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Eugene Richards

On assignment documenting Guantánamo Bay for this week’s issue of TIME, photographer Eugene Richards spent several days at the infamous detention facility. Here, Richards writes for LightBox about how he approached the assignment and the distinct challenges he faced working under the tight restrictions imposed on the media by the U.S. military. 

When TIME asked me to go to Guantánamo, I immediately thought back to 9/11 — to the smoke and ruin of that fatal day, to Bush’s declaration of the war on terror, then to the first images from the prison: of men in orange jumpsuits shackled, blindfolded, handcuffed, sensory-deprived. These men, often viewed in silhouette and on their knees in prayer, were often picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan by military units, although some were captured after bounties of as much as $5000 per head were paid. My first thoughts were to 9/11, of interrogations, secrecy, torture and military might.

And then there was the series of military-issued disclaimers I would have to agree to. I wouldn’t be permitted to photograph, or even see, the detainees. I couldn’t show the guards’ faces, and I would only be able to photograph the pre-ordained locations within the camp. And finally, I had to agree to having my work edited — to turn over my cards so that images could be deleted or cropped as per the opinion of the public information staff accompanying me the entire assignment. ‘Can you make pictures out of nothing?’ I asked myself, then prepared for the trip.

It took two plane flights to get down to Guantánamo and a ferry ride across to the prison camp proper. I made photographs on the boat, but because they were of soldiers, they would become the first pictures deleted by the military. Once off the ferry, Guantánamo became small town America, replete with miles of brand-new looking green-lawned suburban houses. There was a McDonald’s along the road, a Subway sandwich shop, bar-and-grills and a dry landscape of thorny bushes and cactus. Iguanas, looking absurdly out of place, lay often in pairs at the edges of roadways running to and from the prison, munching on the low vegetation. Because they are a protected species, all traffic would come to a stop as they took their time swish-swashing from place to place.

I was put up in a condo of sorts, then had dinner with my minder, Sgt. Brian Godette. The next morning, he asked me what I wanted to see. My assignment from TIME was just to see what I could see, so Brian, out of sympathy, brought me out to the one place that I could visit at will: the now infamous Camp X-Ray.

This is the place, he explained, where the first detainees were brought in 2002 — close to 300 of them, he said. So I followed this young, affable soldier through the gate and up a dirt road, to aisles upon aisles of what could only be regarded as animal cages — six-foot-by-eight-foot concrete-floored cells enclosed on all sides and on top with chain link. They were all glaring light and shadows at this time of the morning, offering no protection from the sun so broiling hot, even though this was only springtime. Vines wound up through the see-through ceilings, grass cracked the concrete and the wind was blowing. Plump hutias, also known as banana rats, nested along the metal supports. Still, it wasn’t hard to imagine the place at night, when the air would be filled with mosquitoes, when the rain would blow in unobstructed. I was also shown the summer-camp-cabin looking interrogation building where, according to some reports, torture took place. Camp X-Ray, Brian went on to tell me, was closed later that year, the detainees transferred to other areas in the military prison.

The first “editing session” happened later that day, when the previous day’s images from the ferry were deleted by Brian. What I remember next was the 4 a.m. wake-up.

Along with a two-man TV crew, I was led in the near dark through four or five electronic doors onto the hallway of Camp V for pre-dawn prayers. No prisoners could be seen. No faces, no hands. All there was to see were the openings in steel doors as the guards wearing protective face shields (since detainees, we were told, spit and throw waste at them) walked up and down the block. As if in cadence, they stopped occasionally at individual cells to peer in, to whisper, to hand over medicines to inmates said to be fasting. After twenty minutes, the prayers finally seemed to drift away and the food carts were ushered in, then ushered out. Because there were few, if any, takers, we were led out of the prison.

At one point earlier in the day, the faces of detainees did appear in the elongated windows above an entryway. Dark-skinned, long-bearded men looked down at us. A TV cameraman pointed his camera in that direction, only to be cautioned that his footage would later be erased.

I returned at 5 a.m. the following morning and was ushered through the gates onto a different cell block, all too aware that some of the photographs I’d taken the previous morning had been deleted. I also wanted to hear the prayers again.

And so I went on what could only be called a media tour. The most surreal moment came during our exposure to the force-feeding apparatus. After all, that’s why the media was here — the hunger strike that had been going on since February loomed large in the debate about the camp. Surrounded by three or four media personnel and an equal number of medical personnel, we were ushered past the crash beds in the detainee hospital into a large, empty room. Dead center, beneath a single fluorescent panel, was the restraining chair. A display of the force-feeding apparatus included a bottle of the liquid nutrient Ensure and two sizes of tubing that could be put up the noses of detainees who refused to eat. As the TV camera rolled, medical personnel explained, without a hint of doubt, that the force-feeding process is not at all unpleasant (olive oil, you see, is employed as a lubricant as the tube is snaked up through the detainee’s nose and down his throat) and that, despite what others in the medical field might say, the long-term consumption of Ensure does no lasting damage.

And just like that, when I was feeling that my week was just beginning, it was over. I was upset that it was over. Before boarding the flight back to the U.S., there was one more pre-planned stop on the tour: the visit to a Gitmo gift shop, for t-shirts and figurines of Fidel Castro. But then even after the lift-off, I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling — and still can’t get rid of it now — that even though I put some time in, and that I now have some pictures that say I’ve been to Gitmo, the truth is that I have never really been there.

