Yet the guards, both soldiers and sailors, are trained to absorb these assaults without response, to seek treatment if necessary, and to go back to work, Harris said.
Those detainees who are regarded as being the most dangerous or as having the highest intelligence value are held in a pair of imposing buildings -- Camp 5 and Camp 6 -- modeled after a prison in Michigan and hardened to maximum-security standards. There, guards walk the corridor in pairs and inmates can neither see or converse with one another unless they are outside in the exercise pens during scheduled periods.
Harris insisted, and other guards verified independently, that every detainee, regardless of camp, is assured of what Harris said was the same level of healthcare that he receives. Inside the compound, we toured a fully equipped clinic capable of treating most medical, dental and mental-health matters.
Detainees routinely receive glasses, dental work, prosthetics, immunizations, even surgery and psychiatric care. One prisoner was recently evacuated to the main base hospital for cardiac surgery, which was successful; another had a cancerous tumor removed.
The clinic also is equipped with special stations where three detainees on hunger strikes (down from 89 the year before) come daily to be fed through a nasal tube. "They're compliant to the point where they get into the chair and help the guard put on the restraints, then wait for the feeding, " the clinic director told us. None has lost any weight.
A detainee recently called a guard at 3 a.m. on a Sunday complaining of jaw pain. By 8 a.m., a dentist had responded to the call, opened the clinic and treated the detainee's abscessed tooth.
"I challenge you to try to get your dentist to treat you at dawn on a Sunday morning, " the medical officer said.
Prisoners are offered a daily diet of 4,200 calories prepared in four menus depending on their native cultures -- enough so that the average detainee gains 18 pounds. "Most are in the moderately overweight or obese category, " Navy Capt. Ron Sollock, who heads the facility's medical operation, told us.
Prisoners send and receive letters channeled through the International Red Cross. They can borrow from the multilingual collection of 5,000 books. Agatha Christie novels and Harry Potter are current favorites. Religious traditions are rigorously respected, including Muslim prayers five times daily. As we walked through one cellblock at 2 p.m., we came upon plastic cones, placed by guards, calling for silence while some prisoners prayed.
In every way, Harris told us, policies are geared to not only meet the most liberal standard of the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners of war, but to also exceed the standards set by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for its own facilities.
NO 'GOOD-COP, BAD-COP'
Casual meetings have yielded valuable information
There is a motive for such treatment: extracting useful information in the fight against terrorism. Coercion, Harris said, is forbidden; punishment comes only by withholding privileges. A detainee who agrees to meet with an interrogator can spend hours sitting in a casually furnished room complete with a recliner, a wide-screen television, a selection of movies and a supply of snacks. Sometimes the detainee will chat with the interrogator; at other times, they sit in silence.
"But never, " insisted one interrogator, "do we use a 'good cop-bad cop' approach" to try to elicit information. Paul Rester, a Defense Intelligence Agency officer who runs the intelligence-gathering operation, said that, over time, these seemingly casual meetings have yielded a trove of valuable intelligence.
Prisoners have described how terror operations are planned and financed; they've identified members of Osama bin Laden's inner circle; they've explained how homemade explosives are constructed, and they've tipped authorities to the locations of terror networks operating in the Middle East, Europe and in the United States.
Most of this information came out in painstakingly small doses over months and years of chats.
Yet, according to Rester, "even after three, four, five years, we're still getting fresh intelligence. And time is on our side."
But therein lies the conundrum that surrounds and pervades Guantánamo.
In past wars, prisoner-of-war camps existed only until the end of hostilities, when the former combatants would be granted an amnesty and sent home under the terms of a peace treaty.
In what the Bush administration calls the Global War on Terror, there may be no end to hostilities. There is no army with which to make peace, no amnesty for former combatants.
And so Guantánamo goes on, its future tied to forces beyond the razor-wire fences. Caught on this treadmill along with the detainees are the military men and women sworn to hold them securely while treating them -- despite the provocations -- humanely.
Abu Ghraib, Harris told me as we left the camp, was "a failure of training and a failure of leadership." He's confident that when the history of Guantánamo is written, the outcome will be far different.
"We've conducted over 35,000 interviews here and there has not been one case of proven torture, " he said. "We are the most transparent detention facility in the world. Bar none."