GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Prison camp staff will soon start offering art and geology classes to long-held war-on-terrorism detainees. English is now being taught as military jailers tinker with how to distract captured jihadists.
President-elect Barack Obama may be pledging to empty the controversial prison camps of the 250 men called enemy combatants, but absent an evacuation order from the White House, the military is planning for the long haul on this, the lone American outpost on Communist soil.
''We want to keep their brains stimulated. We're not here to give degrees,'' says Zak, an Arab American who serves as the prison camps' cultural advisor, a secular job. "Once they are engaged and busy, they leave the guards alone.''
Plans include hand-held Game Boy-like electronic games to circulate through the cells, newspapers from Cairo, more ''movie nights'' featuring videotaped sports and expanded lessons in English as a second language.
The idea is to help men captured across the globe think for themselves. The one thing they most want to learn, says Zak: ``When am I going home?''
But change comes slowly to this 45-square-mile U.S. Navy base bunkered behind a Cuban minefield with small-town amenities and the population to match: fewer than 10,000 troops and their families, foreign laborers and U.S. government civilian support staff.
Meantime, it's business as usual behind the razor wire.
Prison camp days for the 250 or so detainees revolve around a routine. Five calls to prayer. Three meals, for most men passed through a slot in the cell called a ''beanhole.'' And an option to visit a recreation yard.
Guards walk the block. Lawyers sometimes arrive from the mainland, which means being shackled and shuffled to a cramped visitor's room where the client is chained to the floor.
After seven years, 17 men are facing trials, a process now in doubt.
Obama has said he wants alleged terrorists tried in U.S. courts, not the special military commissions that have so far convicted two men here as war criminals -- Osama bin Laden's $200-a-month driver and the al Qaeda founder's media secretary.
There's also a secret facility here called Camp 7, for former CIA captives -- those now considered the worst of the worst.
They are men like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who reportedly boasted that he both plotted 9/11 and cut off journalist Daniel Pearl's head ''with my blessed hand,'' and a man known as Hambali, long considered by Indonesians to be al Qaeda affiliate enemy No. 1.
These men are guarded by a clandestine unit called Task Force Platinum, so secretive that no one will say how they fill their hours.
For the 230 others, the military staff has warmed to the idea of offering distractions, if not rehabilitation.
Successive prison camp commanders flatly refused to teach the men English, arguing they would use the skill to eavesdrop on their guards.
Now there's a contract English teacher. And an Arabic instructor teaches the language of the Koran to Uighurs and Uzbeks awaiting a country to resettle them.
Art class was a natural. Captives have taken to drawing to pass the time alone in their cramped cells. Geology classes seemed a good idea, too, he said, since they're about earth and science -- not touchy topics, like the heavens and politics.
''We really have some good artists among the detainees,'' says Zak, a U.S. contractor who doesn't want the world to know his family name. ``They draw greeting cards for family. They draw weapons. They draw whatever. One time, one detainee drew the world's map.''