Nearly two decades after it was opened to house terrorism suspects and enemy fighters picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan, the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, remains shrouded in secrecy.
A four-day trip put on by the US military, which reviewed every photo to determine if it could be published without violating secrecy rules, showed the base to be a mix of the mundane and extraordinary.
The trip began at a Navy airfield in Jacksonville, Florida. An Army captain met reporters and photographers before dawn to chaperone them onto a charter that regularly shuttles to Guantánamo.
US forces, families, base workers and journalists paid US$297 ($438) for a one-way seat on the Navy charter to the remote base's airstrip, then took a ferry across Guantánamo Bay to the base's Windward Side.
This trip was the only one so far in 2019 to give journalists access to the zone where 40 prisoners are held, and to allow interviews with prison staff. The rules on photography include strict limits on showing the faces of base personnel.
In a rare exception, Coast Guard forces who patrol the bay permit photography of their faces. The Coast Guard's Port Security Units, drawn from across the United States, serve nine-month rotations at Guantánamo Bay.
The first day featured a get-acquainted evening with the commander of prison operations, Rear Adm. John C. Ring, at his residence.
This was his last encounter with the news media at Guantánamo before his boss, Adm. Craig S. Faller, relieved him for "loss of confidence" in his leadership without further explanation. The base and the military tribunal system set up to try some prisoners have been plagued with high turnover.
The reception in many ways could have taken place in any American suburb. But no alcohol was offered. Among those mingling were those whose jobs are to censor the work of the visiting photographers.
During the four-day visit, only a few hours were allocated to the sprawling Detention Centre Zone, whose staff of 2,000 US military personnel and civilians oversees the remaining 40 detainees, just one of whom has been convicted of a war crime.
About two-thirds of the wartime prisoners are held in prison buildings called Camps 5 and 6. One photograph captured a communal space for a Camp 6 cellblock, for well-behaved general population prisoners, none of whom have been charged with crimes.
The prisoners facing charges, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks, are held in a top-secret compound called Camp 7 that reporters have never been allowed to see.
Prison public affairs teams encourage photographers to take pictures of the model cell, with a display of the kinds of things the military provides general population prisoners — including a skullcap, prayer beads and a prayer rug.
For years, journalists were taken to the trailers where the prison maintained a huge lending library, amassed when Guantánamo had hundreds of prisoners.
For this trip, reporters were shown a small selection of books kept in two empty cells in what is known as the Camp 6 recreation block.
The best behaved prisoners share a couch, a large TV screen bolted on a wall and headsets to hear certain free satellite channels, from Mecca in Saudi Arabia to sports events and free, foreign-government newscasts.
A major focus of visits in recent years is the military's efforts to get funds to build permanent barracks, dormitory-style buildings, for forces now living in prefabricated housing units.
Congress gave the Pentagon US$115 million ($170) in 2018 to replace some trailer parks with a barracks for 848 prison soldiers. It has yet to be constructed, but the military wants to build more.
Reporters and photographers were brought to a trailer park area that is home to soldiers who conduct security patrols outside the prison, as distinct from those who guard the detainees.
Most troops are housed outside the detainee zone, with officers in one suburban-style neighbourhood and prison guards in another. At 8am each day, the military broadcasts "The Star Spangled Banner," and troops are expected to stop and salute the nearest American flag.
In many ways, beyond the prison zone, the base of 5,500 to 6,000 residents has the trappings of small-town America. It has a commissary, neighbourhoods for Navy families, a school system for sailors' children and fast-food restaurants run by foreign labourers that are mostly popular with the people who come without their families.
About one-third of the base residents are Jamaican and Filipino guest workers, but the military generally forbids photography of them. They are stalwarts of the base's service sector, for example working at the base McDonald's.
To document this trip, New York Times photographer Doug Mills presented his photos for review. The military censors images it believes could threaten security, like showing locks and cameras, or impinge on the privacy of detainees. Mills had to delete as many as 40 per cent of his images from the detention centre.
The 40 detainees currently held at the Guantánamo prison are down from a high of about 675 in July 2003. After the prison opened on January 11, 2002, the Pentagon regularly shuttled reporters to the base to see the evolving detention centre, for a time hosting twice-weekly three-day visits. This article documents the most recent such opportunity to see the centre, on April 17, 2019; the prison canceled a June follow-up visit.
Written by: Carol Rosenberg
Photographs by: Doug Mills
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES