People Behind the Scenes

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Myself (Margaret Baumgartner) waiting to board the ferry across the base.

Now that I’ve made it home from GTMO, I am trying to process everything that I’ve learned.  I did not have the time I wanted to sit down and really delve into posts.  We were busy with hearings, sit downs, and other interactions, however, I was able to keep a journal.  I jotted items down as I went and from these, I will pull my next several posts.

People Behind the Scenes

One thing I enjoy about travel is meeting new people.  If you take the time to really listen, you can garner some fascinating information.  We had a picnic table that we NGOs would congregate around at night.  Various people involved in the process would join.  Others would meet up with us at dinner.  The base is very small and thus you start recognizing everyone.  There are a lot of people that are very involved in the hearings.

On the ferry ride to our quarters at Camp Justice, I spent some time speaking with the three folks who handle the transcripts.  They are responsible for making sure that the transcripts of the proceedings are done each day and available to the public on the website.  I ran into them again at dinner that night.  They have been involved since the beginning and make sure that the public is kept “in the know”.  They often work late nights to make sure that the transcripts are available at the end of each day.

I also spent some time skipping rocks at a beach with a contractor responsible for the CCTV feed that is sent stateside.  He really likes his job, takes pride in it, and is an integral part of making sure those stateside have access to the hearings.

Our drivers were really nice and willing to take any of us anywhere we needed to go.  One was a fountain of knowledge about the base and he would find out answers if he did not have one.  Most of our questions revolved around military life and what it was like to be deployed to GTMO.  He also knew a lot about the history of the base.  GTMO is more than just a place where detainees are kept.  Families of deployed soldiers live there.  There are recreational sports.  It is like a little town.  There’s even McDonalds, Subway, and Taco Bell along with several other places to get out and eat at.

GTMO housed Haitian refugees in the 90s.  It was a place where Columbus landed in 1494.  Teddy Roosevelt was by the base at one point in the Spanish American War.  GTMO is a port for the Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.  Detainees are kept there because no one else wants them, those who do may raise concerns for National Security, and mostly because Congress does not want them stateside.  Thus, GTMO has this horrible reputation when it was really one of the few places left to house those accused of terrorist acts while awaiting due process.

The old GTMO lighthouse.

The old GTMO lighthouse.

One person commented to me that the detainees have it better than they (those stationed there) do in regards to living conditions.  Would this be made known by the media or others reporting on it?  Probably not.  It doesn’t make for a good story.  The soldiers down at GTMO are someone’s brother, sister, father, mother, and loved one.  They are doing what their duty is and it really does sadden me when the collective whole receive a bad reputation for the acts of a few bad apples that are beyond their control.

I have noticed that everyone really does the best they can with what they are given and also the situation.  Defense, Prosecution, Security, Judge, Staff, Contractors, Deployed Soldiers…..it doesn’t matter who they are, they are all working hard.  I definitely gained a lot more respect for those involved in every aspect of the process on this trip.

(Margaret Baumgartner, Hadi al Iraqi Hearings, January 25-31, 2015) 

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