At Guantanamo, Navy man accuses female reporter of sexual harrassment

The one and only time I (left) was assigned to cover a hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg had been on the base for 32 days straight. I was coming in for two nights on the U.S. Naval Base to cover an Omar Khadr hearing. Though Khadr, a Canadian, has been imprisoned there for several years, there are no Canadian reporters permanently stationed there. Canadian news organizations generally send a reporter there whenever Khadr is in front of a judge.

A reporter assigned to Guantanamo for any amount of time is not exactly in for a lot of fun. Because of security concerns, reporters can travel from the media room to their tents without a military escort and can use a beach near their tents without an escort. Your tents, incidentally, are military issue: i.e. there is canvas overhead and one thin pillow under your head. The tents are air conditioned by air conditioners that are about as quiet as a jet engine. There is no television and your shower and bathroom facilities are community facilities, community in the army sense of the word. If a reporter wants to eat, shop, or go anywhere else on the island, that reporter is required to have a military escort accompany him or her. And even if you have a military escort at your side, there's not exactly a lot to do at Guantanamo.

To get to Guantanamo, reporters must travel from Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. on a U.S. military plane. On my trip down, we travelled on a cargo jet but it was military-style transport which mean we sat on canvas webs on benches in the dark on the side of the plane. The Associated Press reporter who covers Gitmo is based in Puerto Rico but when he has to get to Gitmo, he must fly all the way up to Washington to come back down on a military jet from Andrews. The Miami Herald's Rosenberg has to do the same thing: Fly to Washington so she can come back down to Gitmo. When they leave, reporters can go straight back to Miami or other destinations.

Reporters go through all of this so that they can basically be court reporters. There's not much else the military will let you do at Gitmo. The military lets reporters into the courtrooms where, often behind soundproof walls or only via closed-circuit television, a reporter can watch the military trials of those accused of various terrorism-related crimes against the United States. After the court sessions, a U.S. colonel, representing the prosecution might make himself available for questions and the defence is always available for questions. At the end of the day, you end up filing a courtroom story with a lot of legal beagles going back and forth. It makes the front page every now and again but mostly, you're writing for the back pages. And unlike court reporters back in the real world, you are not ending your day in a bar with lawyers for the defence and prosecution trading war stories and enjoying yourself. Nope. You are sober and going to your noisy air-conditioned tent all by yourself with no family or friends around so you can get up and do it all over again.

Simply put: If you're a reporter and Gitmo is your beat, life is not going to be a bowl of peaches. I'm glad I went there for a three-day assignment but, as I told Rosenberg at the time, I could not imagine spending 32 days in a row there.

I say all of that as a preface to this story, by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, about a complaint that U.S. Navy commander, Jeff Gordon, has filed with the Miami Herald against Rosenberg:

In a letter to the paper's editor, Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon accused Carol Rosenberg of “multiple incidents of abusive and degrading comments of an explicitly sexual nature.” Gordon, who deals primarily with the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison, said in the letter that this was a “formal sexual harassment complaint” and asked the Herald for a “thorough investigation.”

“Her behavior has been so atrocious over the years,” Gordon said in an interview. “I've been abused worse than the detainees have been abused.”  

Gordon was the naval officer who was my press liason during my trip to Gitmo and it was evident to me that he had a good professional relationship with other Canadian reporters who regularly attended there, like the Star's Michelle Shephard. In my weekend at Gitmo, I perceived no tension between Gordon and Rosenberg. And I don't feel I'm breaking any confidences when I say that when it was just us reporters gossiping in the media room, I didn't a hear a word from Rosenberg or anyone else for that matter about Gordon, bad or good. We just pretty much kept our heads down trying to file on deadline. I can also say that there are reporters at Canwest News Service who know Rosenberg and who have worked with her before and these reporters, whom I trust, say Rosenberg is a good egg.

So I, for one, will be interested to see how this complaint plays out.

Kurtz, in his column, waits until the last paragraph, to throw this bomb out there:

“Gordon, a career officer who joined the secretary's office under Donald Rumsfeld in 2005, is retiring early next year, an exit date that may help explain the unusually harsh nature of his complaint against a journalist.”

One thought on “At Guantanamo, Navy man accuses female reporter of sexual harrassment”

  1. Now that is an interesting insight into the worId or journalism. A lot of big stories have been broken by court reporters as I recall. Pretty interesting to visit an american base outside the bounfs of international law and the US constitution.

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