By Peter Jan Honigsberg
Published By Nevada Law Review, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2009
Abstract: In May 2007 I visited Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. What I saw and experienced then are fading away and will soon disappear, now that two-thirds of the nearly 800 detainees have been released and President Obama will close the detention centers within the year. Consequently, this essay provides a historical account of one person’s media visit to Guantanamo, when it was a fully-operational prison violating human rights, due process and international law.
The essay describes not only the visit but also the application process – a bizarre experience. The military’s application concluded with two quotes from the New Testament and included an attachment of another person’s application, complete with his social security and passport numbers.
The flight to Guantanamo from Fort Lauderdale Florida was on a ten-seater propeller plane, without bathrooms. It took over three hours, having to circumvent Cuban air space. Once on the island, we were introduced to the senior military officials on the base and escorted to the detention centers, where we could observe detainees but not speak to them. Every evening, an Operations Security contractor reviewed our digital photos, deleting what were described as security lapses, such as images of the coastline, water towers, guard towers, and faces of the detainees and the guards.
On the second day of the three-day trip, I was confronted by an officer who asked whether I was a “habeas lawyer,” a lawyer who represented the detainees. Although I was not a habeas lawyer, but rather an author of a forthcoming book on Guantanamo and the war on terror, I was informed that the military had erred in permitting me to visit. The story behind this confrontation, why the military believed they had mistakenly granted me permission to visit the island, and my fears and apprehensions in response to their confrontation appear in this essay.