.
U.S. military escorts explained that it was actually the state flag of Mississippi. An Air Force engineering unit called The 172nd -- nicknamed ''The Prime Beef'' -- is in charge of keeping Tent City functioning. And it hails from Jackson, Miss.


On sale at the commissary: ''Got Freedom?'' T-shirts that mimic the milk campaign. Cost: $9.99. It's tax-free in this U.S.-controlled slice of Cuba.


In the al Qaeda world of driver Salim Hamdan, exhortations to martyrdom and railing at the infidels can become mind-numbing. Or so claimed several FBI agents who testified last week at the trial of Osama bin Laden's driver, the Yemeni with a fourth-grade education.
''Mr. Hamdan pretty much got tired of hearing the same thing over and over again,'' said FBI Agent George Crouch Jr. And so, he "tuned out.''


For two days, Guantánamo got to show off its $49,000 war-court media room -- a Hollywood-style set built inside an abandoned airfield's hangar, which is a crude copy of the Pentagon's podium where Secretary Robert Gates takes questions.
With nearly three dozen reporters on the island -- the vast majority flown in for two days -- many of the seats were, for the first time, filled during a question-and-answer session with the prosecutor.
By the weekend, the facility that the Defense Department says can host up to 60 journalists was down to only 11 -- four newspapers, three wire services, one radio reporter and an audio-video team from This American Life, which came to Guantánamo for gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Hamdan trial.
Tent City has 20 tents capable of sleeping 120 in the media section. Saturday's occupancy meant each media member could have his or her own six-man tent -- with nine to spare. Media minders sleep in Navy housing.


The driver on trial as a terrorist didn't get a veto of his court sketch, but he got a glimpse.
An attorney told sketch artist Janet Hamlin that the Yemeni captive was eager to see her drawing. With permission of the guards, she held it up during a recess.
Hamdan studied his likeness, then flashed a grin and thumbs-up -- a contrast to his somber demeanor in front of the U.S. military jurors.
Why was he so eager?
Speculation centered on the fact that the media would show his likeness around the world -- something like a snapshot sent home to the wife and kids in the Yemeni city of Sana'a.

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About Carol Rosenberg

Carol Rosenberg


Carol Rosenberg reports on Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the place, policy, people, war court.

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