GUANTANAMO

Stinky prison camp standoff over

 

Credit a combination of peer pressure and guard cajoling with ending a stomach-wrenching summertime protest inside the Pentagon’s maximum-security prison in southeast Cuba.

crosenberg@miamiherald.com

The waste war is over — for now.

War on terror captives are no longer smearing their cells with feces in a stomach-wrenching power struggle with the guards at the maximum security Camp 5 lockup on this remote navy base.

“That phase stopped in the last month or so,” said Army Col. Donnie Thomas in a Sept. 13 interview, noting the protest tactic “ebbs and flows.”

Mimicking a tactic once used by hundreds of Irish Republican Army prisoners in the 1970s, an undisclosed number of captives had been smearing their own excrement into the ventilation grates of their single-occupancy cells, causing it to waft through the cellblocks. The Miami Herald first learned of the episode in June when advocates for some of the captives encountered an awful odor on a site visit.

Then, a country fiddle player on a celebrity prison camps tour posted a blog that quoted guards as saying one prisoner in particular was jamming his feces up his nose.

“It was affecting the whole camp,” the colonel said last week, crediting the closure of that chapter to a combination of peer pressure by fellow prisoners sickened by the tactic as well as guard force persuasion.

Thomas would not specify precisely what the protesters wanted. It involved getting the guards to change their procedures, he said, but prison camp management did not relent.

Camp 5 is where the Pentagon keeps its four convicted war criminals, among them Osama bin Laden’s media secretary, serving life, and the worst behaving among the 171 Muslim captives, whom the guards refer to as “the brothers.” It has 100 cells and is at most a third full.

Rule breakers get Spartan, SuperMax style conditions inside an 8-by-12-foot cell behind a steel door, with a slot big enough for troops to pass meals and books.

During the protest, the convicts were held in the cellblock above the feces protestors, a particularly rank setting. Some lawyers complained that these captives were being subjected to collective punishment, if not unhealthy conditions.

“We’ve got to treat our guys humanely,” said Thomas. “If the guard force can deal with it, I’m pretty sure the other brothers can deal with it as well.”

Senior staff at Guantánamo have described life inside the detention center as a continuing exercise in co-existence between a captive population that has been held nearly 10 years — the youngest captive, Omar Khadr of Canada, turned 25 Monday — and military guards posted to the Navy base on six-, nine- and 12-month rotations.

Last week, two men in the communal Camp 6 for well-behaving captives could be seen sporting non-conventional garments atop their Pentagon issue prison camp uniforms: Tribal-style vests fashioned from swatches of green fabric torn from screening that surrounds their soccer yard. Command staff cast it as ingenuity, rather than defiance.

As of last week, 12 captives were engaging in a hunger strike. More than half of them were being shackled in a special chair by guards for twice a day feedings. Military medical staff tether tubes up their noses to pump Ensure into their stomachs.

“I don’t know if it’s a tool that all the detainees believe in anymore,” said Thomas, the senior soldier overseeing the detention center’s 1,000-plus member guard force.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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