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Tuesday
Jul062010

Dispatch from Gitmo #1

 

GITMO has been a place shrouded in mystery and intrigue since it was set up in 2002, to handle the overflow of detainees coming out of the War on Terror, as the US still remained fragile and frightened.  It was memorialized in the American psyche with visions of dogs and orange jump suits around prisoners who were crowded into open wire cells because proper camps were not built yet.  Now, it's a sprawling complex of buildings and court rooms, a desalinization plant to make sure everyone is hydrated, classrooms, chow halls and restaurants.

5:15 am arrive at Andrews Airforce Base to wait for press to board the airplane

6:00 am, move to the hangar, en masse with 16 other members of the press

8:00 am board the Ryan Airways flight

11:30 am touch down in Cuba

"Welcome to Guantanamo Bay. Enjoy your Stay," said the announcement on the Ryan Airways flight as we touched down on the tarmac.  After a three and a half hour flight, where I got my own row, was served a hearty lunch and even got a decent nap amidst preparations for our coverage this week, I was ready to tackle whatever lay ahead.

We walked off the plane to a blast of hot air - though not as hot as the air we'd left behind at Andrews Air Force Base, in Washington, DC.  With a heat wave sweeping the east coast, Cuba would actually prove to be cooler.

And so it went.

Day 1 -- a lot of waiting.  Gotta get credentials.  A stop at the GITMO Starbucks where they had all the comforts of home in a squat, white cinderblock building, including wi-fi.  Residents and off-duty service members were gathered around a flat screen, watching the soccer game, and around computers, looking at their Facebook pages. I got my iced coffee and was glad for it. Driving around, you see elementary schools and a high school with a beautiful track and football field.  I wonder what it's like to to go to school here, to grow up here, as the child of a service member.  We pass the McDonalds.  We are only allowed to take pictures of the outside.  I'm serious.  There have actually been debates between press and the PAO staff here.  We go through a lengthy press briefing, about what we can and cannot record, film, photograph - the "no photography signs" are off-limits.  We are shown around the media operations center hangar, the Camp Justice sign, and again, shown what we can and cannot depict.  

The area is a logistical nightmare for the press, trying to cover the pre-trial hearing of 50 year old Ibrahim Al-Qosi who is accused of conspiracy and material support of terrorism for being part of a mortar crew in Kabul, and later the convoy with Osama Bin Laden, ultimately helping him to escape.  He is Bin Laden's alleged cook, accountant and body guard - both in the Sudan and Afghanistan.

The media operations center is inside a hangar, at least 300 yards away from the courtroom.  There's still a log-in process every time to the computer system, and each of us must be escorted by a naval PAO every single time we move around the installation, short of evening wash-ups, etc.

But the story is worth it.

Al-Qosi is one of the oldest and longest detained here at Guantanamo Bay.  He is expected to plead guilty and if he does, we should for the first time, hear what his interactions were with Bin Laden were, as well as what he knows about the operation.  This would be the first conviction and guilty plea under the Obama administration.  Three others have been convicted here.  David Hicks of Australia, a confessed foot soldier for Al-Qaeda was sent back to Australia.  Bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan of Yemen who was also sent back to his country.  Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul is serving a life term here at the camps.  Under Obama's new rules, if Al-Qosi does plead guilty, he is eligible neither for time served nor for a death sentence.

We will see what we learn today in court.

Stay tuned.

Monday
Jul052010

I know it's a weird bucket list wish, but Gitmo is on mine...

 

 

That's why I'm thrilled about my latest assignment -- traveling to the camps and military commissions at our naval base at Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  I will be covering an important pre-trial hearing for Ibrahim Al-Qosi, a Sudanese man who was picked up by the US military back in 2001, when his convoy went one way and Osama Bin Laden's went the other near Tora Bora, Afghanistan.  He's charged with conspiracy and material support of terrorism and deemed everything from a cook to a body guard for Bin Laden by the prosecution.  Because his case originated under the first military commission system under President George Bush's executive order, wound its way through the military commissions acts of 2006 and now 2009, his is the first example of how all those changes affect a detainee's case.  In particular, I will be reporting on how the Obama administration changes affect where he is tried and those of the 181 remaining detainees.  

