GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- For years, Navy medical staff boasted to visiting reporters that the relationship was so cordial with hunger-strikers that they let the prisoners pick their flavor of nutritional supplement. Butter pecan and strawberry were alternately identified as forced-feeding favorites.
Flavor makes a difference, according to the Navy medical staff, if a detainee burps and gets a taste of the backwash.
But its five months into the hunger strike by the prisons count, (six according to the detainees lawyers) and medical staff are no longer so good-humored. All nutritional supplement supplies are just one flavor vanilla.
And its culturally appropriate. A visiting reporter recently asked if the nutritional supplements met Islams dietary restrictions known as halal -- meaning made without certain gelatins derived from animal byproducts that are forbidden to both observant Muslims and Jews.
Absolutely, said the Pentagons cultural advisor, himself a Muslim who displayed a printout showing the products were approved by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America. Plus, a visit to the detention hospital showed supplements bearing kosher markings as well as, in some instances, that of halal.
Top Gun pilot grounded on 9/11
Navy Rear Adm. Richard Butler, a career Top Gun fighter-jet pilot, took charge recently as the 13th commander of the prison camps, including the secret lockup where the five accused architects of the Sept. 11 attacks are awaiting their death-penalty terror trials.
Butler said in an interview that he was at a Seattle airport hotel awaiting a commercial flight on Sept. 11, 2001 when the nation was attacked and, along with most of America, found himself grounded. Thats not where you want to be when youre in command of an F-18 squadron.
He and other pilots rented a van, he recalled, and drove 15 hours south to the Lemoore airbase in California and soon went wheels up flying combat air patrols to prevent other attacks.
He then went on to serve aboard the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan with tours in support of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and said he didnt specifically ask for the Guantánamo job but was very pleased to get what is arguably one of the most high-profile assignments a one-star Navy officer can get.
Theres a lot of attention, he said, but I get a lot of support.
The job lets him bring his wife along and comes with one of the nicest, older homes on the base. The job also comes with an unusual collection of visitors from members of Congress to foreign intelligence and International Red Cross delegations to reporters who flock especially for pre-trial hearings in the 9/11 case.
Accused mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged conspirators are awaiting a death-penalty trial that is likely to start after Butlers one-year assignment ends.
Butler said in an interview that he lost two friends in the attacks, former Navy guys both in New York City. One was an airplane passenger, he said, another was a hijacked pilot but he said thats not going to make any difference in the way I do the job.
Grim profile of prisoners
Marine Gen. John Kelly, Butlers boss, recently marked the installation of the new admiral with a rousing speech to the prison camp troops that thanked them on behalf of President Barack Obama and cast media reports of what goes on at Guantánamo as the product of an agenda-driven chattering class and self-serving and misguided pundits who ought to be ashamed of themselves for reporting in the way they do.