IN THE CAMPS

Listen to the sounds of a Guantánamo cell block

 

The military put a reporter’s audio recorder inside a cell block at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay to capture a Ramadan call to prayer. It yielded more.

 
An Army guard walks the hallway at Camp 5, for maximum security, low value detainees at the U.S. Navy base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
An Army guard walks the hallway at Camp 5, for maximum security, low value detainees at the U.S. Navy base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
WALTER MICHOT / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

crosenberg@miamiherald.com

A detainee is angry inside a cellblock because there’s a female soldier assigned to this midday watch. The captive covers the window of his cell door, breaking the rules and blocking the guards’ view.

A male guard who sounds unruffled by the episode tries to settle him down.

Soldier: “What’s going on, man?”

Detainee: “Why is she walking back and forth?”

Soldier: “That’s ’cause she’s working on this block.”

Detainee “She’s bull----. I’ll start covering, don’t make me start covering and ... do a lot of stuff that you guys you don’t like.

“I want to call for prayer. Open the beanhole for prayer.”

Soldier: “OK.”

At the request of The Miami Herald, a U.S. Army officer put an audio recorder inside a cellblock at Guantánamo to let the outside world hear a prisoner summon his fellow Muslim captives to prayer. It did capture the prayer call — a gentle wail that wafted through a slit in a cell’s steel door — to summon the men of Camp 5’s Charlie Block to the midday dhuhr prayer.

But the recording also lets the world eavesdrop, briefly, on life on a maximum-security cellblock. It was around 1 p.m. on the third Monday in Ramadan — for many of the captives their 11th Ramadan in U.S. custody.

“Allahu akbar. Allahu akbar. Allahu akbar. Allahu akbar. Ash-hadu anna la illaha illa Allah ...

None of the men on this particular block have been convicted of a crime. Nor are any facing charges at Guantánamo’s war court.

The audio makes clear that most of the guards knew that the recording device was there. The captives did not.

It picked up cross-talk between captives and guards, who addressed their charges not by their names but by their detainee numbers.

It recorded chatter between the mostly Arab captives, who were shouting through the penitentiary-style cement walls and steel doors.

It captured the clanking of shackles as troops in combat boots quietly moved their charges from single-occupancy cells to the recreation yard where captives are kept in a labyrinth of chain-link fencing.

It offered up guards whispering into walkie-talkies wondering whether the prayer period had ended for all 20 to 30 captives in the 100-cell, $17 million, eight-year-old prison.

But mostly there are long passages of silence as the detainees went about their midday prayer.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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