The detention camp in Guantanamo Bay is a detainment and interrogation facility established in January 2002 by the Bush Administration. It was created by the U.S. government to house detainees it had determined to be involved in the Global War on Terror which included people from Afghanistan and Iraq. Photographer Eugene Richards spent several days at the infamous detention facility writing of his experience while there and how the tight restrictions created a rather bizarre stay. His thoughts when he went to visit were of interrogations, 9/11, torture, confidentiality and the dark secrets of the military. There was also the myriad of restrictions to be dealt with, including limits on photographs as well as forbidden sightings of detainees.
All was mapped out, and yet, everything recorded by the reporter would have to be screened and edited, an embargo rule maintained by the facility authorities. He got a taste of this censorship when he snapped a photograph while on a ferry enroute to the camp. That shot was deleted because he had incidentally taken two soldiers. Once he got off the boat ride, what he saw was “small town America.”
Richards wrote it was “replete with miles of brand-new looking green-lawned suburban houses. There was a McDonald’s along the road, a Subway sandwich shop, bar-and-grills and a dry landscape of thorny bushes and cactus.” A stark contrast to what he was about to see, or rather, not see in the detention camp. And so began his bizarre “tour,” of the facility which would be deceptively accommodating. In reality, it was a visit totally shrouded in secrecy, mystery and indistinct encounters with the detainees.
“No prisoners could be seen. No faces, no hands. All there was to see were the openings in steel doors as the guards wearing protective face shields (since detainees, we were told, spit and throw waste at them) walked up and down the block. As if in cadence, they stopped occasionally at individual cells to peer in, to whisper, to hand over medicines to inmates said to be fasting. After twenty minutes, the prayers finally seemed to drift away and the food carts were ushered in, then ushered out,” wrote Richards.
Perhaps the highlight of the visit was when he came face to face with the notorious force-feeding apparatus. It was this development that had media pining for a story since the hunger strikes began in February. Coldly, medical personnel explained how the detainees were “humanely” force fed.
“As the TV camera rolled, medical personnel explained, without a hint of doubt, that the force-feeding process is not at all unpleasant (olive oil, you see, is employed as a lubricant as the tube is snaked up through the detainee’s nose and down his throat) and that, despite what others in the medical field might say, the long-term consumption of Ensure does no lasting damage,” related Richards.
Once out of the facility, Richards wrote that although he was actually there, it felt like a very vague experience.
“I now have some pictures that say I’ve been to Gitmo, the truth is that I have never really been there.”