In a news cycle already clogged with troubling reports from Guantanamo Bay arrives an even more troubling report: In January, a guard fired a "non-lethal" round at a prisoner. The military says it was just a ploy to win attention, a claim that makes a little less sense once you learn that the incident happened in Camp 6, the area reserved for cooperative captives where the government just spent $744,000 on renovations that included a soccer field for prisoners. While it's basically impossible to know what motivated the prisoner in question to act out and how exactly the guard decided to fire his weapon, this marks an unprecedented escalation of tension between Guantanamo officials, inmates and the lawyers who represent them. Only once before have Guantanamo prisoners reportedly been fired on but details of the incident were never confirmed.
Details about the so-called "use of firearm incident" are sketchy, but both sides have confirmed that an inmate caused trouble and a guard used his gun. We probably never would've known about it either if a group of lawyers for Guantanamo prisoners hadn't spoken up. "According to the narrative emerging from both sides, a detainee in the recreation yard had sought the attention of a tower guard who controlled a gate leading to the pathway back to the prison," reports The MIami Herald's Carol Rosenberg, who broke the story. "[Guantanamo spokesman Navy Capt. Robert] Durand said he tried to scale a fence, a violation of rules, but climbed down when the guard ordered him to do it." The prisoners' lawyers requested an investigation in a letter to Guantanamo commander Navy Rear Adm. John Smith Jr. but say they have not received a response.
It's tough to take sides in a situation like this. Since Guantanamo generally lacks transparency, we have to assume it's the lawyers' words against the guards' word. A story Monday about Guantanamo prisoners staging a hunger strike as guards denied such a protest presented a similar conundrum. Details from the prisoners' lawyers about the use of firearm incident suggest that the two situations are linked, that the inmates are responding to potential abuse on behalf of the military, which includes but is not limited to guards' collecting the prisoners' Qurans. The military, meanwhile, does not deny that a round was fired in the midst of the prison's "crowd dispersal" procedures and that no one was hurt. Lawyers say one man was "injured in the throat." It doesn't get much more he-said-she-said than that.
The big issue to pay attention to here isn't this isolated incident that apparently happened almost two months ago. Rather, it's the snowball effect that's starting to roll towards Washington. With each of these incidents — from the hunger strike to reports last month of illegal hidden cameras — President Obama's hypocritical and widely criticized decision to keep the prison open despite an earlier promise to close it seems more and more ill-advised. It doesn't help when folks like Durand say things like, "There is a belief that public pressure, that keeping Guantanamo in the news by whatever means, will help them. The detainees' behavior dictates the guard force response." That leaves us to believe that there's nothing the public can do about Guantanamo. Meanwhile, guards do what they want because the prisoners are asking for it. At least, that's what it seems like.
Actually, when you put it like that, ignoring the public and doing whatever they want has been the Guantanamo guards' modus operandi for years now. Carry on.