Thursday, December 1, 2005

The images of hooded, shackled, prisoners in orange suits hobbling around the Guantanamo Bay detention facility continue to be a regular fixture in print and broadcast coverage of the war on terrorism.

Those images, however, are outdated and depict a facility that has been closed since 2002, leaving Department of Defense officials wondering why news organizations persist in showcasing them.

“I’d like to think it’s for convenience,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John Gong, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo. The task force oversees operations at the facility in Cuba, which houses enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan more than three years ago.

The press consistently recycles the old material, rather than portray the camp how it is today, Gen. Gong said this week in an American Forces Press Service news article.

The Defense Department account points to a Time magazine cover story titled “Inside the Wire at Gitmo,” which ran in June featuring a photo of detainees praying inside what look like dog runs, spread across two pages.

The photo had been taken at “Camp X-Ray,” a temporary facility that was closed in April 2002 and has not been used since.

But like the prisoner abuse photos from the Abu Ghraib detention facility in Iraq, the dated Camp X-Ray images continue to appear in the media — so much so that they have become “iconic,” according to the press account.

The media has mostly overlooked the replacement facilities, which were reviewed this year by the American Correctional Association and deemed appropriate and in accordance with American jail standards, Gen. Gong said.

According to the Defense Department, the new detention site includes Camp 4, a medium-security facility, which offers the detainees recreational activities, occasional Arabic TV and family-style meals served in a common area. The detainees are allowed outside their quarters for seven to nine hours a day for recreation. White uniforms have replaced the orange jumpsuits.

A prayer call is issued five times a day in accordance with Muslim tradition; guards even place specially fabricated “prayer cones” in the cell blocks to ensure that American personnel maintain a respectful silence for the detainees, according to the department.

Camp 5, the newest facility in Guantanamo, is modeled after state-of-the-art correctional institutions in the United States, to be followed by a more modern Camp 6, scheduled for completion next summer.

Gen. Gong is inviting the press to update its image files in the meantime.

“We welcome people to come in,” he said.

Still, it might not be enough for some.

“Military ground rules — including censoring video shot at the facility — made it nearly impossible for a CNN crew that visited the prison … to get a full picture of the prison,” CNN noted after a recent visit to Guantanamo.

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