Eugene Richards is an award-winning American photographer.

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chinese hacker

For the past four months the New York Times has been under attack by Chinese hackers, the newspaper says.

The hackers were able to "infiltrate its computer systems" and get passwords from reporters and other employees. The Times says it hired an outside firm to study the hacks and block them for good. It also says that no customer information was leaked by these attacks.

The Times thinks the motivation was an investigation into the relatives of China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, and how their business dealings turned them into billionaires.

The hackers were tricky about hiding their tracks. They used a technique called "spearphishing" where they sent emails laced with malicious links. Once opened, malware was secretly downloaded onto the recipients computers. The email was routed through U.S. universities to disguise their origin. These were the same U.S. universities used to disguise Chinese hacker attacks on the U.S. military, the Times says.

Chinese officials deny that the government or military were involved in the attacks.

These type of super targeted attacks, where hackers work to break into a specific company, are particularly hard to defend against. The industry calls them "advanced persistent threats." But there are some U.S. security startups with technology that can thwart them including FireEye, which earlier this month landed a $50 million round of financing and a big name new CEO, Dave DeWalt.

Don't miss: The 15 Most Important Security Startups Of 2013

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First used by the military in the 1990s, online chat systems like IRC have become an indispensable part of tactical communication. Public Intelligence has collected a series of documents about how the protocol is used for calling in support, targeting enemies, and checking in on orders. While chat allows for quick communication even with limited bandwidth, it presents the same challenges civilians see: short messages can be ambiguous or confusing, as in one case where a "large band of hungry camels" ended up being reported as a potential enemy vehicle sighting until the issue was cleared up.

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If the thought of a robot apocalypse is keeping you up at night, you can relax. Scientists at Cambridge University are studying the potential problem. From the article: "A center for 'terminator studies,' where leading academics will study the threat that robots pose to humanity, is set to open at Cambridge University. Its purpose will be to study the four greatest threats to the human species - artificial intelligence, climate change, nuclear war and rogue biotechnology."

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Germans aren't so eager to go to war any longer. Here's the irony: The very same countries that after World War 2 set out to exorcise German militarism are now complaining about the country's unwillingness to fight wars. There are German soldiers ("troops") in various locations, though. German warships are fighting pirates off the coast of Somalia, and there are German soldiers in Afghanistan. (more)

To get crucial votes in the German parliament (the constitution requires parliamentary consent to all military actions on a regular basis - the German chancellor can't just start a war) politicians came up with all kinds of justifications. When German soldiers for the very first time since World War 2 participated in a war again - NATO's campaign against Serbia - the foreign minister invoked Auschwitz and the specter of death camps. To get a majority for Afghanistan the defense secretary said that civilization was being defended at the Hindu Kush (I am not making this up). Politics can be so similar to the art world: When you don't have any real argument, ludicrous hyperbole will do.

Politics aside, there are other repercussions of the post World War 2 exorcism. Germany has become a thoroughly demilitarized country. For example, it would be unthinkable for a German chancellor to use soldiers and/or tanks or other military equipment as a backdrop for a major speech. As a matter of fact, the visual culture around the German military is very different from the visual culture around the US military. Germans know their history very well, so everybody is careful to avoid creating something that looks like it was out of the past. This is part of the reason why Der Tod kommt später, vielleicht ("Death will come later, maybe") by Jörg Gläscher is such an interesting book.

Most of the photographs in the book were taken in Germany, some in actual deployment zones. For the most part, the landscape provides clues where the photographs were taken, but that's a bit besides the point. What I find really interesting here is the way German soldiers are portrayed going about their business. There is none of the heroism that makes so much of what I see usually coming from places like Afghanistan. Gläscher does not seem interested in portraying war (or war games) as something that might be heroic.

There is a portrait of a grubby looking soldier, who is resting against shot-up car, balancing something like a sniper rifle on his boot. It is a very matter-of-factly photograph. Even though the soldier appears to be somewhat in charge of things (he's aiming for a bit of a tough-guy look in his face) it is the rifle that seems to be bearing down on the man. Who really is in charge here? And what does that mean? What does this tell us about war?

Crucially, wouldn't getting a somewhat more critical and less overtly heroic depiction of US soldiers in the media open up all kinds of possibilities? Possibilities that would allow understanding both the nature of war and of what it does to people?

Der Tod kommt später, vielleicht is a book that demonstrates that photography can play a very interesting role investigating war. Editorial photographs of the military do not have to look like they are straight out of the military's PR material. Given we are now constantly at war (with some wars, such as the drone war in Yemen not even being openly declared any longer) we need to be talking about war and what it does to people.

For a while now, Germans were said to be the people who got out of their military obligations by providing money (for example, Germany did not participate in the first Gulf war). But is that so different from what we all are doing? The extent of our involvement in all the various wars is to pay our taxes and to call soldiers "heroes" (unless those very soldiers are brothers or sisters or sons or daughters). For a while, we used to stick ribbons to our cars. We don't seem to be doing that much any longer - what do you know, those ribbons are magnetic, so they come right off. How convenient! We shop, while they fight our wars.

Der Tod kommt später, vielleicht; photographs by Jörg Gläscher; essays by Holger Witzel, Ingo Schulze, Jochen Missfeldt, Kathrin Schmidt, Peter Bialobrzeski, Tanja Dückers, Wolfgang Prosinger; 136 pages; Kehrer; 2011 - unfortunately, there appears to be only a German-language edition of this book

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