BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. On Thursday of this week, the five men accused of the murder of 2,973 people on September 11th were formally charged at a Guantanamo Bay military tribunal. The arraignment had been widely reported as a significant legal moment, a test for the entire military tribunal system.
But the arraignment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators was also a major media moment, and a problematic one at that. The throngs of press who poured into Guantanamo to cover the arraignment have access to very little information, and much of what they have access to is censored.
The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg joins us from Gitmo. Carol, welcome back to the show. CAROL ROSENBERG: Well, thanks for having me. BOB GARFIELD: Describe the scene. It's, uh, rustic, is it not? CAROL ROSENBERG: Well, you know, no self-respecting journalist wants to be used as a Pentagon prop and a transparency talking point. But they've put up tents and they're putting the media in the tents. The lawyers rebelled against it, so they got a trailer park. And the judges and the jurors, they drive past the McDonald's and the mini golf course and over past the church to quite nice townhouses.
So what you see on TV are reporters standing up in what looks like an expeditionary setting – they call it Camp Justice – but it doesn't look like the rest of the base that we've been coming to at all for the past six years. BOB GARFIELD: Hm. Now, I know, because we've discussed this previously, that you don't want to come off as whining about rough accommodations in a situation where the detainees have been locked up in Guantanamo. But you think that in the medium there is a message. What is the government's message here? CAROL ROSENBERG: You're right, no one should be whining. The detainees have gone from cages over at Camp X-Ray to air-conditioned steel and cement boxes. But I do think there's a message in how they're accommodating people down here.
And what they say is, is that this is the battlefield, and this is an outpost in the global war on terror. And so, when you have Fox and CNN standing up and reporting, I think they prefer to have three or four tents in the background with flags flapping in the breeze, rather than, you know, another shot with, like I said, McDonald's in the background. BOB GARFIELD: Justice, by the tribunal. Set design by the Pentagon. CAROL ROSENBERG: As it were. BOB GARFIELD: Tell me about the job of reporting itself. The testimony is heavily censored and the description of what you have access to sounds positively Byzantine. Tell me about it.
CAROL ROSENBERG: It's a struggle. They've created this court so that they can have National Security evidence inside it, which means that the judges can hear it, the prosecutors, even the defense attorneys, if they get their secret clearances, can hear it. And they've told us that, you know, the detainees can see top security information.
So we're sitting here and, for example, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who said that he wanted to be a martyr on 9/11, make no mistake about it – he said that he just couldn't get a visa – launched into a description of what kind of psychotropic drugs he's taking here at the prison camp, or being given here at the prison camp. And the media monitors hit the white noise button. We didn't get to hear what exactly he's being given and we didn't exactly hear his explanation about why he's on medication.
And one of the escorts here explained that this was HIPAA protection, the Health and Information Protection Act on a place where the Bush Administration says the Constitution doesn't apply. BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHING] You know, I'm laughing. It's, it’s – I'm not sure it's funny. It's absurd and – bizarre. CAROL ROSENBERG: It's really hard sometimes to be a journalist here, because you can't laugh at those sorts of things. BOB GARFIELD: You've talked about the stage setting. There have been other theatrics, as well, on both sides of this prosecution. Can you give me a bit of the spectacle that has taken place? CAROL ROSENBERG: We had Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who supposedly had confessed, after CIA waterboarding, to carrying out September 11th, to having personally – this is tough – beheaded the Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl. And yesterday, when he was asked whether he understood the consequences of his trials was the death penalty, he said he welcomed martyrdom.
One of the accused yesterday was Waleed bin Attash. He supposedly trained in a terror camp some of those guys who hijacked the plane on September 11th. He told the judge he wanted to be his own lawyer. And then when they were discussing sort of the timetable for the trial, he very politely asked a question, and it was this: After we are executed here at Guantanamo, will we be buried here or will we go home? BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you this. Presuming that these, in fact, were the perpetrators of 9/11, justice has finally, you know, taken them to the end of that road. And at the same time, the Bush Administration is winding down to its conclusion. This all seems like a last chapter in many ways. But tell me is there an epilogue that we can expect for this story? CAROL ROSENBERG: Right now the idea is if the Pentagon prosecutor has this trial on track, we are going to have the 9/11 trial smack in the middle of the presidential elections, starting on September 18th. So you never know how it's going to end. You just know that the next chapter is going to be just as difficult and complicated to cover as the last one. BOB GARFIELD: All right, Carol. Thank you very much. CAROL ROSENBERG: Thank you, Bob. BOB GARFIELD: Carol Rosenberg is at Guantanamo Bay covering the arraignment of 9/11 suspects for The Miami Herald.