I start my trip to Cuba in the airport in Ft. Lauderdale looking for Air Sunshine. This is the airline that is supposed to get me to Cuba. I ask one of the TSA guys for directions and he has never heard of it. Not a good sign. But I have time so I keep looking. I finally find it. Stuck in a corner, by itself. It is a small charter service with a plastic sign, advertising trips to Florida, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands. I note no reference to where I’m going, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The man at the counter is speaking Spanish to somebody on the phone which in itself is not surprising. It's Florida after all. What is “interesting” is how he looks. Sunglasses and a black beret. Che Guevera comes to mind. I start to laugh. Wild.
I find that I am at the right place and Che tells me to come back earlier than the scheduled flight time. We may leave early. Hey, I’m game. Whatever . . .
A few minutes before our departure, I’m waiting along with my producer, Dan Pashman. Strange because there are very few of us, in fact six total. I’m not even sure what kind of a plane we are talking about. But I have a hint. It takes about 3 1/2 hours to get from Ft. Lauderdale to Cuba. Speed may not be this plane's strong point. I hope reliability is!
Che opens the door which leads directly out onto the tarmac. And there is our baby. She is an Ambraer E-110P, a double prop. plane. It holds all six of us and no more. And as the co-pilot lines us up, he picks out one of us at a time and places us in specific seats - he’s distributing weight. I’m last. I don’t know whether to be offended or not but swear to myself that I better ease up on the bagels with real butter. The co-pilot pulls the hatch shut behind me and Che waves goodbye!
As I sit and look behind the six of us, our gear is pushed into the rear of the plane. There is very little space although I laugh because the co-pilot, literally, four feet from me, lets us know there is a cooler that holds drinks. I look down at my feet and there is the blue and white device. I will keep it in mind.
And then they start up the engines. The sound is deafening and I immediately feel like an idiot. I should have thought about this and thrown some earplugs in my backpack. Too late now. And we are off.
As we quickly enter airspace over the the Carribean, the water quickly turns from a dark blue to almost turquoise. I have to say that it is lovely. But strange. I’m conflicted because I keep noticing how the beauty contrasts so strongly with what also is here, Gitmo.
As I look around at the others also on this flight, I’m find them . . . interesting. Besides the two pilots, the six us of are spread in three rows with a small aisle between us. There is me in the front row behind the pilot. And next to me, there is a man across from me in his early fifties in jeans and a short sleeve dress. He looks like he could be an electrician or engineer.
Behind me is my producer, Dan Pashman. Beside him, and across this small aisle is another man in his late fifties who works for a communications company. He mentioned while we were waiting in the airport that he is based in Cincinnati and that this is his first trip to Gitmo. Very strange.
In the last row, again, two more guys. One is a smaller man with rough hands. He looks like a worker. Again, fifties, but somebody how know how to work. Construction maybe . . . . The last guy is a whole other game. He is big. 6’3”, 6’4”, maybe more. 250 lbs. Harley Davidson t-shirt, goatee, thinning hair, mostly grey now. But there is an edge to this guy. Something different. He reminds me of my days at CIA. Just a feeling. He mentioned while we wait to board the plane that he makes this trip a lot. I wonder what brings him to Gitmo?
So, besides the pilots, both, again, in their 50’s, in their grey slacks and white white and short haircuts, this is our happy little band of merry men. We travel to this little corner of the work, 45 miles total of Cuban land leased to the Americans.
Presumably, we all go for different reasons. My goal is a simple one. I was on the island the day Khalid Sheikh Mohammad arrived at Gitmo in 2006. Since that time, revelations have come out that he was waterboarded, tortured, 183 times. And three days after President Obama was inaugurated, he promised to close this base within one year. And this last week he started to backtrack. I want to understand why.
I will broadcast live shows radio shows this week at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for Air America Radio and I will do at least one live hit for MSNBC using a Department of Defense satellite communications system called DVIDS. Heaven knows what that stands for.
All I know is I’m traveling at donkey speed around the Caribbean and hope to make Gitmo sometime before the next millenium.
As we approach the Island, I see the fence. The guard towers. The runway. We hit the ground. I step to the tarmac and feel the heat on my face. Cuba!
