Pearl of the Antilles

The elephant in Guantanamo's living room gets 4,200 calories a day and a Koran

Toiletries in Gitmo are called "comfort items," a broad category that also includes prayer oils, mattresses, and prayer rugs. Compliance with camp rules earns detainees a beige jumpsuit, library privileges, black slip-on shoes, and more. (The most popular library selection? Says Hanft: Harry Potter, available in eight languages.)

The noncompliant detainee has only a thin foam mat, an orange jumpsuit, flip-flops, and a Koran. Comfort items are rewarded or taken away according to a "discipline matrix," Hanft explains in clipped bureaucratese. Things like using offensive language, throwing urine, and assaulting a guard count as negatives.

Next it's on to Camp 4, the only place visiting media generally see the interned. These, the "extracompliant," wear white. They eat and live in a compound of long, squat buildings. "They earn their way here," Hanft says. (And they can earn their way out: Prior to May 18, Camp 4 housed 175 prisoners. After the uprising, 66 detainees were transferred to higher-security facilities.)

Sunset over the bay.
photos by Emily Witt
Sunset over the bay.


See also:
Postcards From Guantanamo
Photo gallery by Emily Witt

The barracks of Camp 4 surround a sun-baked recreation yard with a basketball hoop, soccer field, and volleyball net. Only twenty detainees are allowed outside at a time. Shut off from the recreation yard for the duration of the media visit, they wander around behind the chainlink fences. One launders his white shirt and then dumps the water. A few chat idly at shaded, stainless steel picnic tables. This, then, is what a clash of civilizations looks like.

Finally there's the detainee hospital, where a tall, sandy-haired doctor—a reservist who didn't reveal his name—takes the reins. "Most media want to see the entral feeding tubes we use for the hunger strikers," he says, pulling out a long plastic tube about a centimeter in diameter. (At the time of this tour, there were only three hunger strikers. One had refused to eat for more than 260 days.) The tubes, inserted nasally, must be removed after every use; otherwise detainees could use them "to hurt themselves."

"If they miss nine meals, they show up as a hunger striker, but we hold off until they are endangering their own lives," the doctor explains.

The hunger strikers are restrained during the feeding. "But of the people I've seen, they're smiling when they're putting the tubes down, not struggling. They tell the nurse which nostril to put it in."

Prior to the May 18 uprising, 23 detainees had attempted suicide on 39 occasions, but no detainees have expired at Guantanamo. Later a journalist asks the doctor what the course of action would be if a detainee died of natural causes. "Hopefully justify to the world that it was natural causes," he replies.

The interrogation chair.
Despite our persistent efforts to correct the record, many mainstream [media] outlets ... persist in referring to this facility as a "prison camp." ... Prisons are about punishment and rehabilitation; Guantanamo is about neither. What we are about is the detention of unlawful enemy combatants.... — Navy Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, in an editorial in the Chicago Tribune

The government's use of the Kafkaesque term "no longer enemy combatants" deliberately begs the question of whether these petitioners ever were enemy combatants. — U.S. District Judge James Robertson, in his December 2005 opinion for Qassim v. Bush.

Guantanamo hosts a steady stream of American civilian lawyers dressed in chinos and armed with loud opinions. They don't stay in East Caravella but are exiled to the nearly deserted leeward side of the bay. There they stay in a dormlike building called the Combined Bachelor Quarters, or CBQ.

At dusk, after a day of interviewing detainees, the lawyers and interpreters gather around picnic tables on the patio, which offers an expansive view of the moon reflecting off the Caribbean. On May 11, a trio of attorneys gathers there with six-packs of Red Stripe and bags of snack food. They are among the nearly 500 attorneys who make up the glibly titled Guantanamo Bay Bar Association. The military refers to them as "Habeas Counsel."

One is a measured sort, not quick to pronounce her opinions. Another is even quieter. He seems more comfortable discussing his upcoming wedding than the legal labyrinth of Guantanamo. And then there is Joshua Colangelo-Bryan.

A brown-eyed, affable attorney on his seventh visit to Guantanamo, Colangelo-Bryan is a native of New York City who lives in Brooklyn and grew up on the Upper West Side in the Seventies. "The real Upper West Side," he says. He works at Dorsey & Whitney, a New York firm that specializes in commercial litigation. But the firm has also represented six clients in Camp Delta, three of whom have been released to their home country of Bahrain, including Abdullah al-Noaimi.

Colangelo-Bryan has traveled to detainees' homes in the Middle East and met with their families. And he's not publicity shy — on his last trip to Bahrain, an NPR reporter accompanied him; he has interviewed with everyone from Harper's to New York magazine; and there's even an entry under his name on Wikipedia. Moral outrage comes easily to him. He can muster it even after a sunset swim at the leeward side's tiny beach.

"Would the U.S. have released three clients of mine who now live at home if those clients were actually terrorists?" he fumes. "Is it fair to call someone a terrorist who isn't even accused of being involved in violent activity, directly or indirectly? Many people not even accused of a crime remain in Guantanamo, even in the second year of ARB proceedings." He's referring to the Annual Review Boards that determine a detainee's continued imprisonment. "The ARBs can recommend continued detention based on nothing more than a statement made through torture," he concludes.

« Previous Page
Next Page »