Officials Decry Use of Outdated Images to Portray Gitmo
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
U.S. NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Nov. 29, 2005 Leaders at the U.S. detention facility for enemy combatants here wonder why media outlets continue to use outdated images of defunct facilities to accompany news reports about the base.
Camp X-Ray as it looks today. The facility has not been used since early 2002, and recent heavy rains at Guantanamo Bay have brought about heavy growth. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Media stories about the detention facility or the men held here routinely are accompanied by photographs or video footage shot at Camp X-Ray, a temporary facility hastily erected to deal with enemy combatants captured in the first days of operations in Afghanistan. Images of orange-suited detainees blindfolded and handcuffed and kneeling in a line inside a chain-link enclosure have become iconic.
The problem is that Camp X-Ray closed in early 2002 and hasn't been used since. Since then, detainees have been housed in more modern, comfortable facilities, and improvements continue.
"I'd like to think it's for convenience" that media outlets still use footage that is more than three years old to portray the camp "rather than an attempt to try to portray the camp other than how it is today," Army Brig. Gen. John Gong, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said in an interview.
"More recent footage better depicts what it's like here today," he added.
Camp X-Ray's concrete slabs and open-air chain-link enclosures had been compared to dog runs. But officials stress Camp X-Ray was a hastily built structure to deal with a rapidly changing situation in the war on terrorism. "It's important to note that Camp X-Ray was thrown up in a matter of weeks," Army Lt. Col. John Lonergan, commander of 1st Battalion, 18th Cavalry Regiment, said. Lonergan's unit provides security at Guantanamo Bay.
The facilities there were never meant to be used for long-term detention, he said. Engineers began construction on Camp Delta, which replaced Camp X-Ray in April 2002, shortly after detainees began arriving here.
Today the formerly occupied Camp X-Ray looks like a ghost town. Weeds and brush have overgrown the enclosures. Heavy rains spawned by three hurricanes at the island base this year have spurred growth of lush greenery throughout the defunct camp. Now the camp looks like it's been swallowed by a jungle.
Detainees in Camp 4, a part of Camp Delta and the least restrictive of the base's detention facilities, live in communal 10-man bays and have nearly full-time access to exercise yards. Gong said officials with the American Correctional Association have looked at Camp Delta and say the facility is in accordance with the standard for modern prisons in the United States.
Camp 5, the newest facility, is designed after state-of-the-art correctional institutions in the United States. Camp 6, to be completed in summer 2006, will be even more modern. When Camp 6 is completed, it and Camp 5 will house 95 percent of the roughly 500 detainees held here now, Gong said.
Media outlets have ample opportunity to update their imagery, Gong said. Since June, more than 40 media agencies have visited the base. "We welcome people to come in," he said.