Inside the Guantánamo prison after Trump's speech
Prison leaders say the war on terror captives watched President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address on cellblock television, simulcast in Arabic by a Lebanese satellite channel — with no surprise over the White House decision to continue prison operations.
In fact, the prison cultural adviser, known as Zaki, said Trump’s decision to continue having panels review the captives’ cases was “well received” among low-value detainees kept separate from the off-limits, classified compound for former CIA prisoners.
The Obama administration set up the Periodic Review Board process to weigh whether a detainee who is not charged at the war court might be released to his home country or resettled somewhere else. The Executive Order revoked President Barack Obama’s closure order and instructed Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to develop a policy for bringing new captives here — essentially ending Obama’s moratorium on new arrivals.
“They don’t care about how many new detainees are going to come here to Gitmo, or if they will come. That’s not their issue,” Zaki said, describing continuation of reviews as a main concern. Besides, he said, the captives had anticipated cancellation of the closure order since last year.
Navy Rear Adm. Edward Cashman, commander of the 1,700 mixed military and civilian staff of the 41-captive prison, said Saturday there is currently no impact here from Trump’s Executive Order. He described it as a policy statement, which the Pentagon has yet to transform into military orders.
“It’s Gitmo. Nothing’s happening soon,” said Army Col. Steve Gabavics, the chief of the guard force, adding that the detainees watched the address and “they talked about it. The reality is, they’re always happy to see Gitmo in the news.”
The men spoke to reporters during and after a brief, first visit to the communal prison, Camp 6, since Trump’s Executive Order.
Lawyers for the war prisoners have said there is fear of being forgotten if the prison fades from newscasts. Of the 41 captives, five are currently approved for transfer by either Bush or Obama review boards. But Trump stopped releases upon taking office, and his administration has not staffed the State Department office responsible for negotiating transfers.
Zaki said the Beirut-based television station Al-Mayadeen carried the speech to Congress live with voice-over word-by-word translation into Arabic. Two English-language channels on the prisoner’s TV menu also carried the broadcast live, he said.
It has been longstanding Guantánamo prison policy to not buy cable subscriptions for the captives. But those living in communal cell blocks get to channel-surf free air-to-ground broadcasts — mostly foreign government produced news and sports channels as well as a live stream of the holy site in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Since summer, however, the prison disclosed Saturday, the once popular RT or Russia Today station has been deleted from their menu — by order of Pentagon policymakers.
Prison officials also noted that, with rotations and transitional troops, the detention center staff had grown to 1,700 or so troops and civilians, up by 200 from the last report.