Guantánamo’s prison commander has notified a federal court that he plans to demolish a detention site previously used to incarcerate the youngest war prisoners and men ordered freed by U.S. courts, so the Navy base can use it as a recreation site.
“Camp Iguana is currently in a state of disrepair and sits on property that could be utilized for other non-detention military purposes,” according to a Justice Department notice at the U.S. District Court. Attorneys for several of the last 41 wartime captives still held there said they were studying the notice to decide whether to challenge the Aug. 1 demolition.
Detainee lawyers, believing that parts of the base were crime scenes, got a protective order years ago on any place where a captive was kept at the remote U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba, notably the crude chain-linked compound called Camp X-Ray and other lockups where they suspected torture or abuse occurred.
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Camp Iguana is surrounded by barbed wire-topped fences and sits on a bluff overlooking the water, although for long periods it was shrouded in opaque anti-sniper netting that denied captives its breathtaking views. Also unseen by the captives was a recreation area for base residents, Windmill Beach, nestled below.
In an accompanying sworn statement, Rear Adm. Edward Cashman told the court that Camp Iguana serves no useful purpose and the plywood huts that were once home to cleared captives “are coming apart due to years of wear and tear and the environment.”
Now, the base would like it cleared and returned for use by its Morale, Welfare and Recreation unit “for use as a recreational area,” Cashman said. The division runs the bars on base, screens nightly free first-run movies and sponsors fishing trips for the troops and civilians among the 5,500 or so base residents. Now it wants to put new buildings there.
Base spokeswoman Julie Ann Ripley said Friday that, contrary to the admiral’s statement, the Navy base had not decided what to do with the site. Once it’s abandoned by the prison, according to a Guantánamo base worker with knowledge of the plan, Navy staff would assess it and a mixed civilian and military committee of Navy employees would decide how to use it.
The entertainment division, known as MWR, hosted Guantánamo’s Freedom Fest on the Fourth of July that featured fireworks, “family fun” and a concert by Drowning Pool, the Texas heavy metal band whose song “Bodies” was used to torment prisoners in interrogation.
The Obama administration filed a similar court notice last year before it gutted a wing of the state-of-the-art prison building called Camp 5, which is now being transformed into a healthcare site for some low-value detainees. No lawyers opposed it.
Camp Iguana last held captives in late 2013. Its closure ended one of the longest-running and saddest chapters of unlawful detention at Guantánamo. A federal court judge, Ricardo Urbina, ordered the Bush administration to release 17 ethnic Uighur captives from China in 2008.
U.S. allies grabbed them in Afghanistan and Pakistan and turned them over to U.S. forces, who brought them to Cuba for interrogation on what they knew about al-Qaida. But, as self-described democracy-loving, anti-Communists they feared persecution, if not torture, if they were returned to their homeland. So the Pentagon had them put into Iguana, essentially a prison within the prison, while the Obama administration searched for nations to take them.
Some went to Bermuda and Switzerland and others to El Salvador and Palau. The last three left for Slovakia in December 2013. The next year, Cashman said, the FBI collected “data and recordings” of the site that could be used to make a three-dimensional model, if need be.
One of the earliest prison camp commanders, Army Maj. Geoffrey Miller, said he created Camp Iguana to house three “juvenile enemy combatants,” Afghan or Pakistani boys, believed to 12 to 14 years old when the U.S. military discovered them in the cages of nearby Camp Delta among the hundreds of adult wartime captives. They got special U.S. Army guards, limited schooling and dormitory-style cells under constant surveillance by troops until the Bush administration returned them to South Asia in 2004.
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, the area had two cement buildings with toilet, shower and kitchen facilities for sailors and their families to rent for weekend getaways far from the center of the base.
Once the prison took it over, it considered the compound a multipurpose facility.
In 2004, some cooperative captives were taken there for time away from the crude single-cell confinement of Camp Delta. During that period an Associated Press photographer was shown war prisoners seated in plastic chairs watching an Iranian movie provided by the U.S. military. Later a wooden hut on the compound was furnished with couches, chairs and bolts on the floor where guards would shackle a captive’s ankle, and then let him meet with his volunteer, unpaid lawyers.
Camp Iguana was not included in last week’s tour of the prison facilities by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to a Trump administration official with knowledge of the itinerary. Nor were they briefed on the planned demolition of the former showcase prison, which like Camp X-Ray, was once a fixture on media visits.