Tips from Gordon Cucullu
I'm often asked "How were you able to visit Guantanamo?" with the implication that it is a highly closed, inaccessible facility.
The answer surprises most people: Ask the authorities there for permission to visit.
The very first time I visited it was at the invitation of the Department of Defense in June 2005. At the time I was part of the Pentagons informal Analysts Group, a loose-knit collection of largely former military officers and senior enlisted who also participated in media as writers, on-camera commentators and talk show guests.
Contrary to popular opinion, political viewpoints within the military are a reflection of American diversity of viewpoint. Scratch any group of officers or enlisted and you will find liberals, conservatives, and moderates; Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The group reflected America but was perceived by some particularly in the New York Times as sock puppets for the Pentagon.
Rather than manage the news, the Department of Defense opened up conduits for conversations with open questions and comments that exposed participants to genuine military newsmakers like General David Petraeus and Colonel HR McMasters. Unfortunately weak sisters at the Pentagon caved when the sensationalist Times article appeared and the program closed.
Following that first visit, I wrote an article in American Enterprise magazine that was well-received. I saw the possibility for a book and took on the project, traveling to the base on more than five occasions, all self-financed.
Note that if you want to visit Guantanamo, you need a reason. The facility is not a tourist site, nor does it exist merely to satisfy idle curiosity. It helps to be a writer, broadcaster, or other media professional and to have a cogent reason to visit the facility. In fact, since commencing operations thousands of media have visited.
While the process is a bit lengthy and bureaucratic it is necessary. One must contact Joint Task Force Guantanamo officials through the Public Affairs Office and begin the iterative process that will grant you area and local clearance. This can be initiated on the JTF Guantanamo website.
Following approval of the visit you will need to book a flight there. Air travel is the only practical way to visit. Military charter aircraft depart twice weekly from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, and commercial flights are available from South Florida regional airlines.
Once you are there, you will be billeted at visitors facilities. These range from townhouses that sleep two to motel-style highrises with individual suites. While at the facility you will be granted purchase privileges at the Navy Exchange where you can pick up food (every room has a refrigerator, microwave, small stove, and standard kitchen supplies), clothing, sundries, liquor, cigarettes, field gear, and shop in souvenir stores for Guantanamo memorabilia.
Generally contingent on schedules you will be permitted to eat at military dining facilities or you can avail yourself of several commercial facilities nearby including some fast food establishments. Dining facilities (mess halls to older vets) are run by civilian contractors and have an amazingly wide variety of food including fresh fruit and salads, choices of entrees, several deserts, and many side items.
If you have the opportunity to eat at the Seaside Grill at Camp America where detainee meals are prepared you will enjoy the experience. Caribbean food is available at the Jerk House, and various all-ranks clubs are open for business.
In the unlikely event that you will require medical attention, dispensary and full hospital services are available on the base.
Communications though pre-paid telephone cards (purchased from a vending machine in the lobby of the visitors quarters) make calls to the States easy. Many quarters have subscription Internet services with high-speed broadband available. Cable television is supplied in all rooms.
Most schedules are tightly packed with little free time, but if you have free moments you can walk on the beach or go fishing.
Guantanamo base has a nine-hole golf course that is rough but playable. Jogging and a gym are open for visitors use.
What to bring
In addition to what you would normally carry on a trip, included the following:
Boots or comfortable walking shoes. You will be spending a lot of time walking around Camp Delta and other facilities.
Hat. You are in the tropics. The sun can be surprisingly harsh for those unaccustomed to it. The hat is good also if you get caught in an occasional tropical downpour.
Weapons: Forbidden. Don't bring any. Period.
Clothing: Loose, comfortable, tropical clothing is best. Long trousers and shirts with roll-up sleeves or short sleeves are best. T-shirts may be worn off duty but not when on a tour. Shorts likewise are recommended for off-duty time. Bring clothes that can be easily washed and dried. Some units have washing facilities, at other times you may need something that you can hand-wash at night and will be ready the next day. Women may not wear revealing clothing.
Light rain jacket. Good to have along if you visit in the rainy season.
Camera. You will want to take photos when permitted. Caution: do not take photos around the airport, this is considered a restricted area. If in doubt, ask your PAO escort. Note: all of your photos must be screened and cleared by PAO prior to departure from Guantanamo.
Notebooks. I usually carry a primary and backup in case of damage to one. Small enough to carry easily; large enough to take good notes.
Carry-all bag. Over the shoulder or knapsack type. Then you can stuff all your gear in it easily when moving about.
Sunglasses. A must on Guantanamo. The sun over Cuba is relentless.
Sunscreen. If you use it and like it. A good after-sun cream is recommended too.
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"I've also been 'inside GITMO,' and Cucullu's riveting account shows why we've been safer with it — and why we may soon regret being without it."— Monica Crowley, host of the Monica Crowley Show and author of Nixon in Winter
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"Gordon Cucullu has written a lively work of history that fulfills its promise to explode 'the myths of Guantanamo Bay.' Anyone who wants to speak authoritatively about the Bush administration's detainee policies has to read this book." — Douglas J. Feith, senior fellow, Hudson Institute, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and author of War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism
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I'm a retired Green Beret lieutenant colonel, Vietnam War veteran and career officer, and now a writer. After serving more than thirteen years in East Asia I was sent on assignments in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and eventually worked Korea and East Asian affairs at both the Pentagon and Department of State.
My many adventures since then have included raising llamas and alpacas in upstate New York, serving as the Executive Director of the Korea Society in Manhattan, working as an international marketing VP for General Electric in Asia, and traveling within corners of the world that few have had the privilege of experiencing.
In April-May 2008 I spent a month embedded with Military Police units in Iraq. Stories from my trip are posted at supportamericansoldiers.com — a book about what I saw and learned is also in the making.
My first book Separated at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin was published in September 2004.
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