Call it a popular culture clash. Call it the real world intruding on the carefully controlled realm of Guantánamo’s detention center zone.
In a surreal juxtaposition, the Navy this weekend screened Hollywood’s The Fifth Estate for prison camp forces at Guantánamo — the base in Cuba where U.S. troops are on notice they could be court-martialed if they actually read WikiLeaks, the material that the movie’s about.
The $28 million cinematic thriller came out in October to both critical and box office disappointment. It grossed just $6.1 million worldwide and dramatizes the story of Julian Assange’s anti-secrecy group’s release of classified military and diplomatic documents, including secret profiles of the prisoners at Guantánamo.
Assange for his part has panned the movie as an unfair portrayal from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he’s taken political asylum. He remarked in a tweet to The Miami Herald this weekend that the choice of a Guantánamo screening came as no surprise.
“U.S. military bases are the only market left for this baleful anti-WikiLeaks snoozefest,” he said.
The movie arrived at Guantánamo last week on a flight from Jacksonville, part of the regular flow of films sent to bases around the world by the U.S. Navy’s entertainment division. The base’s social-affairs unit said on Facebook recently, “we don’t really know what movies we’re going to get until they arrive.”
The base screened The Fifth Estate, late Friday night at the open-air cinema that’s free for any of the 6,000 or so base residents— from school-age kids of sailors to soldiers from far-lung National Guard units on year-long deployments. Anyone, that is, except the 164 war-on-terror prisoners kept on a corner of the base, behind razor wire.
Then on Saturday night it was scheduled to screen again at the exclusive open-air cinema for prison camp staff members whose have access to Guantánamo’s Detention Center Zone.
Navy Cmdr. John Filostrat, the prison spokesman, listed the movie among upcoming screening on Page 6 of his weekly newsletter, The Wire. Ten pages later, past a feature story about a manatee rescue operation that invoked Emma Lazarus’ Statue of Liberty poem about “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” came a stern warning to troops not to surf the WikiLeaks site.
“If you attempt to visit the WikiLeaks website from any computer, personal or government, you are violating the Department of Defense Policy,” the warning said. Doing so, it added, can be punished under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice — the part that can punish a soldier for disobeying an order or regulation.
That’s because the Pentagon has ordered its troops not to read any of the widely leaked — but still technically classified — Guantánamo prisoner profiles and State Department cables that are spread across the Internet.
Monday, the prison spokesman whose title is Joint Task Force Public Affairs Office (JTF PAO), said he had no idea how many of the 2,100 prison staff responsible for the 164 prisoners actually watched the film at the special theater close to his office.
Filostrat also would not comment on whether the prison-camp leadership considered canceling the screening, added a disclaimer or offered additional warnings against actually going on the web to see more about the controversy captured in the film.
“The JTF PAO doesn’t run the movies, I just advertise them,” said Filostrat, who noted that he had never seen the film.
Besides the bars and beach parties, free films are a popular diversion at the base where the chief prison camp guard, Army Col. John V. Bogdan, told CBS’ 60 Minutes recently that his troops suffer nearly twice as many “incidents” of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as those who serve on the battlefield.
Weekends bring double features. This weekend the Hunger Game: Catching Fire also premiered at the cinema for staff of the prison where as of Monday 15 of the 164 captives were on hunger strike.