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GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — Like so many articles, our mission in Sunday’s newspaper on the once-secret Pentagon pictures from the earliest days of U.S. detention operations right here, in 2002, began out with a tip.
Somewhere contained in the Pentagon was a trove of photos taken by photographers from the elite Combat Camera unit, somebody who had labored on the jail instructed me final yr. The navy photographers spent months documenting the goings-on at Guantánamo Bay within the first yr after the assaults of Sept. 11, 2001.
The photos had been taken for senior leaders on the Pentagon — particularly for Donald H. Rumsfeld, the protection secretary who took a private day-to-day curiosity within the detention heart. And they had been positively not meant for the general public to see.
I assumed again to the day the primary prisoners arrived from Afghanistan at this distant base, on Jan. 11, 2002. I used to be amongst a gaggle of journalists who had been allowed to observe from an increase above the airstrip because the prisoners had been led off a metal grey cargo airplane — manacled, masked and in matching orange uniforms. Nearby, my colleague from The Miami Herald, the photographer Tim Chapman, paced round our vantage spot in frustration — he had not been allowed to convey his cameras to doc the second. To his dismay, he noticed navy photographers down on the airstrip, the place he wished to be.
The world would glimpse the work of one of these photographers, Petty Officer Shane T. McCoy of the Navy, a couple of week later, when the navy launched 5 of his photos, together with one which got here to represent Guantánamo Bay: 20 males on their knees inside a chain-linked enclosure on opening day.
And almost 20 years later, I used to be studying that many extra pictures from that point had been despatched from Guantánamo to the Pentagon. On a winter day in Washington, the hunt for these pictures started.
One workplace within the Department of Defense despatched me to a different.
Some folks pointed me to the Library of Congress. Others had been sure some pictures had landed on the National Archives, and that turned out to be true.
I submitted a collection of requests underneath the Freedom of Information Act, adopted up with calls and emails and in time realized of varied collections with Guantánamo materials, a lot of it categorized.
Then sooner or later earlier this yr, an archivist despatched phrase that some materials had already been declassified. A zip file arrived in my e mail and pictures of males in orange uniforms splashed onto my laptop display screen.
Some of what I noticed in these pictures of the primary yr, that are revealed in The Times, I understood as a result of I had been reporting on the base then. But different issues puzzled me and required digging.
I defined what I needed to Marisa Schwartz Taylor, a images editor for The Times in Washington. We seemed on the pictures collectively and agreed that this was one thing particular — the type of FOIA return that doesn’t finish a reporting activity, however fairly begins one. She made an preliminary edit, requested many questions and set me on my path. She enlisted Rebecca Lieberman, a digital information designer for The Times, and the teamwork started.
With the three of us in several places — Rebecca in New York, Marisa in Washington and me principally in Miami Beach or at Guantánamo — we pored over the photographs and determined that we would have liked extra info to place them into context. Rebecca drew up a design that may annotate the pictures, providing a information to readers of what they had been seeing.
I reached out to retired navy members who had labored on the jail from the beginning. Many folks I wrote or referred to as had been intrigued. A few snubbed me; they’d not discuss in regards to the early days of a navy mission that for some had soured throughout the years.
The Dallas-based photographer Jeremy Lock, now retired from the Air Force after a celebrated profession with Combat Camera, was excited after I contacted him. He questioned when the world would ever get to see his work from that day.
Carol Rosenberg has reported from the U.S. naval base and navy jail at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002. She joined The New York Times in 2019.