New York Times Releases Never-Before-Seen Photos of Early Days at Guantanamo Detention Center

© AP Photo / Alex BrandonIn this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, a detainee, name and facial identification not permitted, stretches inside the Camp VI detention facility, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.
In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, a detainee, name and facial identification not permitted, stretches inside the Camp VI detention facility, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.06.2022
For more than 20 years now, the Guantanamo Bay prison has been a symbol of America's "war on terror" and determination, coupled with Washington's fears to prevent the slightest possibility of another 9/11. To date, the US military has strictly regulated what the rest of the world can see of the captives at Guantanamo, if at all.
The New York Times has published a package of photos of the first captives sent from Afghanistan to the wartime secret detention center located in Cuba.
The report, published on Sunday, contains images mostly from 2002, the year of the prison's launch, that had reportedly been sealed until now. The outlet emphasized that it managed to obtain the pictures from the National Archives via the Freedom of Information Act.
The photos were shot by military photographers to provide senior authorities, including then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, an up-close look at the offshore detention and interrogation operation in its early phases, according to the report, and they were not meant for the general public.
The various images depict the process of transporting the first prisoners and of the infamous X-ray camp, documenting how detainees were blindfolded, restrained and forced to headphones to block out any sound.
One of the pictures, for instance, includes David Hicks, an Australian caught fighting for the Taliban*, being taken down the cargo plane's ramp, allegedly on the first day of prison operations at Guantanamo Bay.
Hicks later pleaded guilty for war crimes during his fighting and was returned to Australia in 2007.
In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, the sun sets behind the closed Camp X-Ray detention facility, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.03.2022
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The article's author, Carol Rosenberg, was, in fact, one of the few journalists allowed by the Department of Defense to be present at the first prisoner transfer; however, she and company were forbidden from visually documenting the events.
The world would eventually glimpse the work of one of those photographers - Petty Officer Shane T. McCoy of the Navy - about a week later, when the military released five of his pictures. Among the release was one image that came to symbolize Guantánamo Bay: 20 men on their knees inside a chain-linked enclosure on opening day.
Another newly obtained photo depicts the way most of the prisoners were transported to the facility - by US service members simply being carrying them.
According to Michael Pendergrass, who was a Navy photographer at the time and captured the image of a prisoner being brought to a processing center at Camp X-Ray, "with the shackles on, it was easier to transport them by carrying them."
At each arrival, a rapid response unit with riot shields was on standby, as seen in the picture. Most of the early detainees were easy to carry since they were slender, implying that they were malnourished, the report detailed.
The outlet stated that although it failed to identify anyone in the photo, a caption provided at the time stated that the two men were from the 115th Military Police Battalion, which was later transferred to the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib.
Other photos show Marines in full combat gear, some with weapons, in the process of loading prisoners from a plane onto a bus. The seats on this bus were reportedly removed, and a metal bar was welded to the floor to allow inmates to be chained while being carried.
One of the images depicts how the military adapted on the first trip to Guantanamo to transport detainees. After a man allegedly tried to squirm out of a homemade blindfold aboard the plane, a US service member used duct tape to bind his wrists.
The same picture also showed an American flag placed on another detainees' mitten-fitted hands. As the article notes, the flag was placed by someone from the security personnel who took the image as a souvenir photo.
According to the publication, the prisoners requiring medical care also had their hands and feet bound, with representatives of the military police regularly stationed near them.
Other photos documented prayer hours and the process of distributing food, in which prisoners were instructed to kneel facing the opposite wall from the door with their hands behind their heads.
The Defense Department first distributed a photo from Guantanamo prison showing the first 20 inmates on their knees at Camp X-Ray in 2002. Countries harboring prisoners of war are required by the Geneva Conventions to shield them from "public curiosity" but because their faces were not visible, a post-9/11 interpretation by the Bush administration allowed the Pentagon to distribute the photograph of 20 men in chains and on their knees, the NYT noted.
In this Aug. 29, 2021, file photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, a flag flies at half-staff in honor of the U.S. service members and other victims killed in the terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, as seen from Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.01.2022
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Only 18 inmates of the remote detention facility have ever faced charges, and only five have been found guilty by a military court. Ten inmates, including the individuals accused of the September 11, 2001, attacks, are still awaiting trial.
Former President Barack Obama vowed to shutter the facility for good, but was ultimately unable to do so; however, the number of prisoners has been reduced by successive administrations. All but 37 of the prisoners have been freed as of now.
The Biden administration has also promised to close the prison, but the matter has not progressed, and Republicans in Congress have protested such intentions.
*The Taliban is listed as a terrorist organization by the United Nations in UNSCR 1267.
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