Three-hundred Taleban and al-Qaida detainees held at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will get a new home in coming days. They will be moved from Camp X-Ray, which has been in operation since January, to Camp Delta several kilometers away. The newly-constructed detention facility has many amenities that should make life easier for both the captives and their guards.
Ask any soldier assigned to Camp X-Ray, and he will tell you the facility is secure and functional. But no one has ever described it as "ideal." Camp X-Ray was constructed at Guantanamo in a matter of weeks in December and early January, when the United States suddenly found itself with hundreds of detainees captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Chain-link fence separates the open-air cells, which have no running water or toilets.
The commanding officer at Camp X-Ray, Lt. Colonel Bill Cline, says the lack of basic amenities has placed a burden on the troops who provide for the captives' basic needs.
"Right now they have excrement buckets. And if we can't get them out for any reason to use the port-a-potty in time, they will use the buckets. My MPs will empty the buckets," he said. "We have to make sure they have another bucket of clean water all the time so they can wash up, and we make sure they have water to drink.
Camp X-Ray was designed as a stop-gap measure to hold the captives until a more permanent and more-suitable facility could be built.
Over the last week, contractors have been putting the finishing touches on the detainees' new home: Camp Delta. The seaside facility boasts 408 indoor units, each with a toilet, a wash basin, a bed and a window. The camp also features several recreation areas where captives will be able to exercise if they wish to do so. There is no air conditioning, but the blocks of units have been constructed with overhead ventilation to take advantage of the near-constant Caribbean breeze blowing off the water.
Guards say the new facility will be a vast improvement for his men and the detainees. "They are going to be able to take care of themselves a little bit more instead of relying on our guards all the time," said First Lt. James Mikkelson, who oversees some of the guards at Camp X-Ray. "There will be less grueling tasks for our guards, especially with having a toilet and a sink. We will not have to be constantly taking care of them every fifteen or twenty minutes. It is somewhat degrading having our guards emptying their waste buckets, but hopefully at Camp Delta we will be able to eliminate that and boost our morale a little bit."
A military spokesman at Guantanamo, Major James Bell, says many of the improvements at Camp Delta have come as a result of careful examination of the shortcomings of Camp X-Ray.
"Camp X-Ray was built in an expeditionary fashion. The need was there to build it and build it quickly," he said. "And I think the camp itself had excellent security measures. But you can always learn. And over the past 90 days, looking at the environment we were working in at Camp X-Ray, we had an opportunity to gather feedback and gather information and learn how we can take our experiences at Camp X-Ray and make Camp Delta an even better facility."
Some human rights groups have criticized Camp X-Ray as resembling a "dog kennel." Officials at Guantanamo Bay have always insisted that detainees are treated humanely and that every effort is made to provide for the captives' basic needs, from food requirements to religious accommodations. But they hope the criticism will abate once the move to Camp Delta is complete.