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Putting a face to a Guantanamo photo

Framing a Gitmo photo is not easy. No faces or identifying features, no coastline, no security cameras or wide shots that reveal the prison camp's layout. If you shoot "Camp Justice," three tents in one frame are okay, but four are not. Those are some of the Pentagon-imposed rules journalists have faced over the years. Every single frame we take undergoes what's known as an "OPSEC review" before we're allowed to transmit the images back home.

So, you get creative.


You shoot a lot of sunrises:


Sunrise over the U.S. detention center Camp Delta on October 18, 2012 in this photo reviewed by the U.S. Department of Defense. MICHELLE SHEPHARD / TORONTO STAR


Or you go for feet:


A Camp 6 detainee is shackled while participating in a "Life Skills" class taught inside the prison on March 30, 2010. MICHELLE SHEPHARD/ TORONTO STAR

Or jogging, if you can block security cameras by a fence pole:


In this April 27, 2010 photo reviewed by a Department of Defense official, a detainee runs the track inside Camp 4. MICHELLE SHEPHARD / TORONTO STAR


You get the, uh, picture.

But since I've been lucky enough throughout the last 10 years to follow Guantanamo's detainees to Albania, Switzerland, Britain, Bermuda, Yemen, among the other places they've moved after their release, I've had a chance to put a couple faces to those Gitmo photos. 

The Pentagon cites a Geneva Convention protection against exploiting prisoners of war as the reason why they must delete our photos that identify detainees (yes, the Bush administration was clear that these are not PoWs covered by the Geneva Conventions but "enemy combatants," and are therefore cherry picking rights - had that debate - let's move on..). It is true that many detainees do not want their faces photographed.

But in June 2009, the Uighur detainees that a U.S. court ruled were being illegally detained, staged an impromptu protest and clearly wanted their message out. The protest, which consisted of messages scrawled on an art sketch pad, only lasted a minute or two since our military escorts quickly shuffled us out. Only good frame I managed was this:


Uighur detainees stage an impromptu protest at Guantanamo's "Camp Iguana" on June 1, 2009. MICHELLE SHEPHARD / TORONTO STAR


Two weeks later, four of the Uighur detainees were flown to Bermuda, one of the few countries that would offer refuge to Uighurs, who are persecuted in China. Khalil Mahmut (right in photo above) was among them and on his first day of freedom posed with the photo I had brought for him (left).



And a couple weeks ago in Palau, I another chance to put a Guantanamo face to a photo. This is Anwar Hassan (who also goes by the name Ali to friends), one of the men now struggling to get by on the impoverished island which was supposed to be a temporary home. He is the middle man in this Associated Press photo from the protest - which he's holding on my iPad. The detainee on the left remains in Guantanamo.

Anwar Hassan holds a photo taken from a June 2009 protest in Guantanamo Bay. Pentagon security measures prohibit the identification of the prisoners. Anwar, now living in Palau where he and six of the Uighur men were given temporary refuge. MICHELLE SHEPHARD / TORONTO STAR


The Guantanamo pre-trial hearings for the five men accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks continue this week. It's a painfully slow - and often bizarre - process. As Carol Rosenberg reported in the Miami Herald yesterday, yesterday's proceedings were bogged down by the question of attorney-client confidentiality. Apparently, one of the lawyers claimed, a smoke detector in a cell was a listening device. Follow @carolrosenberg, @benfoxatap, @arunrath, @jane_sutton for more.

And there are no cameras allowed in the courthouse but sketch artist Janet Hamlin is there and her blog provides great background on the challenges of sketching Gitmo.

Michelle Shephard is the Toronto Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recepient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm



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