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He went back every year for four years. Between 2007-2010, photojournalist Louie Palu made six trips to Guantanamo. Not quite a compulsion, but more of a requirement, Palu had to go. He’d photographed in Afghanistan and it made sense that he’d take  opportunities to document America’s chosen *homeland* site for its Global War On Terror (GWOT). Guantanamo is another piece in the puzzling puzzle of war against an expanding list of enemies. It is more contained and less flash-bang than any theater of war, but no less violent. Inside Gitmo, coercion and so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques do the damage, replacing mortars and EIDs.

Why did Palu go? We know Guantanamo is so controlled that a photographer’s work is compromised. And yet, he returned time and time again. Perhaps he though he’d be the one reporter who’d see the nugget, catch the frame and get out of there with the shot? Not so. After every visit, all photographers are required to hand over their DSLRs. A member of the Joint Task Force will look over all images and delete any that don’t meet military rules. The photographer is given forms with each digital file number listed individually. The procedure is called an “Operational Security Review.”

Palu’s latest publication GUANTANAMO: Operational Security Review is a 24-page conceptual newsprint publication. It combines his Gitmo images with scans of the official forms. It is available at Photoeye Books.

GUANTANAMO: Operational Security Review is abstract, elusive and slippery … which I think is the point. I asked Palu a few questions about it.

Scroll down for our Q&A

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Q&A

Prison Photography (PP): Why did you ever want to go to Guantanamo?

Louie Palu (LP): The detention center at Guantanamo Bay is one of the most infamous results of the “War on Terror” — the most internationally known detention facility of our time. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between history, political events and the human experience. Especially, I am engaged by events or issues that define our time politically.

9-11 and Guantanamo will forever be connected. I am also fascinated by the legal and morale paradox that Gitmo, as it is known, represents in the face of the U.S. Constitution with regards to detaining people indefinitely without trial.

PP: You went many times. Why stop?

LP: Relatively speaking the access went from good, to getting better, to very poor and finally I gave up. I follow Carole Rosenberg’s reporting in the Miami Herald, she is perhaps the best source of reporting on Gitmo there is.

PP: She recently spoke at Columbia Journalism School about her professional experience covering Guantanamo. I follow Rosenberg on Twitter too.

LP: In a recent report she did, it seems the current military public affairs unit there has become exceptionally difficult to work with. I would like to go again, but it looks impossible to work there right now.

Normally each trip lasts four-days.

Day 1: Fly in and get settled. Day 2: Tour various parts of the detention center. At the end of each day everyone goes through what’s called an “Operational Security Review”, also known as an OPSEC Review. In my case as a photographer this involves the deleting of certain photographs right off my memory cards. Basically anything that reveals security features of the prison or direct frontal views of the detainees faces is deleted. Day 3: More touring the facility and more photography and one more OPSEC Review. Day 4. Fly home.

I did do two special photo tours years ago. Most tours have writers as part of the tour group and you can spend hours in areas of no interest to photographers. One of these special photo tours in particular was I think the best access ever for a civilian photojournalist. I think I hold the record for longest OPSEC Review ever, it was an all-nighter! I don’t think they’ll give a tour like that ever again and a number of areas in the prison are now closed and access to the detainees is very limited and basically everyone gets the same photographs now.

PP: You’re a wisened, experienced photojournalist. What did you expect from Gitmo? What did you get?

LP: I try not to expect anything from any assignment, subject or project except that I will do my best and that I am personally engaged in the subject matter. Beyond that, I hoped to make pictures that would last as documents to an important subject in our history.

I think that the manner in which we are forced to take pictures with extreme control should be a part of the history. The control on how I took pictures and the limited access made the images and approach unique. That is what my concept newspaper is partly about.

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PP: We’ve stopped taking about Guantanamo ever since we realized Obama couldn’t/wouldn’t close it down. Why is that? Where does it leave your work?

LP: When you say “we” I would take that as mostly the general public, many journalists keep talking about Gitmo and it’s impact and implications. Though relatively speaking I agree people seem to have disengaged from the issue.

