This Sunday, April 5 at 9 p.m. EST, the National Geographic Channel is premiering a new documentary as part of their award winning Explorer series entitled “Inside Guantanamo.” Charles “Cully” Stimson, Senior Legal Fellow in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation was instrumental in granting National Geographic the access they needed to produce this one-of-a-kind documentary when he was Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Detainee Affairs prior to joining Heritage.
He told The Foundry how this project came about:
On my first day heading the Defense Department’s detainee affairs policy shop in 2006, I traveled to Guantanamo Bay to review the entire detention operation. It was the first of many trips to the Navy base. It was clear from that first trip that the military operated the camps in a safe and humane manner and the detainees were exceptionally well cared for. I determined that we were not only in compliance with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, but that the care and treatment of detainees far exceeded what Geneva requires.
I saw first hand that there was a massive disconnect between the reality of the conditions on the ground at Guantanamo and the public’s perception of Guantanamo—that is, that detainees were mistreated. So we decided to flood Guantanamo with official visitors, and let them see the camps for themselves.
A typical example: In 2006, members of the United Kingdom Foreign Affairs Committee, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Trans Atlantic Policy Network all visited Guantanamo. Members of each group had very favorable things to say about the care and treatment of detainees. One such visitor said it was a “model prison, where people are treated better than in Belgian prisons.”
Another Parliamentarian said that the conditions were “clean and humane, and follow the spirit of the Geneva Conventions…(and that) the reality of Gitmo is very different from the largely negative portrait given by the press on our side of the Atlantic.”
Those visits marked a turning point in the debate, when serious people stopped taking potshots at Gitmo and began to focus on the public policy and legal question of the proper legal framework and procedural protections for captured unlawful combatants.
To combat lingering mistrust, we decided to memorialize the actual conditions of detention at Guantanamo in 2006. The best way to do it would be to bring in an independent filmmaker, someone who could have unfettered access to the detention facility, shoot whatever film he wanted, and then edit it together on his own. It was important that this be an impartial take.
The National Geographic Channel’s “Inside Guantanamo” puts to rest any lingering question about the care and treatment issue at Guantanamo. The care and treatment of detainees has been, for many years, outstanding, and the documentary is yet another example of that.
The issue today, as it has been for some time, is the question of an appropriate legal framework for incapacitating unlawful combatants in the war against terrorists.