Meeting the Challenge of
A short tutorial for journalists, researchers, and students
by Inside Gitmo author Gordon Cucullu
Most reporting from Guantanamo carries excess baggage with it. Reporters, like most people, have notions about the subject before they write on it. Far too often it is the preconceptions that get printed rather than what is actually learned. Guantanamo is a highly complex issue involving convoluted legal problems, human rights questions, international image issues, military intelligence challenges, and much more.
Poor reporting from Guantanamo has generated riots in Islamic countries that result in the deaths of scores of people. Allegations like routine torture and abuse that might be challenged by balanced reporters in a different venue are accepted without question.
Stay up-to-date. Many news agencies, particularly television, lazily recycle B roll film from Camp X-Ray a facility that has been closed since April 2002. Do your homework before you arrive and bring yourself current on developments. For example, a 2007 CBC film report (posted on this site) repeatedly refers to the flushed Koran tale as if it were factual despite Newsweeks admission that the story was fabricated.
Listen to what is said. As a member of media tours I've watched reporters speak over briefers, interrupt answers, and attempt to put words into the mouths of interviewees. There is always time for follow-up questions and by speaking peremptorily you miss what is going to be said.
Have a cordial demeanor. Media-military relations are in many cases strained to say the least. Far too many reporters are rude, aggressive, hostile, arrogant, and belittling to military personnel. Few in the media have ever served in the military and have little or no understanding of the culture, protocol, or values military people hold. Make an effort to put yourself in their position and realize that few of them would have chosen Guantanamo as a duty station and you will get better answers.
Accept minor inconveniences with grace. Guantanamo base is hot, humid, buggy, and may lack some of the comforts to which you've become accustomed. It helps to remind that you are only there for days while those serving have spent weeks, months, and sometime years in these conditions. Unrealistic demands and public complaints only draw contempt from those for whom this is a daily reality.
Play by the rules. Before visits and tours the rules are outlined in detail. Understand and accommodate them. Photographers are often disappointed because they cannot take pictures of detainees unless the detainees give permission. I've seen a photographer demand that detainees be lined up for a photograph and when told that would not be done, berate his escort officer. The impression is that his publication would happily print such photos, only to go on to criticize the military for forcing the detainees to submit to them.
Understand the issues. One of the greatest points of confusion is differentiation between prison and detention facility. Detainees at Guantanamo are classified as enemy combatants removed from the battlefield, not criminals serving sentences. To many this may seem arcane but it is key to understanding the mission of Guantanamo.
Attempt to maintain balance. We all come with preconceptions. Try not to wear them on your sleeve. Sarcasm, incredulity, and skepticism tend to be part of a reporters portfolio. Excessive display will get push-back from interviewees. Ask tough questions, conduct follow-up, and avoid imposing your viewpoint upon the people from whom youre trying to get hard answers.
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The Inside Gitmo email-based discussion group on Guantanamo's detention facility is intended to encourage rational, civil discussion of the myriad issues and problems associated with the facility, the detainees, and the staff.
Note that in the coming months I will be participating in dozens of radio shows across the country, and asked to speak on Guantanamo topics in a variety of different venues.
Rather than operating in a vacuum, the questions, comments, thoughts and exchanges from a wide variety of different people will enrich my perspectives and understanding of what others think and believe about Guantanamo.
Journalists, lawmakers, analysts, students, law enforcement professionals, and foreign affairs experts are encouraged to join.
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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
"Our new president should read it — twice — and take its truth-telling to heart." — Ralph Peters, columnist and author of Looking For Trouble
"Every relevant military and civilian official should give Cucullu's analysis a fair hearing." — Victor Davis Hanson, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of An Autumn of War
"An explosive expos of what's really been happening - 'inside the wire' at Guantanamo. Gordon Cucullu - with his Special Forces background, thorough research and extensive visits to Gitmo - knows more about the now-infamous detention facility than any 'outsider.' This book is a must-read for all who care about how we protect ourselves from those who are dying to kill us." — Oliver North, LtCol USMC (Ret.), host of War Stories on FOX News Channel & NYT bestselling author of American Heroes in the Fight Against Radical Islam
"Inside Gitmo is a book of incalculable importance. It lays bare the myths and the stakes involved in the campaign to shut down a facility that any objective reader must conclude is vital to our national security. Every policy-maker in Washington and every citizen across America should study this books brilliant first-hand reporting and its alarming findings." — Frank Gaffney, Jr, President, Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing
"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
The "Living Book" Concept
The "Living Book" Concept
This companion web site to Inside Gitmo was conceived and executed by Avery Johnson in collaboration with Chuck Martin. As a highly skilled, experienced researcher, Avery imposes strict demands on her work and that of author's with whom she works. Every stated fact must be backed by hard documentation. Hence readers find 524 citations in Inside Gitmo from a multiplicity of sources. Avery took that as "a good start."
Her concept - that you can interact with on these pages - is that with an issue as dynamic and multi-faceted as Guantanamo is too large to be captured only in a work of print. In order to complement and supplement the final work so that readers may continue to be apprised of developments on this critical subject and dig deeper into subjects that interest them, it is necessary and valuable to take advantage of technology.
Illustrative of this concept is that this site functions as a repository for all original documents used in the book as well as providing additional sources for continued research into the subject. For readers seeking context for specific passages referenced in the book, the site provides access to the original report, news article, book, or other source quoted. By so doing we are able to circumvent necessary space limitations in print by augmenting the book with electronic back-up.
Additionally, the site goes where print cannot: it provides an email based discussion group, videos, updated news articles, a blog, podcasts, and other resources. It highlights new developments, steers readers to newly published works, and offers visitors the opportunity to purchase relevant works from the site.
I think that this concept - a continually updated, vibrant companion website for a published book with complete references included - ought to be the new gold standard in publishing and strongly urge new and proven writers and authors to advantage themselves of these services.
Avery Johnson and her team can be contacted at email@example.com.
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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