Behind the Gates of Gitmo: The war on perception - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


Behind the Gates of Gitmo: The war on perception

WTOC was given a broad look at the base and behind the gates. WTOC was given a broad look at the base and behind the gates.

The first pictures out of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center are still the ones that exist in people's minds.

Orange jump suits. Shackles. Outdoor cells smaller than dog kennels that seemed to raise questions about the treatment of enemy combatants being sent to US Naval Base in Cuba during the early months of 2002.

"Those photos were taken and pushed to America and the world when there were still two burning holes in downtown Manhattan,'' said Rear Admiral David Thomas, commander of the joint task force at Guantanamo. "When a fifth of the pentagon was rubble and when they were searching a field in Pennsylvania for the remains of our country men. So those photos were deliberately pushed to show the world that we were finding some of those folks who may have been accountable or were responsible for some of those activities.''

But criticism of conditions and interrogation tactics came swiftly from sources ranging from the Red Cross to released detainees, branding Guantanamo with a reputation the leadership there is still fighting.

"Obviously, anytime the public has a perception that's untrue, it's important to change,'' said Col. Bruce Vargo, commander of Gitmo's joint detention force.

"It's very important to me and to everyone who serves here,'' added Thomas. "That the truth about what goes on here at Guantanamo be understood.''

Important enough for Gitmo to open itself to media tours such as the one WTOC took recently, when we were invited behind the gates for a look at the lives of guards and detainees.

And when we saw that the effort to change this facility's public image is as obvious as the security here.

The very first information provided in writing at the very first briefing upon arriving is that Guantanamo provides, "safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detained enemy combatants.'' That seems to be the theme of these media visits. In fact, it's probably the reason for them.

"We just present what we are in the hope that it's captured and comes across that way when people back in the united states view the video,'' said base commander, Capt. Steven Blaisdell.

There certainly are restrictions on what you can shoot and show, mostly for security purposes or to protect identities of those who choose not to be seen.

But we were given a broad look at the base and behind the gates where alleged terrorists are being held.

We were even brought to camp X-Ray, the place where the detention mission and the surrounding controversy, all started.

X-Ray is no longer and active camp. In fact, it was only used as such for four months in 2002 while the newer camps were being built. But because of photos that circulated on the internet, for many, its chain-link pens are the enduring image of Guantanamo.

"There is a lot of misinformation, a lot of misperceptions of what goes on here,'' says Thomas. "I wouldn't say it has affected morale here. Although it's definitely a concern to anyone who serves here. It's important to all of us that, although we're proud of what we do, it's understood by our countrymen and the world.''

It's also important to the men and women at Guantanamo.

"I tell the troops all the time, when this is over, this is about us,'' said Vargo. "We need to be able to belly up to the bar one day, or with our grandchildren one day, whatever, at least be able to say that is not true. We did it correctly. And no matter what anybody else says, we know we did it correctly, we did it professionally and we did it humanely.''

By Tim Guidera - bio

Story courtesy of KLTV 7's sister station, WTOC in Savannah, Georgia.

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