My Trip to GTMO

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Inside the wire: In 2006, I spent three weeks at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, touring the facility and attending hearings for the now-defunct military commissions. The prison system at GTMO had evolved since the first suspected terrorists were taken there in 2001, from flimsy cages to state-of-the-art Supermax prisons with the latest technologies.


Camp X-Ray: The first militants captured on the battlefields in Afghanistan were housed in Camp X-Ray, a set of open-air metal fences that had no protection from the elements. The makeshift cells had originally been designed to hold Haitian refugees for days, not Afghan extremists for years.


No bathrooms: Each cell at Camp X-Ray was 8-by-8 feet square, with absolutely no furniture or possessions allowed. Prisoners urinated in a metal pipe and defecated in a bucket. Showers were also in open-air cells with no provisions for modesty.


The museum: The prisoners were eventually moved out of Camp X-Ray when new facilities were constructed, but the prison structure was kept intact for tours and photo opportunities. When I saw it, the camp was overgrown with greenery and riddled with small animals.


Universal health care: This is the makeshift hospital where injured prisoners were treated. Hygienic conditions were nonexistent and the facility lacked all of the advanced medical equipment that was abundant in the modern hospital that treated soldiers on the nearby base.


Torture huts? These five huts were where interrogations took place during the time when extreme interrogation techniques were in vogue. The huts were definitely within screaming distance of the camp where the other detainees were being held.


No way out: Inside an interrogation hut, prisoners would be chained to these wooden seats. Interrogations lasted for hours, sometimes days.


Both bark and bite: Although most of the graffiti in camp X-Ray had been removed, this drawing by members of Joint Task Force 160 from 2002 is a not-so-subtle celebration of the use of dogs to aid interrogations at Guantánamo.


Camp Delta: In 2004, Camp Delta opened, with long rows of solitary cells slightly more protected from the harsh Cuban sun. A yellow prayer cone with the letter "P" was put out five times a day to indicate silence during worship periods.


A checkered past: If prisoners behaved well, they were given games like Checkers to play. But how do you play Checkers if you're in solitary confinement? By yelling your moves to your friend across the way. The arrow points to Mecca.


High and mighty: Responding to complaints that they weren't respecting Muslim prisoners' religious traditions, the guards allowed prisoners to dangle Korans from their cell walls using surgical masks, so the holy books wouldn't have to touch the ground.


Living well: This is as good as it gets for prisoners at Guantánamo. If you make your guards happy and help out your interrogators, you get the white pajamas and some playing cards to boot. Naughty prisoners get the orange jumpsuits and no cards.


One on none: The staff at GTMO proudly shows visitors the shiny new basketball court inside Camp Delta to prove they are doing right by the prisoners. One problem: At the time I was there, the court was never used because the blacktop is too rough for the slippers prisoners wear, and guards won't give them better shoes.


Team GTMO: There's not much to do if you're stationed at Guantánamo Bay. Every night there's a movie in the amphitheater. You could go to the Tiki bar or the disco. That's about it.


This stinks: Just upwind from Camp X-Ray is another GTMO landmark, the trash dump. Other than that, the scenery in the area is breathtaking.


Going green: Since GTMO isn't connected to the Cuban electrical grid, the military has taken great strides toward energy efficiency. Twenty-five percent of the base is powered by windmills. Preservation of wildlife on the base is also strictly enforced.


The long haul: Camp V (five) was the first Supermax-certified facility to be built at GTMO, containing more than 150 solitary cells that are identical to a prison in, let's say, Illinois. These prisons were built to last.


Worst of the worst: Down the long halls of Camp V is where prisoners were held awaiting trial, although few trials ever happened. Omar Khadr, a 15-year-old picked up on the battlefield in Tora Bora, spent years here.


Bad behavior: If you didn't play nice at GTMO, here's where they would put you: Twenty-three hours in a windowless cell with no activities or amenities to speak of. Several suicides were attempted in this facility.


Interrogation's new look: In stark contrast to Camp X-Ray, the interrogation rooms at Camp V had comfy chairs, big televisions, coffee, and snacks. But prisoners were still chained to the floor.


Are you dangerous? Inside these trailers, each and every prisoner was allowed to plead his case for release, while chained to the floor. More than 500 prisoners have eventually been cleared for release after being classified as "No Longer Enemy Combatants." In other words, the U.S. government is not saying they're innocent, just that it could never prove they were guilty.

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