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.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

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