Guantanamo and Its Remaining Prisoners: A Photographer's View

By Louie Palu

Today, Great Britain took a not-so-subtle stance against the U .S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. Prime Minister David Cameron called the facility a "totally unsatisfactory situation" and promised millions of pounds in compensation to the 16 British residents and citizens who have been detained there. But for most of the 775 prisoners who have passed through Guantanamo since 2001, there  is little hope of official apology or reparations. 

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At the end of 2007, I visited the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station for the first time. The front lobby, with its maritime décor, reminded me of a yacht club. A photograph of then-President George W. Bush hung on the wall, above photos of the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of Defense.

On my latest visit this fall, a photo of President Barack Obama presided over Guantanamo's lobby. But otherwise, the surroundings remained largely unchanged. I recognized the crumbling Cold War structures around the base and the glum terrain of bogs and swamps. Giant spools of barbed wire still topped the fences of the camps. And although Obama had vowed to close down the detention center by January 2010, some 170 detainees still resided there.

I saw about 50 of them on my recent tour. A few years ago, several of the detainees yelled in protest when I snapped their pictures. This time they responded more passively, either standing still or quietly hiding themselves behind barriers. Under the Taliban photographs were banned completely, and many Guantanamo residents still object to them on religious grounds. When I toured Camp 4, I saw a newspaper with all images of women redacted under blue ink. The guards told me they had scrawled out the women's faces at the detainees' request.  

Along with this cultural antipathy, there are U.S. government regulations that ban journalists from releasing recognizable images of detainees' faces. So I captured them in fragments--an eye peeking above a guard's shoulder, the back of a head, a profile partially hidden behind a manila folder. Through such images, I hoped to give the world a glimpse of these mysterious figures whose fate is still unknown.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/11/guantanamo-and-its-remaining-prisoners-a-photographers-view/66645/