Guantánamo detainee population now at 154


Miami Herald Editorial Board

Wednesday, March 19: How many of the detainees remain hard cases, in the view of guards? Here’s a clue: About 70 percent live in communal quarters and thus have more freedom. That’s about 100 out of 154. The remainder are confined to single cells because, in military lingo, they are deemed “non-compliant.”

The restraint chair used to force-feed hunger strikers is a weird-looking contraption equipped with seat and shoulder belts to hold the resisting detainees in place. A soldier at the hospital, seeking to reassure reporters that chair was nothing unusual said, “It’s just like the one in Folsom Prison.”

When the hunger strike began last year, more medical personnel were sent in. Today the strike has tapered off, but all the extra corpsmen and nurses are still here. Result: The ratio of medical personnel to detainees (of whom there are 154) is about one to one, far better than at any conventional prison in the world.

Spooky – the original “Camp X-Ray” where the first detainees were confined for a few months in 2002 has been abandoned for years and is now an isolated, weed-infested tangle of barbed wire and kennel-like chain-link cages overrun by banana rats and other tropical varmints. The military has no use for it any longer, but a judge’s order keeps it from being torn down.

In keeping with the president’s order, Detention Center Commander Richard Butler, a rear admiral, says the goal is to shut it down by the end of the year. At the same time the admiral is realistic: There is already planning underway for a fresh round of troops to be deployed to Gitmo in 2016 – meaning the camp will almost surely remain open through the end of the second Obama administration ... And beyond.

More to come ...

In Gitmo, the missing Malaysian airliner is hot topic too

Tuesday, March 18: Gitmo may be isolated geographically but not in terms of communication. Strike up a conversation with anyone and the first thing that comes up is: “What do you think happened to that Malaysian airliner?”

I ran into two Cuban balseros outside the mess hall. They've been at Guantánamo for a few months after being intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard on their way to Florida. They managed to convince someone that they should not be returned to Cuba and now one is going to The Netherlands and the other to Canada.

Not looking forward to the cold – but it beats Cuba! he says.

First view of the world’s most controversial prison

Monday, March 17: The “camp” is located on the far eastern edge of Cuba, nestled between low hills and the calm blue waters of the Caribbean. It’s a pleasant scene if you can avoid the heat, so if Guantánamo had not become synonymous with a prisoner-of-war facility, you would never know it’s the site of the world’s most controversial prison.

Many guards here are on their first tour, but the camp has been here so long now that some of the guards are veterans. Met one today who’s on his third tour and says he would come back for a fourth, if asked.

I was given a very quick tour of Camps 5 and 6, which house more than half of all the detainees, both so-called compliant and non-compliant. It’s called a “camp,” but it doesn’t fit anyone’s idea of a camp — it looks and feels like a permanent prison facility.

Today, I only got fleeting glimpses of detainees, who are among the “compliant” ones. They were sitting in a kind of prison recreation room, a communal area, watching TV and listening on earphones. There were five visiting journalists watching them ... and, at one point, 25 military personnel watching us.

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