REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK

Prison medics borrow pseudonyms from Bard

 

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

Navy medical staff giving tube feedings to hunger-striking detainees do it anonymously, just like every other member of the military at the prison camp complex.

Guards wear serial numbers in the place of their name tapes. Commanders display acronyms, for example SMO, for the Senior Medical Officer, a Navy commander or CAMP V OIC for the name of the Army captain who’s the Officer in Charge of the maximum-security ordinary detainee lockup.

But to give it a personal touch the Navy’s medical staff have for years worn pseudonyms to work on cellblocks, clinics or hospital where they conduct the tube feedings that the captives’ lawyers say are forced and the military says are collaborative, with hunger strikers voluntarily getting strapped into a feeding chair.

One rotation took its monikers from colors and another used birds, for example, making it possible to see Petty Officer Purple or Lt. Sparrow in Navy uniforms.

The recently arrived Navy medical crew went with a more literary approach and borrowed from Shakespearean characters, meaning the men and women sailors moving around the blocks last week included Desdemona, Gertrude and Malvolio.

One sailor tagged as Bertram explained good-naturedly that the name belonged to “a donkey” — suggesting somebody had read the wrong Cliffs Notes. Bertram was a cavalry officer in “All’s Well that Ends Well” who behaves like an ass, while Bottom ends up as a donkey in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

‘Twilight,’ NBA 2K13 OK, not ‘Thrones’

Reporters visiting the detention center library — a trailer whose titles number 18,200 books, 2,200 DVDs and 800 games — can usually count on a contractor there called Milton for some insight into what the captives of a decade or more are reading. Last week, he said interest in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” had waned along with requests for just about everything. “I don’t know why,” he said, shrugging when a visitor quoted the guard force as saying requests had stopped sometime after the hunger strike started.

He attributed a dip in movie requests to the fact that most captives have access to satellite TV. In addition, he added, the detainees had not exactly turned in all their library-issued items. Four fresh copies of the last “Twilight” episode, which Milton bought at the Navy base commissary, were still in circulation, as were authorized electronic games called “John Madden NFL 2013” and “NBA 2K13.”

Prison camp staff had reviewed “Twilight,” Milton said, and concluded that the romantic scenes were soft enough and the violence fictional enough for the detainees to see. Not so the TV series “Spartacus” — “No way,” Milton said — nor “Game of Thrones,” which he said was particularly taboo for its “hard core” violence and sexual content.

Asked about the acclaimed program “Homeland,” a knock-off of an Israeli TV series, he replied: “That’s out of the question.”

Some more popular films prior to the current strike included “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” a cartoon, Hollywood’s remake of the old Brother Grimm fairy tale “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “The Vow.” That’s the Tatum Channing movie about the guy who’s wife gets amnesia. Channing’s other 2012 movie about male strippers, “Magic Mike,” didn’t make the cut.

Prison staff buoyed by potential building boom

While the prison staff was downplaying the magnitude of the hunger strike last week and just getting accustomed to shorter hours at the base gym driven by the sequester, some soldiers and sailors began advising reporters that they might have a new Guantánamo building boom to cover. Word trickled south that Marine Gen. John Kelly had formally requested that Congress spend more than $100 million for a new dining facility and barracks for the guards, and the interpretation on the ground was that federal funding was all but assured, budget cuts or not.

The commander of Southcom wouldn’t have asked for it unless he knew he’s get it, the thinking went. And with no end in sight to the prison project, thanks to Congressional restrictions on transfers, the troops felt they deserved barracks and a new kitchen near their seafront prison instead of a trailer park, townhouses and hardened tent structures that have served them for years.

Also on the Southcom wish list: About $11.2 million to replace the prison camps hospital, which arrived on a barge as a temporary facility in 2002; a new $49 million lockup to replace the secret Camp Seven where ex-CIA captives are held in a place so clandestine the Pentagon invokes national security to protect who built the current prison, for how much and when; nearly $10 million for a new lockup for lawyers to meet their clients, apparently to replace the Camp Echo site that, it was revealed recently at the war court, was secretly bugged; and not-quite $11 million for a “communications network facility,” apparently the transmissions center for a future, already approved fiber-optic line to be run underwater from Florida.

Wristwatch woes

With troops on temporary duty at the detention center — most doing 9- to 12-month tours, Guantánamo’s institutional memory can be forgetful.

This was the case last week after a lawyer told a reporter that troops confiscated Camp 6 captives’ watches in an unusually aggressive shakedown of prisoners’ property in early February — the event that the lawyers say sparked the hunger strike.

“They were never authorized watches in 6,” according to an Army captain named John, the commander of Camp 6, the 200-cell, eight-block prison building where well-behaving captives are allowed to live communally.

Never, at least since January, when Capt. John took charge.

Just over a year ago, the prison acknowledged that wristwatches were part of the incentive system at Camp 6 but wouldn’t say what kind.

A reporter who spotted Camp 6 captives wearing watches wondered if they were Casios — the brand of watch that the U.S. military at Guantánamo considered a clue to a captive’s allegiance, or at least an indicator he may have had al-Qaida training. “The Casio F-91W watches is a type of watch used in improvised explosive devises (IEDs), used for bombings linked to al-Qaida and radical Islamic terrorists,” said one Afghan captive’s leaked military intelligence risk assessment, for example.

A prison camp spokeswoman declined in an email to specify what kind of watch some Guantánamo detainees were issued. But she wanted to make sure that they had been evaluated before they were issued to the captives, and were considered safe.

“There are a very small number of detainees in Camp 6 who have watches,” Air Force Maj. Michelle Coghill wrote in her capacity as a deputy detention center spokeswoman Feb. 29, 2012. “While we won’t discuss specifics on makes, models or types; we can say that these items have been assessed not to pose any force protection concerns.”

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