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StenOps: Guantanamo, Member Review

StenOps (Stenographer Operations) at Guantanamo Bay

Sunday, August 12, 8:30 – 10 a.m., by Nancy Varallo, Mike Miller, Susan Miller, and Rick Greenspan (and a surprise visit by eight of the other team members)

This was the best seminar by far at the convention. Listening to the 12 amazing court reporters who are witness to history at the terrorist trials at Guantanamo Bay and what they went through with FBI security checks beforehand was inspiring. The reporter who built their dictionary has 8,600 words in it with sometimes 60 entries for each name (for differing pronunciations and possible misstrokes) including hundreds of names beginning with Al or Mohammed. When a captain saw what they were doing with one stroke for a huge, long name, he called it “wizardry.” There is a writer as well as a back-up writer and editor as they write the trial. They are not in the courtroom but watch on plasma screens. Whenever something that is a threat to national security is mentioned, their screens go black, and they must wait until they come back on again and can continue to write.

They have their output on the Web; you can see the transcripts by going to, choosing “Cases,” and then choosing “Charges pending/active.” From here you can choose one of the three: Al-Nashiri, KSM (9/11), or Majid Khan. The transcripts are out there for the whole world to see. The digital audio recorder in the courtroom is the official record, however.

These reporters are not allowed to use audio or to have flash drives. They burn their work to one CD, not copyable, and make one hard copy. They will be there for six weeks at a time when the trial starts (they are in pretrial motions now). Sometimes the only bathroom breaks they can count on are enforced stops for Muslim prayer breaks.

Their camaraderie is so much fun to watch. Their StenOps T-shirts have initials TSNI that stand for The Stenos Need It, because their liaison fulfills their every wish.