This article was first published in March 2006. Among the things that have not changed since then are that Kofi Anan and other critics of Guantanamo have still not been there and that the media still give more credence to their views than to those of people who have.
Dateline: 15 March 2006
It seems to be well established in the media that the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is a dreadful place. Torture is widespread. Conditions are horrendous. It is a very well-covered story. A search at CNN.com produces over 700 matches for Guantanamo and at NYTimes.com it is over 600.
The opinions of all sorts of people on Guantanamo Bay are sought and widely publicized. Kofi Annan thinks it should close. British cabinet member, Peter Hain, and Prime Minister, Tony Blair, have endorsed the call. Even the President’s closest friends abroad are not with him on this one.
The defining feature of news is that it is new. There is a reason they don’t call it ‘olds’. Yet another person criticizing Guantanamo, unless it is from some surprising source –Tony Blair probably qualifies here – or is based some special knowledge or authority, is not really news.
What plainly would be news, however, is if a representative of some authoritative body, an expert in the field, had actually visited the facilities at Guantanamo and produced a critical report. One thing that all the critics quoted above share is that they have never seen Guantanamo Bay. The UN report was drawn up without the basis of an inspection.
So it may come as a surprise to you to know that an authoritative and informed report has actually been published. At last, the President’s enemies will have something to back up their case. Some facts to add to the debate. The order ‘hold the front page’ probably went out. But then, the story disappeared without trace.
How extremely odd. A story that was newsworthy when there were no facts has become un-newsworthy now that facts are available. A powerful statement, written by Belgium’s top anti-terrorism cop carrying out an official inspection for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is surely an important contribution to the debate. Especially as he was accompanied on the inspection by the President of the Belgian Senate.
The OSCE is the largest multi-national security organization in the world. It has 55 member states including most European countries, plus the USA and Canada. Yet a search on NYTimes.com produces no matches for ‘osce’ in the past 30 days. Alain Grignard, the author of the report gets no mentions on CNN.com at all, and only one on NYTimes.com, which considered him an authoritative source for a story about terrorism in 2005, but not worth quoting as author of a report in 2006.
How can it possibly be that an expert report from the OSCE on conditions at Guantanamo is not newsworthy? The answer, of course, is that the editors of CNN and the New York Times had a preconceived script, and this report did not fit it.
The respected terrorism expert and the socialist parliamentarian were quite explicit as to their findings. Guantanamo Bay meets European standards. Alain Grignard conceded that the conditions were ‘far from idyllic’ but insisted that they are better than in Belgian prisons. That is why the report got no mention in the New York Times. That is why its only mention on CNN.com was buried in the bottom of another story about Guantanamo. Need I say a negative story?
Good news: the news that isn’t fit to print.
Copyright © Quentin Langley 08 March 2006