GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Military commanders Tuesday offered a description of a communal prison camp where the captives ruled inside their cellblocks for months, covering cameras, poking guards with sticks through fences, spraying U.S. forces with urine and refusing to lock themselves inside their cells for nightly sweeps.
At Guantánamos communal camp, only if all the prisoners on a cellblock shut themselves in their cells, can guards step inside.
The commander, Capt. John, an Army reservist who refused to provide his last name, said that the once-compliant captives commonly ignored soldiers orders for months, since before he took charge in January, a situation that left the American captors of the foreign men with no control over whether their behavior was good or bad.
So early Saturday morning, dozens of specially trained U.S. soldiers in black riot gear, some toting shotguns armed with rubber bullets and canisters of rubber pellets, stormed Guantánamos former showcase communal compound called Camp 6 and after brief resistance put about 65 defiant and no-longer-compliant captives in single-cell lockdown.
Ive never been in a civilian prison that looked anything like communal here, said Capt. John, who said he had worked as a guard in Louisiana lockups that contained both convicts and pretrial detainees prior to his mobilization last year. But Guantanamos communal POW-style captives, men captured more than a decade ago and held without charges ever since, have a lot of ideas here that they deserve an overabundance of things.
U.S. forces offered descriptions of defiant prisoners to explain why, as of Tuesday morning, the vast majority of the 166 captives spread across seven facilities, were under lockdown. None were living in groups, POW-style. Visiting reporters could see them through surveillance cameras pacing restlessly inside single cement-block cells equipped with steel bunks welded to the walls, a toilet, sink and small writing table.
Gone was satellite TV and being able to roam inside their blocks for meals, prayers or go outside for group soccer. In place of access to books and hand-held games, movies, their legal documents and a pantry, each man had the barest of items a blanket and sheet, thin mat to use for prayer and as a mattress, prayer beads, prayer cap and three books.
Several dozen captives inside Camp 6 had no Qurans, Capt. John said. Once locked inside cells Saturday, they refused to receive them through the slots in their doors. Some had also refused delivery of meals in Styrofoam containers, continuing their hunger strike.
The military described a five-hour operation that began before dawn Saturday in which troops charging the compound were met with brief resistance. The chief of the guard force, Army Col. John Bogdan, said he monitored the mission by video screen and radio but told reporters that no taped record existed of the skirmish to independent review what went on Saturday morning.
Instead, to illustrate it, the prison camps spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, offered a display of homemade weapons, including a heavy metal bar broken off exercise equipment, four water bottles loaded with gravel from the recreation yard and lashed together, bolo style, as well as sharpened broom and mop handles.
The violence came in the context of a long-running hunger strike that the captives lawyers said was sparked by the prisoners perception that the guards had mistreated their Qurans in a Feb. 6 search but all sides agree is fueled by frustration over the indefinite detention of captives whom the Obama administration decided could be released but for congressional restrictions and no country to safely take them.