Accessibility links

Lifting the Veil of Secrecy at Guantanamo Detention Camps - 2002-12-09


For months, news reporters have been banned from entering Camp Delta at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which houses more than 600 suspected Taleban and al-Qaida detainees. Last week, however, a select group of reporters invited to Guanatanamo for a tour of the facility, which until now has been shrouded in secrecy. We get an inside peek of Camp Delta in this reporter's notebook.

No sooner has the gate to Camp Delta opened, when what looks like a heavy-duty golf cart rumbles by ferrying a shackled detainee from an interrogation session.

I lock eyes with the captive, who sports a full beard indicative of Muslim fundamentalism. His expression is blank, his eyes distant; they seem to look right through me.

I am accompanied by the commander of Camp Delta, Colonel John Perrone. He takes me to a row of empty cells in a roofed, open air structure where new guards are trained. The air is warm but not stifling, as a breeze billows from the coastline nearby.

"Here is the typical unit. And this unit is the exact same as what you will find throughout the camp. There is no difference," he said.

The cell, measuring two by 2.5 meters, features metal mesh walls painted light green. An orange jumpsuit and shower slippers are displayed on a bunk bed with a thin mattress. In a corner one finds a wash basin and, next to it, a floor-style toilet with two footrests.

Meters away, on the other side of a screened fence, detainees chatter at a brisk yet melodious clip. Colonel Perrone says the banter is normal.

"To expect them to be in these units in this kind of environment and not speak all day would probably be very, very difficult. Conversation between detainees is pretty common," he said.

One guard who prefers to remain anonymous says the captives vocalize in other ways, as well. "They sing. Some of them really have nice voices. During (the Muslim fasting period of) Ramadan when they prayed all day long, I would see them warming up (their voices). And I sing at home, myself, and think, 'Wow! They really take it seriously.'," she said.

But another guard says not all detainee actions are benign. "They will do exactly what children do. When children are upset and do not want something, they throw it to the ground and see what your react is," he said. "When they want someone to pay attention to them, they yell and scream and see who comes (answers their call). They are in a cell, so they need something to do."

Colonel Perrone takes me to a row of eight by ten meter enclosures where, twice a week, detainees are allowed 20 minute recreational periods. The paved courts are barren, lacking exercise equipment of any kind. In one court, a detainee strolls in a small circle. His gait is unhurried -- like that of a man with nowhere to go.

"When they are in the recreation area, they are not shackled or handcuffed. They are free to move around as much as they like. Some of them run; some do push-ups," he said. "When they are done with their recreation time, we have showers for them here. They are allowed to take a shower, and we will issue them clean clothing before they go back (to their cells)."

The captives are served three, so-called "culturally-appropriate" meals daily. Until recently, that schedule had been modified to accommodate Ramadan, when Muslims are forbidden to eat by day. Late Friday, the detainees were treated to cake and other treats to mark the end of the month-long period.

Colonel Perrone says, after tending to the detainees for a prolonged period of time, some guards may begin to empathize with the captives. He says it is a tendency the military can ill-afford.

"Complacency is an enemy here. There are some very dangerous people here, and we have to be on our toes at all times. We talk about it; we train to avoid complacency," he said. "And guards are not encouraged at all to engage in conversation (with the detainees). It is strictly a business-like relationship."

Officials at Guantanamo say they would like to think that some detainees' impressions of Americans might improve as a result of their contact with U-S servicemen. Whether or not that occurs, however, officials say they have been charged with treating the captives humanely and that it is a mission they intend to fulfill.

XS
SM
MD
LG