GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA – After people ask me if I have been to the detainee camps at GTMO (the answer is yes) and what I'm covering (Omar Khadr's military commissions trial), they usually ask me, "What do y'all do for fun at Guantanamo Bay?"
Well, first I would say that the 32 U.S. and international TV and print journalists who made the trip this time have a very limited amount of downtime. In my case, I'm up by about 7 a.m. to make sure we can go live for any NBC or MSNBC show by 8 a.m. I will watch court proceedings, write, shoot tape and edit video until at least 7 p.m. On Tuesday night, I had to setup a 9:30 p.m. live shot, so the days can be quite long.
(Click above to see a typical live shot NBC's Shawna Thomas helped produce from GTMO with Michael Isikoff).
But when I’m done with work, the answer to the above question for myself, and many members of the media here, is pretty straightforward: alcohol, cheap alcohol. It’s the Red Stripe, red wine, Jameson's and vodka kept in freezers in the media operations center (MOC) to facilitate the making of Bloody Mary's, once court and work has concluded for the day.
The MOC is our communal home away from home. We take notes, write stories, watch movies and log tape together in these three rooms where we spend more than 12 hours a day. Either we buy the booze at the Naval Exchange, the base's version of Target, or we go out on the town.
I use the term "out on the town" loosely. Unlike many other military bases around the world, you can't go out into Cuba when you're at Guantanamo Bay. All you have is what's on the base. And in the case of journalists who are covering military commissions, you are limited to where you can be escorted by a military public affairs officer (PAO) on the windward side of GTMO (the military’s abbreviation for the base).
So if we want to go to the bar, a PAO is right behind us. Majority rules among the journos at GTMO, so we have to agree on where the group is going for dinner or drinks.
In other words, there's no striking out on your own to find a frothy beer and a cute guy or gal to flirt with.
There's a choice of three bars on this side of the base, though the favorite tends to be O'Kelly's. Yes, the top choice is an Irish bar on an American base that sits on a Communist island. Unfortunately, O'Kelly's is closed for renovations right now, which leaves the restless media with the Tiki Bar and the Officers Club.
The media mingles with the military, lawyers and human rights activists who are here because of the ongoing trials. However, we're easy to avoid striking up a conversation with because we are required to wear red and green badges around our necks that have the word “MEDIA” emblazoned on them and we travel in packs.
There are also beautiful beaches here, but that tends to be a weekend event. Other activities include bowling (never been there), outdoor movies (haven't partaken) and my favorite, karaoke night on Wednesdays.
Yes folks, last time I was here I was able to convince someone to stay with me at the bar so I could indulge in my love of singing popular songs in front of strangers.
By the way, the last time I sang Metallica's “Enter Sandman” in front of at least 50 or 60 members of our armed forces. Tonight, if I can find an escort, I plan on going back. Any ideas for what song I should choose this time?