Joint Task Force Guantanamo, the U.S. armed forces operation responsible for the extrajudicial detention of hundreds of accused terrorists from around the world, has its very own magazine. And, like Elle, Dabiq, and Cosmo before it, I can’t stop reading The Wire.
What makes The Wire unlike most other “glossies” (an “industry” word for “magazine”) is that most other magazines aren’t produced by the staff of a military base that’s become synonymous with torture, abuse, and American hegemony. And what makes The Wire so fascinating is how far it contorts itself to avoid acknowledging what it is: A general interest magazine put out by a prison camp at which abuses both documented and unknown have taken place, where men, many of them innocent of any definable “crime,” have rotted for years.
In the pages of The Wire, though, Gitmo is less an international symbol of imperial American lawlessness than it is home to various intense intramural kickball rivalries.
Unlike Dabiq, the stylish, professional-looking monthly put out by one of the the Islamic State’s media offices, The Wire shares an aesthetic with a high school’s PDF newsletter. Only instead of the updates on the East Valley Panthers track team, we have reports from the enlisted men and women tasked with defending and operating an internationally notorious prison camp.
There are advice columns (“Your Words Can Be Used Against You”), personal health tips (“Self-Care Is a Priority”) and movie reviews (“Mother’s Day is predictable and boring at some points, but adorable and touching at others. The movie received 5/10 on imdb.com; I give it three banana rats out of five.”) There are also occasionally illuminating letters from the editor, like this April 2014 dispatch from JTF GTMO Public Affairs Director Cmdr. John Filostrat:
And there you have it—The Wire isn’t just about providing intramural schedules and reminders to destroy all your documents to deter Gitmo dumpster divers (“Don’t let a simple thing like trash get you in hot water, use operation security and shred all paper!”), it’s also about putting a happy face on one of the most miserable and opaque places in the whole world. In colorful spreads, Gitmo is described with the sort of language usually reserved for Disney resorts. Flip through The Wire quickly enough and you might think it is a resort town, rather than a barbed wire dungeon. The place looks fun as shit in every issue. When the magazine relaunched in June of 2002, it ran this quote:
“This stuff fires up the troops. They love to see their name in the paper,” said [Capt. Jeffrey P.] Nors. “Our mission is morale — that’s what field newspapers are all about.”
It’s not an easy job to try to stoke morale at a place that has met near-universal, worldwide condemnation. There is a very real sense in which anyone who has worked at Gitmo has been involved, even if reluctantly, in something world historically bad. But in the pages of The Wire, obstacle courses and seaside food vendors abound:
There are craft fairs:
There is succulent ham:
There are magic shows:
And even yoga:
But most of all, there are sports. The Gitmo intramural scene is as intense and hard-fought as the War on Terror itself
Gitmo intramural team name highlights include Trap Lordz, El Chapo, and World Police. In fact, the team names in general are incredible. I’ve compiled some of my favorites here:
Nearly every issue includes detailed descriptions of Gitmo rivalries, upsets, tournaments, box scores, and big plays. The point is made over and over again, in ever issue of The Wire. Guantanamo Bay is a fun place to be:
“Softball is what I look forward to the most while being here,” said Tyler Uteg, pitcher for the Trap Lordz. The Trap Lordz and BEEF assembled on the Multi-Purpose Field at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, April 28, for the Morale, Welfare & Recreation Softball League game. The Trap Lordz defeated BEEF, 17-2. Joint Task Force Guantanamo and U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay players participate on both teams.
But Guantanamo Bay isn’t a summer camp, it’s a military prison. And yet information or stories of any kind about the real purpose of Gitmo—indefinitely detaining men dragged off battlefields because no one else in the world wants them—are scant. When detainees are mentioned in The Wire, it’s typically in the context of how well they’re being treated, and just how wrong and unfair are those media reports to the contrary. The Wire is a media entity that considers The Media an enemy. An August 2015 issue describes a media training seminar for troops stationed at Gitmo, coaching provided in the hopes of deflecting “a negative angle in their story.” The recurring narrative is that no one outside of Gitmo knows just how great Gitmo is. Ignore the horror stories by a biased American and international media. Focus on the volleyball games.
“I know the truth about the professional conduct of the JTF towards the detainees in custody here,” wrote Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad in a March 2015 issue:
and I know the truth about how detainees treat members of the JTF with contempt, and conduct vile assaults on a daily basis. I also know that all too often, misrepresentation about our mission – and those who conduct it are the rule, and not the exception.
Detainees are often portrayed as aggressors by The Wire. An article titled “A Day in The Life” describes “the infamous number two,” “a mix of feces, urine and other bodily fluids rolled into a putrid cocktail and thrown on the guards by detainees of the facility.” Another issue reminds readers that “detainees are still in the fight, and will do anything to create or fabricate an incident to discredit our operation.” Another piece describes the prisoner cafeteria as “like Burger King—they make it your way, right away.”
“There are some detainees who are on a very strict diet for health reasons and there are some detainees who have special requests,” one of the guards explains as he lines up carts for each of the blocks at the facility. “If you screw anything up, if a detainee doesn’t get exactly what he is supposed to get, that could cause problems on the block,” he says. “We don’t want any problems on the block.”
There’s nothing explosive in The Wire, so far as I’ve been able to find. Nor should there be—it’s neither produced nor published in secret, though back issues are difficult to find without guessing file names and a lot of sifting through Google. But it appears some Wire issues aren’t uploaded—according to a JTF GTMO spokesperson, “we routinely exercise editorial judgment in determining whether or not particular content is made available on our public website.” What is the JTF hiding about the Ball Kickers v Kicking Balls rivalry?