But the thrill I'm still crossing my fingers for is to visit the camps themselves...well a few of the new ones anyway, and see (likely a sanitized version) of what the detainees live in.  Given the press this fabled detention center has received over the years, it will be interesting to actually see part of it.  I'll be reporting the story in both radio and television, and hopefully blogging it for you here as well, with a few pictures thrown in (I'm sure I'll have to fight for approval on them..)

I'll keep you posted here.

Jessica

Tuesday
May252010

On the job pictures from the US Military


This is at Corail Cesselesse, the first resettlement camp in Haiti, while the Navy Seabees were still putting in the roads in April.

General Keane on the left, being briefed by actor, Sean Penn whose NGO is running this camp of nearly 50-thousand people on the Petion-ville Club golf course, in one of the most elite areas of Port-au-Prince.

Tour of Petion-ville Club Camp with Catholic Relief Services, Navy Seabees and DOD personnel.

Captain Wink, an engineer, talks to me about how US military is assessing homes for safety and resettlement.

 

 

Monday
Apr122010

Pictures from Carrefour, Haiti

 

 These kids are such lovers.  They live in a camp with about 24-thousand people which has sprung up on the campus of Adventist University in Carrefour, one of the poorest and most damaged areas of Port-au-Prince.  They have latrines, showers and clean water to drink as well as food all because of the Adventist Development & Relief Agency which has swelled from 5 relief workers to 305 since the earthquake.  They are providing peer counseling services as well as childrens' programming, counseling and medical services.  They also showed me this really cool way they do water filtration for small numbers.  They bring a kit on the back of a motorcycle, and they use the power off the battery to move the water through a filtration system so that they have portability and accessibility for small, hard to reach areas of people.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

Tuesday
Apr062010

Rosa Mina Orphanage

Some of my friends will tell you they're not sure if I know what to do with kids....but when a little face looks up at you and her arms reach up to be held, there's just an instinct that comes over you, no matter how much time you spend with adults, no matter how hardened, how preoccupied with the big picture problems of this world. That simple act of holding and being held is something I'll hold in my heart for Haiti for a long time.

I'm talking about a little girl named Belinda.  She's quiet and a bit shy...but when I visited Rosa Mina orphanage yesterday to cover a congressional delegation of Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Kirsten Gilibrand (D-NY) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC) who came to the orphanage, I got to meet her.  

The politicians were long gone with their promises and hopes for the nation.  I'd been photographing the kids playing in the driveway, kicking various plastic objects along the ground, running around getting rid of the energy that must have been mounting as they were forced to wait seated behind tables in rows for the delegation to arrive.  They must have been busting at the seems.  So many of them -- around 2 or 3 years old, at that indelibly impish age where they want to touch and feel and walk and run all over everything.

Their orphanage was not crushed by the earthquake, only cracked.  But it's no luxury sweet.  The children have only the driveway to play in and an outdoor courtyard.  There is not much space for some 70 children to grow up, and the population swelled after the earthquake.  Just yesterday morning, a mother dropped off her twins because she was kicked out of the tent she shared with another woman and couldn't care for them under these conditions.

But among her peers, Belinda is virtually the only little girl.  She doesn't have long hair...it would probably be too difficult for the caretakers to care for.  While the boys would clamor and jump on my legs for attention, she simply peered up, eyes wide and raised her arms.

It was hard to leave her.

After about a week here, constantly working, barely sleeping and trying to maintain my emotions amid a really desperate and unpredictable situation here - even three months after the earthquake - she gave me something I really needed.  

Belinda was my first hug in Haiti.  And I'll never forget that.

The orphanage is looking for sponsors for these children.  They are not registered with the country so they cannot adopt them out, though the founders say they are working to change that.  If you'd like to help, you can contact them at 

Rosa Mina Orphanage; Ecole & Orphelinat; Routes de Freres, 11 Rue St Louis Jeanty Prolongee; Petition-Ville, Port-au-Prince, HAITI

frdhaiti@hotmail.com // www.frdhaiti.org // (509) 3462-4213