GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- One Sudanese prisoner is filing his hours until release reading Decision Points, George W. Bushs memoir on why he quit alcohol, ran for president and approved waterboarding war on terror captives.
Another is being home-schooled every other week inside a cell, learning the astronomy, math, grammar, Shakespeare, even elocution, he never got as a child of al Qaeda.
These are the war criminals of Guantánamo Bay. They are four convicts captured as a cook, a kid, a small-arms trainer and a videographer kept out of sight of visitors in a segregated cellblock of a SuperMax-style 100-cell $17 million penitentiary.
Because each man was sentenced for war crimes by a U.S. military jury, three after guilty pleas in exchange for short sentences, theirs is what the Pentagon calls punitive confinement. They are prisoners set apart from the other 168 captives at what former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls one of the finest prison systems in the world.
Yet, military defense lawyers say the convict cellblock at Camp 5 is especially austere and that their clients are doing hard time reminiscent of Guantánamos early years when interrogators isolated captives of interest.
Each man spends 12 or more hours a day locked behind a steel door inside a 12-by-8-foot cell equipped with a bed, a sink and a toilet.
They get up to eight hours off the cellblock in an open-air recreation yard, a huge cage surrounded by chain-linked fencing. If recreation time coincides with one of Islams five times daily calls to prayer, the convicts can pray together. If it coincides with meal time, they can eat together.
Once locked in their cells, they can shout to each other through the slots in their steel prison doors troops uses to deliver meals and library books.
TV time is spent alone, each man shackled by an ankle to the floor of an interrogation room, always under the watch of a special guard force implementing a Pentagon policy for punitive post-conviction confinement. That policy is still in flux, says a spokeswoman, Army Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher, so the Defense Department wont let the public see it.
At 50, Ibrahim Qosi of Sudan is the eldest. Early in his captivity here, Bush era prosecutors portrayed him as al Qaedas payroll master. By the time he pleaded guilty to supporting terror last summer, his crime was working as a cook for bachelor irregulars in Afghanistan and occasionally driving for Osama bin Laden and others in al Qaeda.
Now up for release from the cellblock in July 2012, hes passing time with a copy of Bushs recently released best-selling memoir. His Navy defender couldnt find an Arabic translation. So Qosis learning about the man who waged the global war on terror with the help of an Arabic-English dictionary.
In a failed bid for clemency, Qosis attorney, Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier wrote in January that, after years in communal custody, living in a POW-style setting, his post-sentencing conditions are grueling and reminiscent for him of the eight difficult months he spent in complete isolation when first arriving at Guantánamo.
But a senior guard who works at the prison said its far from isolation. They do get to commune together, said Army Command Sgt. Major Daniel Borrero, whose 525 Battalion pulled guards from the blocks interning U.S. criminal soldiers at Fort Leavenworth to work at Guantánamo.