Dan Rather, the Category 5 newsman, is on a collision course with Guantánamo Bay.
“When war descends, whether it’s a so-called asymmetrical war or some other kind, we know that innocents get swept up,” said Mr. Rather. “There are, as we speak, 21 detainees still there in Guantánamo who have been cleared and ordered released but are in this Never-Never Land. The courts and others say you are to be released, but nobody will take you.”
It was the afternoon of Monday, June 1, and Mr. Rather was holed up in his office at the Dan Rather Reports “world headquarters” on 42nd Street, crashing on a deadline, and detailing for The Observer via speakerphone the current target of his relentless reportorial appetites.
Mr. Rather sounded revved up. In staccato sentences, he outlined the upcoming hour-long episode of his eponymous newsmagazine that will air on HDNet on Tuesday, June 9. “What do we know about Guantánamo that we didn’t know before?” said Mr. Rather. “What is the situation there at the moment? What is the outlook for the future?”
The project, he said, was some three months in the making. Days earlier, his team had landed the first on-air interview by an American network with Lakhdar Boumediene—a native of Algeria and former resident of Bosnia, who was recently released after spending nearly seven and a half years as a detainee at Guantánamo.
Along the way, Mr. Boumediene had proclaimed his innocence; gone on a prolonged hunger strike; served as the lead petitioner in the 2008 Supreme Court case that helped to establish legal rights for Gitmo prisoners; and ultimately won a ruling from a federal judge that there was “no legal basis” for holding him.
In mid-May, after Mr. Boumediene’s release to France, his lawyer, Stephen Oleskey, granted the first on-camera interview to Dan Rather Reports. But much to his chagrin, Mr. Rather was momentarily detained by a family medical emergency, and, for once, unable to charge headlong into the field. In his stead, Mr. Rather dispatched one of his producers, Adam Teicholz. “He’s a graduate of Harvard Law School,” said Mr. Rather. “But we try not to hold this against him.”
In a hotel in the suburbs of Paris, Mr. Teicholz spent two hours interviewing the former detainee. Throughout the interview, according to Mr. Rather, Mr. Boumediene alleged various humiliations at Guantánamo during the Bush administration. The interview, said Mr. Rather, was packed with details about Mr. Boumediene’s alleged torture—from intravenous needles being jammed into his arms to stories of soldiers snapping photos of the inmate’s painful transport to the detention center.
“I find large portions of the interview riveting,” said Mr. Rather. “One can make one’s own decisions about whether to believe or disbelieve him. But it’s a side of the story that we haven’t seen before.”
Early excerpts from the interview were set to air on Dan Rather Reports on June 2. At a stage in life when most newsmen hang up their workaday suspenders for a cushy academic chair and the occasional trot around the Sunday morning yakety-yak circuit, Mr. Rather continues to chase stories. As long as he has his health, he said, and somebody to employ him, he’ll keep pushing for news.
“Nobody likes to deal with a subject like Guantánamo, because it’s grim,” said Mr. Rather. “But to have the kind of editorial and creative control and freedom that we have here is about as close to journalistic heaven as I expect to get.”