Op-ed column: Public affairs unit unlikely to tell us truth about Guantanamo
It is always disappointing to see a talented writer or gifted speaker take a job in public affairs, because I know at some point he or she will have to write or say something on behalf of the organization that is either untrue or opposed to his or her own values. The alternative to lying or compromising one’s values is to resign, which few people do.
A soldier who joins a public affairs detachment of the military does not even have the option of quitting, and the possibility of having to spout propaganda rather than the truth is very great.
So the chances that the eight soldiers of the New York Army National Guard’s 138th Public Affairs Detachment (based in Latham) who are about to be deployed to the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay will tell us the truth about what is still going on at this military prison are slim.
I am surprised that those who say the private sector can always do things better than the public sector have not asked why the military has not privatized public affairs as it has so many of its other functions, to the detriment of the military and our safety, and to the benefit of the corporations involved (e.g. Halliburton).
But, of course, public affairs will never be privatized because it is important to the military that it control what information gets out, especially from a place like Guantanamo Bay.
Some of what the 138th does is legitimate journalism. They will be putting out (at great expense to the taxpayers, of course) The Wire, an attractive, well-written, full-color weekly magazine that serves the Joint Task Force. It contains feature stories, advice, film reviews and information on activities at the base.
What it does not contain is anything about the prisoners or anything that questions whether or not what we have done there, and continue to do, is right. In fact, it contains nothing controversial at all. In that respect, The Wire is a company magazine, not much different from what GE or MVP publish here.
However, even this innocuous magazine contains the “brand” of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo, which is “Safe. Humane. Legal. Transparent,” words that are difficult to reconcile with the 10-year history of Gitmo.
The word “transparent” in particular is virtually impossible to reconcile with public affairs. By their very nature, they are antithetical.
While part of the 138th’s job is to serve the task force by publishing The Wire, the other part is to inform the public. Its primary mission, however, appears to be to inform the public about what the military is doing there, not to inform us about the prisoners being held there.
The military has done a poor job of telling us what goes on at Guantanamo Bay. The corporate media haven’t done much better. If it weren’t for people like Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, we would not know the truth about Guantanamo. For his efforts at helping the Joint Task Force with its mission of transparency, Manning is about to be tried by what appears to me a kangaroo court, and Assange, hated by people who hate the truth, is now holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
Fortunately, Andy Worthington, a gifted independent journalist, who has one of the top 100 blogs on the Internet (www.andyworthington.co.uk) but relies on donations to keep going, is still with us. Worthington has spent the past 10 years reporting on Guantanamo Bay. He has taken the WikiLeaks files about Guantanamo, analyzed them and has created extensive profiles on every prisoner ever held there.
Here is what the 138th will never tell you, but Worthington has. From his analysis of classified documents, he reports that “at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total had no involvement with terrorism.”
In June of this year, he reported that there were still 169 prisoners left at Gitmo. Eighty-seven of those have been cleared for release by President Obama’s Interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force but nevertheless are still being held. Of the 87, 40 were cleared between four and eight years ago but are still being held. Worthington opines, and I agree, that if no other country will take these cleared prisoners, then the United States has a moral obligation to take them, since we were the ones who set up the prison in the first place.
Not to blame
I can’t blame young people of upstate New York for joining the National Guard.
It provides them with economic and educational opportunities they might not have otherwise. Nor will I criticize them for joining the 138th Public Affairs Detachment, provided they are aware that what they are doing is a combination of journalism and propagandism.
However, I would not have been able to join in the ceremony that honored them on Aug. 17 at the Hotel Indigo in Latham prior to their deployment. That honor I save for people like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Andy Worthington, who in spite of their foibles, are determined, as Daniel Ellsberg was in 1971, to seek and report the truth.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.