However, we have to understand that Guantanamo Bay is a recruiting poster for many extremists and terrorists and it will continue to be especially while it is open. Take for example the video ISIS (aka ISIL, IS) made of journalists they are executing in Iraq/Syria. The journalists are on their knees in orange jumpsuits. In my mind it’s a copy of the same imagery of the first images released by the U.S. government of detainees in Guantanamo in orange jumpsuits right after 9/11. The image the detention center at Guantanamo Bay paints of America goes against every value the United States stands for in my opinion. So long as the detention center at Guantanamo remains open and the detainees are not given a trial, the United States will have a hard time holding any moral high ground on human rights. It makes it a very serious issue to continue to try and find a solution to. If I interest only a handful of people to keep talking about it I did my job.

The reason I think that we stopped talking about Gitmo is also limited access to the detainees by journalists being one reason and right now there is no shortage wars and disasters of all kinds to deal with, plenty of “fog of war” to keep us off the issue that challenges one of the core value systems of the United States, which is the constitution.

The eyes of history will judge my work years from now. For now, I am satisfied to have published the work and kept the issue in the public’s eye, no matter how small a contribution I have made. From the point of view of a photojournalist the newspaper is a part of that.

PP: Briefly, tell us about your decision to go with a newspaper format to publish the work from Guantanamo.

LP: Well, I had a fellowship with a think tank in Washington DC called the New America Foundation, which involved covering the Mexican drug war. I created a concept newspaper called Mira Mexico. I created it so you could take it apart and re-edit the order of the pictures and also hang it as an exhibition. It was meant to directly engage the viewer to understand how our images are controlled by governments and the media. It’s about the manipulation and our perception of an issue. It’s explained in this video.

Creating an object as something that goes beyond the news cycle is important to continue to engage the public in on important issues. The newspaper format is important in challenging not only traditional formats of news, but also the manner in which we consume information and the platforms we see them in. You can also hang it as an exhibition as each spread is a poster and you can turn it into an educational lesson in editing or controlling pictures. GUANTANAMO Operational Security Review is the part two to my first concept newspaper on Mexico. I am also making a statement in making a newspaper in which the only content is Guantanamo Bay. No advertising or competing content. I edited out every other story.

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PP: What do you hope people take away from GUANTANAMO Operational Security Review?

LP: Well the project has a two-fold purpose. One, obviously it is meant as an artist’s concept fused with journalism to continue to engage the public in a dialogue on the issue. Second, it is meant to challenge the modes in which we are delivered our content and who the gate-keepers are to our news. We need to always ask, who are the editors, curators and or censors we don’t see or ask enough about that shape the way we understand the world through photographs?

I am about to go on a workshop/lecture tour through universities in Canada and the U.S. just as I did with the Mira Mexico newspaper. I’ll be using GUANTANAMO Operational Security Review in classes teaching visual literacy to students. It will be a workshop format where students will each have a copy of the newspaper and re-edit and present to the class why they selected the images they did on Guantanamo. I think empowering young minds to understand how their opinions are manipulated by the use or misuse of photographs is critical to our future.

PP: How does GUANTANAMO Operational Security Review relate to your other bodies of work and areas of interest?

LP: I try to create multi-platform uses for my work and always engage a topic over a long period of time, and usually beyond any news-cycle. My average project lasts between 3-5 years. My first one lasted 15-years. But that won’t happen again!

PP: You must have looked at plenty of other photographer’s work on Gitmo. Who else has done it well?

LP: Actually, I haven’t! I have seen a handful of wire photos from there that are not my style of work, but gives a base of understanding of how news photographers have had to work there. I also have seen numerous art based documentary photographers do bodies of work there, in the end they have all taken many of the same photographs because of the strict control over access. I don’t think anyone has done it “well” including myself since the access is so controlled and photos are deleted. There are sections of the newspaper that deals directly with that issue — the *age of extreme image control* is one of the main layers of meaning in the newspaper. The newspaper is, an object and document that says my access and images were controlled on this issue.

I can’t show you how Guantanmo really is. However, with the newspaper maybe I can show you how it was for me. That is why I created it.

PP: Have you any thoughts (regarding visibility, perhaps?) about how Guantanamo relates to America’s extrajudicial prisons around the globe?

LP: Digital photography is a blessing and a curse. Media campaigns and disinformation operations are easier now than ever. The newspaper is also about photojournalism. You know photojournalists control what we see as well, editing can be seen as censorship by some media critics.

