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June 20, 2006

Why Gitmo’s Commander Was Disappeared (Or: My Secret Guard Den)

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“Tuesday night, while packing to leave Guantanamo Bay, I called Bumgarner’s cell phone to say goodbye. A strange voice answered. I thought I dialed a wrong number, so I hung up. A few moments later, my phone rang. It was Navy Capt.-select Katie Hampf, Bumgarner’s second-in-command. She now had Bumgarner’s phone because she was acting prison commander. She wouldn’t say any more. The Pentagon would not talk about Bumgarner’s status. A spokesman said Bumgarner’s decision to allow us to listen in on staff meetings and observe other activities inside the prison ‘adds to an already complex and difficult situation’.”

This is the postscript Charlotte Observer reporter Michael Gordon added to his Sunday profile of Gitmo commander Mike Bumgarner.

As I outlined in my previous post, he and photographer Todd Sumlin were ejected from the base on Wednesday by order of the Pentagon.  It makes sense that the reporters would be given the boot.  Considering the access and information Commander Bumgarner afforded these journalists (elaborating, for example, how he’s been locked in a desperate power struggle with the prisoners, or that, at various times, he hasn’t had control of the situation), its understandable he also would be disappeared.  But that doesn’t explain why the commander provided such access.

At first, The BAG imagined Bumgarner throwing open this window out of some higher moral obligation.  If you read Gordon’s profile of Gumgarner, however, you get a different picture.

He’s a guy who admittedly craves the spotlight, and has even had run-ins with military censors over it.  He name drops like crazy, playing up his extended discussions with U.S. Senators, and an appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s show.

Knowing that his tenure at Gitmo was to end in a couple weeks, and that a recent ambush of prison guards and the first successful prisoner suicides took place on his watch, it seems Bumgarner took the opportunity to enlighten these reporters either as an FU to his superiors, a way to defend his role in the meltdown of the prison, and/or as an opportunity to grab his fifteen minutes of fame.

If the photo montage seems somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it really isn’t intend to be.  Instead, it is meant to open a small window on a self-important officer in the middle of what, at least for a day or two, has become the terror campaign’s largest fishbowl.

What photographer Sumlin documents here is a ritual Mike Bumgarner undertakes on a regular basis.  As the boss-man explained to the reporters, when he needs relief from the stress he is under, he will often strike out through camp to one of the guard towers.

Bumgarner worships Ronald Reagan, who the Secret Service knew as “Rawhide.”

Here in Camp Delta, Bumgarner goes by the same nickname.

Like the late president, he is comfortable onstage.

( … )

When he wants out of the spotlight, he heads to “O.P. (short for observation point) Rawhide,” an old wooden guard tower not far from his office. It’s 20 rungs to the top and the colonel hates heights, but it puts him above the prison wire, gives him some quiet, a breeze and a place to think.

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I don’t envy Rawhide his task in trying to run the Gitmo prison.  Also, I understand why he would want to defend his good name as the prisoners out-maneuver him.  What I can’t brook, however, is the racism that emerges when he drops his guard, telling the hometown reporters, for example, how the Muslim prisoners are like “animals.”

What I really appreciate, though, is how the pictures articulate the thoughtless narcissism.  If a subtle thing, I keep wondering: if you have your own secret place to be alone amidst all that confinement and insanity, why let the world in on it just for a random portrait on an elitist platform?

(images: Todd Sumlin/Charlotte Observer.  June 13, 2006.  Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. charlotte.com)

…..

  • http://www.wreckingboy.com/madworld Nezahualimón Johnsettia, Jr.

    A thoughtful evaluation. I’m not even sure what to think anymore. So much mess. Messy war, messy horror, messy marine. Mess, mess, mess. I feel, sometimes, like I’m just down in the ash, picking out splinters, making my hands filthy so that I can feel I am doing anything at all.
    This post gave me a new view on this particular issue, and I like new views, thanks.

  • Marysz

    When I first saw these photos (before I put on my glasses)–I thought, what’s Tony Soprano doing in an army uniform?

  • ummabdulla

    Marysz, watching the Sopranos is what passes for “management training” under the Colonel’s command, according to that profile. Not like there would be any need to actually discuss management skills there, since everything’s going so well. @@
    “Bumgarner joined his visitors for the last time at lunch on Tuesday. He and his senior staff talked about NASCAR, the colonel’s Sunday night management training, which involved nothing more than potluck and ‘The Sopranos,’ and his upcoming appearance with Bill O’Reilly. He looked like he needed sleep.
    “Then, the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Bumgarner put a massive fried pork chop on his plate between two pieces of bread and raised it to his mouth.
    “‘In honor of our three dead brothers,’ he said, before taking a resounding bite.”
    How charming…

  • Asta

    The next to the last photo, with Bumgarner looking peevish in the guard tower, my eyes wandered past him to the rows of little white trailers. Three air conditioning units each. No windows. The trailer looks about 30′x12′.
    Are those jail cells? Three cells per trailer?
    Interesting how much money (as in billions) we’ve spent on building prisons in Iraq and all those global locations for the secret CIA detention camps, but we can’t seem to get any trailers from Arkansas down to New Orleans and Louisiana for all those people who lost their homes. Just saying.

