On a scale of worst, how worst can worst get? Back in 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took a crack at solving this riddle, dubbing Guantanamo Bay "the least worst place" to store evil-doers. But now, with the torture scandal unfolding, the Navy has declared that Guantanamo Bay is not "the least worst place" at all.
The Navy once embraced the "least worst place" Rumsfeldism proudly, displaying the slogan across the banner of its Guantanamo Bay web site. The witty motto made the Cuban prison seem not so bad, especially if you consider the palm trees and excellent views.
Times, however, change, and when a new commanding officer for the prison - Captain Les McCoy - took over near the end of 2003, he ordered a Photoshop job on the "least worst place" banner, removing the slogan all together.
"The removal was ordered because the commanding officer did not feel it accurately reflected his vision of the base," said Navy spokesman Lieutenant Mike Kafka.
(Yes, you're reading that correctly. A man named Kafka has been deployed to field questions about a prison where the criminals are only vaguely charged with crimes, can't speak to lawyers and likely will never get out.)
According to Navy sources, it may be acceptable for a slogan such as "the least worst place" to find its way onto a uniform patch, but it's really not meant to serve as the welcome wagon for a penal colony.
Lt. Kafka declined to discuss whether this site change implied that Guantanamo Bay was still the least worst place. But another Navy worker told us, "You know some commanding officers come in and there is a picture of a sunset on their web site, and they decide they want a sunrise. You know, so they can start with a big bang. This is like that."
So, near the end of 2003, Cpt. McCoy pulled the banner and relegated the most famous Rumsfeldism to obscurity. All you'll find on the Guantanamo Bay site these days is a Red Cuba with an American flag thrusting out of its rear, along with a calming blue background for the text. You'll see that the Vet Clinic is still open for business as well - but that, according to the site, is supposed to be for the household pets of stationed officers' families.
Did the recent prison torture scandal play a role in the banner's demise? Not according to the dates provided by the Navy's Lt. Kafka. The scandal broke at the end of April, and the Commanding Officer ordered the site change at some point last year, or so Lt. Kafka told us, "prior to January 2004". Still, McCoy's sensitivity and foresight was impressive any way you slice it.
And here's a cheer for Photoshop, where the least worst place can become ambiguously worst with just a few clicks of the mouse. ®