Let me explain, it’s about interpretation of what we are doing, right? If I take 1000 photographs on assignment and I edit only 15 for you to see, what do you call that editing or censorship? This newspaper questions photojournalism as a whole and everyone involved in it including me.

PP: How will Guantanamo end?

LP: I don’t know how Guantanamo will end. Even if it does end as a physical structure, it has become visually symbolic for extremists, they have turned government released visuals linked to the detention center into a disturbing propaganda tool. Events and places like the detention center at Gitmo are never looked at very kindly through the eyes of history.

PP: Thanks, Louie.

LP: Thank you, Pete.

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I greatly admire Broomberg and Chanarin‘s work and I’ve followed Massive Attack since their debut album Blue Lines. So, I was stoked to see them pair up and meditate on the tortuous capacity of sound, mix in an interview with former Gitmo prisoner and UK citizen Ruhal Ahmed, and then get Damon Albarn in on the act too.

Saturday Comes Slow was recorded at Cambridge University’s anechoic chamber (designed to create total silence). It is neither film, photography nor journalism; the video is part activism, probably art and definitely a call to thought.

Sometimes the name of this weblog-journal means that I simply cannot overlook certain stories or acts of publishing.

@ Tim Dirven / Panos Pictures

In the past couple of hours, the Guardian website ran a nine image Guantanamo photo-gallery. The gallery launches from the largest and most prominent rectangle of the new Guardian redesign, i.e. it is the top story on the home page.

I can only assume that this is an editorial decision to keep Guantanamo in people’s minds? After all. we’ve been distracted by healthcare reform in the US, the chancellor’s TV debate in the UK, Israeli obstinacy in the Middle East and a new guise of terrorism in Russia for which our numbed minds must recalibrate.

I can only assume this is the Guardian’s decision because the essay is totally non-descriptive – in that it is nothing new. We know there are Uighurs, Chinese separatists, who shouldn’t be there; we know they play soccer in cages, we know there are well-cushioned shackles bolted to pristine concrete floors; and we know detainees on hunger strike are force-fed Ensure by tube.

All I want to say is that you should look elsewhere for Guantanamo imagery. My Guantanamo: Directory of Photographic and Visual Resources is a good place to start.

I’ve also provided the previous insights which go beyond Dirven’s nine illustrative images:

Suicide at Guantanamo?
Justice Denied: Voices of Guantanamo
Bruce Gilden once went to Guantanamo
Interview: “Jane Smith” Former Gitmo Guard
Paula Bronstein: Guantanamo Detainees Young and Old
“There is a lot of long lens imagery of Guantanamo prisoners in their orange boiler suits, but I don’t know what that’s telling me.”
A Dozen Visits to Guantanamo
‘Guantanamo’ by Paolo Pellegrin
Guantanamo Photo Essay

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None of this reflects on Tim Dirven. Dirven is a good photographer and photojournalist (check out his work on Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia).

It’s simply impossible to produce a novel photo-essay when the Joint Task Force of Guantanamo walks you around the camp … and they do it every week … with different journalists.

The US military’s media detail is as well-drilled as any other detail at Guantanamo. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the media-liaisons are, at this point, the most critical employees on the base.

Brandon Neely, was a Guantánamo Bay guard for six months in 2002. New to Facebook, he typed in the names of detainees, sent messages to one of the freed men, Shafiq Rasul, and was astonished when Mr. Rasul replied.

There’ll be a BBC special.

via

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Go to Magnum and search “Gilden Guantanamo”. I’m not sure Gilden’s technique could really flourish at the illegal prison but he had a good go.

(From top left, clockwise) 1. Major-General Geoffrey Miller, Commander of Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay, is in charge of the 680 suspected enemy combatants in the camp. 2. Specialist Lily Allison Fitzborgen, a reservist who wants to become a police officer, is one of the guards who watches over the detainees. 3. Surveillance at Camp America. 4. Sergeant guard at a hospital for “enemy combatant” detainees. His name is blacked out so the detainees can’t see it. (Below) Before a prayer breakfast at Camp America.

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All photos © Bruce Gilden/Magnum

Brennan Linsley

AP Photographer, Brennan Linsley has visited Guantanamo twelve times in the past four years. Why? “My goal is to come back from each trip with a couple of shots that will allow me to paint more of a picture of this place'” says Linsley.

A journalist’s visit to Guantanamo is a frustrating experience – newsmen have a constant escort on a preplanned itinerary and must read and follow the fifteen pages of ground rules provided by the US military.

To offset these limitations Linsley chose repeated visits as a a tactic. In an attempt to humanise the detainees, he has weaved a photo-essay in-spite of Guantanamo’s milieu which is counter to all notions of free speech, experience and objective fact-gathering.

The British Journal of Photography has a brief but interesting interview with Linsley about his project.

This sequence of interactions between a Chinese detainee and photographers (described by Linsley) exemplifies the minutiae with which the US military must control the flow of information out of Guantanamo.

In late May, in Camp Iguana, there was a Chinese detainee, one of the guys that no one would take. He heard that there were journalists coming that day, and so wrote down on a pad the words “Let there be justice” and “We need to freedom.” The public affairs people didn’t know what hit them. You can’t communicate with the detainees, but there was nothing in the rules that dealt with detainees showing placards. Our work was held in limbo for 24 hours, while the Obama administration was informed and that they wouldn’t be taken by surprise by the images’ release.

Just to get the juices flowing, Linsley closes the interview with this position, “The Golden Age of photography has been over for a long time. It died somewhere between the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.”

Discuss.

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BJP’s interview coincides with Linsley’s work showing at the 2009 Visa pour l’Image at Perpignan.

For more images and links on Guantanamo see Prison Photography‘s Directory of Visual Sources.

… or put another way, the apparently unassailable problem that is Guantanamo only amounts to 2% of the actual problem.

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This is only one of the many astounding facts I learnt from following the Guardian’s Slow Torture series.

I particularly valued this half hour podcast in which an expert panel of legal professionals discuss the cyclical, “odious” and often ludicrous procedures for trials based on ‘secret evidence’. Clive Stafford Smith has many valuable things to say about American legal protocols. He has represented detainees at Guantanamo Bay and says that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, ‘secret evidence’ used against terrorism suspects does not stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The majority of the Slow Torture series looks at British ‘secret evidence’ trials, how it affects the lives of terror suspects and the consequent erosion of Britain’s legal reputation:

The UK government’s powers to impose restrictions on terror suspects – without a trial – amounting to virtual house arrest have been condemned as draconian by civil liberties campaigners. In a series of five films, actors read the personal testimonies of those detained under Britain’s secret evidence laws and campaigners and human rights lawyers debate the issues raised.

Basically, the same problems embroiled in the acquisition and control of “sensitive” evidence exist on both sides of the Atlantic and are ultimately putting our societies at more of a long-term risk.

Photography alone is worthless. Interviews, think-pieces, investigation, theatre, video, debate, political fight and direct action make issues reality.

What are we to do with our Gitmo preoccupations when the real problem has been moved to Bagram, Afghanistan by President Obama?

This post is to salve the disappointment of thousands of visitors to Prison Photography that are tempted by the post titled View Inside Guantanamo: Video only to find that the Guardian’s rights to the three minute “tour” video have expired.

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There exists a bristling irony in the Guardian’s curt and formal explanation of circumstance: the erasure of evidence based upon ‘rights’ pertaining to the command is an insulting reminder of the powerlessness of detainees whose lives are manipulated at will.

Paradoxically, in this case, it is the denied party that is the apologist for the US military’s enforced expiration and unavailability of material. It seems the controlled release of this footage has been trumped by its controlled withdrawal.

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

As a worthy (and non-governmental) alternative, Magnum offers Paolo Pellegrin’s 11 minute slideshow ‘Guantanamo. There are a few interesting things about this piece none of which are the actual photographs. The prints are steeped in morbid detachment and the unsurprising truth that the photographer was also controlled throughout this military prison.

The slideshow’s early description of Guantanamo as a small American town is sinister; the edited audio interviews of former UK detainees, family members, detainee lawyer and psychologist are very successful. The follow-up portraits of former detainees that Pellegrin later completed in Afghanistan are very strong.

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

All photos copyright of Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

Please, refer to my earlier post, for a comprehensive directory of photographic resources for Guantanamo including Bruce Gilden’s subtle flash-bulb mockery of Guantanamo’s rank and file. (Search within Magnum archives as deep-linking is impossible).

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