  • William Dyer

    From reading the article, he came off as the all too common jock bully from high school. Following a look at the pictures I will amend that to him being Hazzard County’s mayor Boss Hogg.

  • gasho

    The final closeup depicts the paradox of master and slave. The master’s identity is unavoidably defined by the slave; the guard’s by the prisoner.
    Being in command of the world’s most famous gulag while prisoners are escaping via the suicide route has to give one plenty to ponder. Suicide evokes life-and-death; the afterlife; and one’s own moral standing.
    Look again at Bumgarner in this closeup. You can see the Sapranos “Tony”, or you can see a blindfolded prisoner who’s at the end of his last-wish smoke.

  • lytom

    Let us not forget the former commander of Gitmo’s concentration camp, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who has been in 2004 promoted to be in charge of occupation army prisons in Iraq. He was promoted to Iraq after “successfully eliciting” information from suspects held in Gitmo. Bumgarner, succeding Miller, has seen the promotion Miller has achieved by his command of Gitmo. Bumgarner by now cannot understand what went wrong under his command. He calls himself “too nice” at the time when under his command his guards have used “extremely painful” techniques to end hunger strikes.
    Calling prisoners’ actions “acts of terrorism” follows the US military and US government justifications for present concentration camp in Gitmo. How many more years will Gitmo camp exist? Is the future use of Gitmo going to be for dissidents who could be called terrorists?

  • Observer of idiocy

    Poor guy, serving under George Bush. I feel sorry for him.

  • http://areyoudressed.blogspot.com momly

    Is the point of Gitmo to drive everyone bananas?
    I think it’s working.

  • Simon

    “I understand why he would want to defend his good name as the prisoners out-maneuver him”
    Maybe if they actually charged the prisoners with a crime, gave them rights to a fair trial, allowed independant monitors to check on the prisoners then they won’t be able to out-maneuver him.

  • Aeon

    “When the government’s boot is on your throat, whether it is a left boot or a right boot is of no consequence.”
    – Gary Lloyd

  • http://profile.typekey.com/bgrothus/ bg

    Yesterday there was some report about our (US) jail cells, perhaps it was in Iraq, not Gitmo–48″ x 48″ x 20″ in which prisoners are kept for weeks. Some being fed only bread and water while so confined. The means of our tortures are large and larger, we have so many methods of inhumanity.
    And who would not have imagined that captured US soldiers would be given anything other than revenge? Reap what you sow.
    I am with Murtha, stay and pay. Yes, we are paying every kind of price, every price too high.
    War without end. If our leaders will not lead, we have to make our movement large enough and loud enough that some of them (one would be enough) will follow us.

  • Northern Observer

    How Soviet this all is.
    The United Soviets of America.
    USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA

  • readytoblowagasket

    From the article: “All he wanted in return was the detainees’ respect, a little trust, anything to build on.
    “Instead, he says, he and his troops face a daily jihad.”
    Call me crazy, but I can’t imagine a scenario where a prisoner of war is cooperative, respectful, and trusting.

  • Cactus

    It’s hard for this outsider not to notice the racism inherently revealed by this interview. I’m not even sure the interviewer or the editor was aware of it. Perhaps the in-your-face eating of a pork sandwich in ‘honor’ of the three dead. But also the references to ‘brothers’ which is a term of endearment/familiarity among the prisoners (of a different faith and heritage), as well as Black-Americans. I find it hard to believe that such a connection was not made in his mind and the use of that epithet is meant to insult.
    Getting past the racism, the interview really is somewhat sympathetic to Bumgarner. HS QB failing at life. The jock/military attitude is probably pretty pervasive. The sense I get is that within his limited abilities to relate to the ‘other’, he thinks he is doing a good job. He doesn’t understand why people still don’t appreciate him. I know people will jump all over me for this, but I can’t help comparing his situation to the kindly plantation owner who just can’t understand why them darkies hate him so. I wonder if he realizes that the people confined there have not been tried nor convicted of any crime in any court of law. They have the unmitigated gall to think that they are innocent and illegally incarcerated. Whereas people in real prisons know they did something criminal (usually).
    The Bag is right about the tower; why does he let the public up there with him if it’s his private space? Does he want to visually reinforce the fact that he is above all that? The last photo is interesting in that he is ‘in your face’ but hiding behind those impervious dark glasses. His ‘openness’ only extends so far.

  • itwasntme

    Central casting strikes again. Everything is a show, no substance. And it’s a bad show.

  • Mona

    I thought it was Schwartzkof (sp.?) in the second photo. So does he have the Bible and a copy of Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet” by his bedside like Schwartizkof did?

  • http://mdhatter.blogspot.com mdhatter

    good analysis, but I have a hard time seeing anything made out of plywood as, in any way, elitist.
    Lacking respect for people you believe are trying to kill you should be no surprise, and in that light, his gallows humor was disrespectful… but caling it out as overt racism is a bit over the top.
    In the absence of due process, racism charges seem rather irrelevant. There are bigger fish to fry here.

  • Dom Weinstein

    This is absolutely disturbing. The guy seems like Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. How do people like him getting into these kind of positions in the first place?!

  • deidra

    if you don’t know how he got there then you don’t need to make any wisecracks. he got there by spending 25 years serving this country.

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