When the book “Mastermind” about alleged Sept. 11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was released earlier this month, a blog quoted the book’s author as saying he had learned detainees at Guantanamo Bay had convinced military officials not to fly the U.S. flag there because doing so offends them.
The story quickly circulated through the internet, inspiring rage from people who saw such a move as an outrageous affront to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and U.S. troops who have died since. But The Rumor Doctor discovered the facts portray a different story.
The blog quoted “Mastermind” author Richard Miniter as saying he was stunned to learn that the U.S. flag is not raised anywhere at Guantanamo Bay where detainees can see it.
“Each morning on every U.S. military base around the world, the American flag is raised to a bugle,” the blog quoted Miniter as saying. “But in the interests of not offending the detainees, it was stopped at Guantanamo.”
Miniter told The Rumor Doctor that the story is much more nuanced than it sounds. He said he learned a flagpole in sight of some of the detainees was moved out of their view in 2005 in an attempt to reduce attacks against guards, interrogators and other personnel.
The Rumor Doctor was unable to independently verify that a flagpole had been moved at Guantanamo as a security precaution. Retired Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a former Defense Department spokesman who dealt with Guantanamo Bay issues from 2005 to 2009, said he never heard of such an incident.
Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, a spokeswoman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, could not find someone who was there in 2005; personnel involved with detention operations rotate often through Guantanamo.
Reese was able to dispel the notion that the U.S. military is too concerned with offending terrorism suspects to raise the U.S. flag at Guantanamo. She said the task force at Guantanamo has flags, and “they’re all flying.”
She also noted that Cmdr. John Rhodes, deputy commander for the Joint Detention Group, once saluted the flag in front of detainees.
“He asked the detainees to excuse him as he stood at the south recreation yard of Camp VI and saluted colors,” Reese said in an e-mail. “He said the detainees simply stepped away and re-approached him after colors without incident.”
THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: This story is false, and it appears to be based on a misunderstanding of what was reported in “Mastermind.” Thanks to the internet, rumor and innuendo move so quickly that they are accepted as fact long before anyone can do some fact-checking.