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GoogleGlass in a Guantánamo mortuary meant to bring the dead home from war

Long before Google Glass, Guantánamo had Camp Justice and the bizarre expeditionary legal complex -- just a 10-minute ride from the hotel, McDonald's and officers club on the Navy base that simulates life in small-town America circa 1965.

So this week I used the device to revisit one of the most chilling (literally) aspects of the tent city compound, something I discovered when I arrived to cover the trial of Osama bin Laden's driver in the summer of 2008.

 

It's an Air Force mortuary, a $32,000 a piece,  3,470-pound refrigerators case, shelves still intact for battlefield body bags.

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But the news didn't go down well up at the Pentagon. After the article and accompanying photo appeared, an order came down to Guantánamo's public affairs team: Scrape the word MORTUARY off its side.

And so some troops complied on behalf of the prison task force whose whose motto is "Safe, humane, legal, transparent" detention. (After I snapped this 2008 photo.)

Last week my little video tour got stuck in a different kind of censorship.

A soldier reviewing my imagery wondered whether the clip wasn't subject to deletion because it showed more than three tents at a time. In tent city. The portion where the reporters sleep.

Justicemay084The episode prompted me to resurrect the 2010 speech I delivered at the National Press Club describing some whimsical ruling-making favored back then by some of the most aggressive enlisted escorts.  I appealed to an Army officer in charge, who wrote back that the three-tent rule makes no sense "operationally." (National security won't be compromised.)

"The tents are not classified or secret so there is no issue photographing them," wrote Army Capt. Andi Hahn, whose escorts were split between minding four mainstream print reporters at tent city and a team from 60 Minutes sheltered in townhouses, the place where the 9/11 victims are put up.

Opsec"The only tent rule at Camp Justice is not to photograph when a door is open and someone is in there possibly dressing or some kind of violation of privacy," she advised.  "As far as a number when shooting exteriors, no restriction. Hope this helps."

It did indeed. A couple days later, she approved my videos, after expressing what seemed like genuine surprise that the print media under her soldiers' escort were drinking bottled water from a five-year-old mobile mortuary intended to bring the dead home from war.

It's an old story, true. But with constantly changing of troops, reporters and legal observers I figured it was a good opportunity to use my Glass outside the war court itself, where the device is banned. Above is a quick clip, taken from inside while some human-rights observers made sure nobody locked the door. If  you want to see more of how I used Glass to give the tour,  a two-minute version is posted here. And if you squint real hard you'll see more than three tents in the background.

 

 

Comments

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G J King

Those refrigerator morgues are great. I put a 12-pack of Coke in cans in one, and a little over an hour later they were icy-cold. That would have taken a good 24 hours in the little refrigerator in the tent.

D C Miller

They shouldn't do such a thing if the unit ever actually held bodies, but I'm in favor of it if they happened to have it in inventory and it saved them from buying consumer refrigerators.

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