Guantanamo Bay is a strange place. It has been controlled exclusively and completely by the Americans since 1898. And they have leased it for more than one hundred years despite arguments from the Cubans. The Americans contend that it is a lease, not sovereign American territory. And this is important. In fact, one of the reasons President Bush chose Guantanamo Bay is for that very reason. If detainees were brought to American soil, they would have rights per the Consitution. If they were brought to this place, they would be in no-man's-land. They would have no rights. They would . . . disappear!
That is why this place, despite the American flag, is Cuba!
Three days after the Inauguration, President Obama said he would close Guantanamo Bay within one year. And now? He seems to be backtracking. I know that he has to set priorities and must choose his fights. However, closing Gitmo is not just a promise, there is something more important at work. And if you think I am going to cut this President slack, please think again.
I leave for Gitmo in a couple of hours and am checking and double checking equipment. Upon arrival, I am going to analyze what preparations are being taken to close this base and how things have changed over the years. I was previously reporting from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba when Khalid Sheikh Mohammad arrived on the island.
I will be reporting from Cuba, broadcasting live radio programs for Air America Radio and broadcasting live reports for MSNBC. In addition, I will be shooting lots of videos, taking lots of photos, interviewing lots of people, and writing lots of reports.
Check back frequently as I will be updating the site constantly.
I had a very strange morning. I knew I was supposed to go to MSNBC so I got up and found a coat and tie. I had to push all of my equipment out of the way because I leave in a few hours for Gitmo.
So I get dressed and head over to MSNBC studios. They first sit me in a chair and put makeup on me for TV. I'm somewhat used to it by now but I still find it strange. I have no idea how women do this everyday! It makes me feel claustrophobic.
So, I'm sitting in the Green Room getting ready to do a couple of hits related to Iran, terrorism and politics. And in walks Gen. Barry McCaffrey. A pretty interesting guy considering his background and experience around the world. So we start talking Iran, Afghanistan, Gen. McCrystal and President Obama in Afghanistan. Very interesting. I agree with some of what he says and I disagree with some. Not really too surprising. We spend some of the time talking about our children and the ties they buy us. Yeah, pretty deep philosophical stuff, right? interesting how we could debate issues all day but agree on ties and kids ...
Anyway, McCaffrey leaves to do his appearance and then I do a few of my own. I come back into the Green Room to do another one and in walks Ken Burns, the documentary film maker. While I have interested Ken a couple of times, it has always been in the radio so I have never met him in person.
I find this guy to be great. Ken is very smart - no surprise. But more importantly from my perspective, I find him to be engaging, funny. Interesting.
Sadly, I have to go on the air quickly thereafter so I shake hands with Burns and hit the road.
As I sit here in my house just outside of Washington DC getting ready to leave for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I have to say without hesitation the my life sometimes surprises me. I'm just a normal guy who came from nothing, and nowhere, worked hard, but got very lucky. I've been able to do a lot and continue to do even more. But I could just as easily ended up working in a liquor store. Sometimes, seems like a good idea.
Now, if I can just find the rest of my equipment and fit it into one backpack and within the strict weight restrictions, I'm good to go.
Cuba, here I come!
President Obama and the rest of the Security Council have finally boxed Iran into a corner. The Iranians have already invited the UN to look at this nuclear facility in Qom. However, more importantly, it appears that the Russian may agree to sanctions if the Iranians don't come to the table. This leaves the Chinese . . . They do not want to stand alone with the Iranians. This is the power of multilateralism.
I appear on MSNBC tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. to talk about it.
With terrorism related arrests in Denver, New York City, Dallas, and Springfield, Il, how seriously should Americans take the threat? This is the question I have been asked and asked again. I will talk about it on MSNBC on Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. e.t.
Hope you can watch.
President Obama seems to be backtracking on his promise to close Gitmo within one year. We are a couple of months away and the excuses are starting to roll out of the White House. So, I will be at Gitmo all next week. And I will appear on MSNBC on Tuesday evening in the 6 p.m. hour live from Cuba to report on what is happening.
Hope you can watch.