Gitmo’s ‘gourmet fare’

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NEW YORK — The prison is known more for the accusation that it’s a gulag than for goulash, but a new cookbook aims to counter the reputation of the detention center at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Several hundred recipes prepared for the inmates at the camp are to be published next month in “The Gitmo Cookbook,” including dishes such as mustard-and-dill baked fish and honey-and-ginger chicken breast.

The recipes — most of which use fewer than eight ingredients and originally were created to feed up to 100 persons — were developed by the U.S. Navy cooks in charge of the camp’s kitchens.

They must serve food that meets the Islamic halal requirements of the 540 detainees, who mostly are from Afghanistan, Iraq and other Arab nations. A halal meal adheres to dietary practices mandated by Islamic law.

The chance to eat the Gitmo way will be offered in the compilation of recipes by a group of Americans who say the camp’s reputation for inhumane conditions and torture is exaggerated.

Freed detainees have complained of intimidation by dogs, being forced to wear pictures of scantily clad women around their necks, and being kept in isolation for months at a time, in either freezing or boiling temperatures.

Laura Curtis, one of the book’s editors, says the recipes would “make a point about how well we are treating these people.” Freed prisoners are said to have put on an average of nearly 14 pounds during captivity.

“We feel that the word ‘torture’ is a serious abuse of the language when you apply it to what’s going on at Gitmo,” she says. “We’re pretty tired of the military-bashing that we see in the news.”

On testing the recipes, one member of the book team disliked the glazed carrots but says the carrots “did not sink to the level of torture.”

The issue of food at Guantanamo — described as “the gulag for our times” by Amnesty International last month and then compared by Sen. Richard J. Durbin to Nazi concentration camps — was the focus of a publicity stunt last week by the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, tucked into a typical dish and supplied details of a Sunday menu at Gitmo: orange-glazed chicken, fresh fruit, steamed peas and mushrooms, and rice pilaf.

Calling it “gourmet fare,” Mr. Hunter singled out lemon-baked fish. “We treat them very well,” he says of the prisoners, some of whom have been held without trial since 2002. “They have never eaten better.”

The Pentagon budgets $2.5 million per year for feeding the prisoners, which works out to $12.68 per person per day. Meals in federal prisons cost $2.78 per convict daily.

Food for the detainees, including two hot meals per day, is prepared in the kitchens used for U.S. troops at the naval base. Pork and shellfish are off the menu for religious reasons. Popular dishes include curried eggs, tandoori-baked chicken and lyonnaise rice. A breakfast typically includes dates and honey.

Prisoners considered to be well-behaved or low security risks are allowed to serve themselves around open-air dining tables in the detention blocks. Military police serve food to the other inmates.

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