Since declaring war on terrorism, the United States has held suspected Taleban and al-Qaida combatants at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Wednesday, troops assigned to the detainee operation paused from their duties to take part in ceremonies marking the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Several hundred meters from Camp Delta, which currently holds 598 detainees, dozens of guards and their commanders gathered in a large tent to remember those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on America one year ago.
One guard, Kevin Neal, said he remembers watching the news on September 11 in shock and disbelief. He said the pain of that day still lingers, but added that he does his best to keep his emotions from affecting the job he has been called on to perform at Camp Delta. "You get angry when you see stuff like that," he said, "but we came here to [fulfill] a mission, so once you go inside the gate [to Camp Delta], you forget about all that and just do your job. You cannot take it personally."
Officials at Guantanamo say the detainees were to be treated in the same fashion on September 11 as on any other day, but guard Blaire Winner said she suspects many of the detainees have managed to keep track of the date and are well aware of the significance of September 11.
"I cannot tell you, yes or no, if they know it is today, she said, but, as with any prisoners or detainees in a detention facility, they count the days that they have been there. So I am sure they have some sense or idea that is close to the time or the day of [the anniversary].
Blaire Winner said it is an honor to serve her country by taking part in the detainee operation. "I do not think I could put my pride and patriotism into words," she said, "I just feel so strongly about this country, and as a soldier now it just has that much more meaning."
Brigadier General Rick Baccus commands the detainee operation. He said the manner in which the former combatants are being treated at Guantanamo reflects well on the United States.
"For those of us serving here at Guantanamo Bay, our war is about proving to the world that this country does abide by law in the treatment of the detainees," he said. "While the public debates the technicalities of how these people should be classified, we will continue to follow the traditions of humane treatment. In other countries, these detainees would not be heard from again. Other countries have tortured our servicemen and women. But we as soldiers will preserve our American ideals."
The Bush administration says the detainees will likely face some form of justice at a date yet to be determined. Until then, U.S. officials hope to glean information from the former combatants that will aid America in the war on terrorism.
Officials at Guantanamo say even as they look back on the September 11 attacks, they are also looking ahead. They say the detainee operation demonstrates America's resolve to hold its enemies accountable for their actions, and hope that it serves as a deterrent for any group or organization that may contemplate attacking the United States in the future.