- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba "Welcome to Camp Delta," said U.S. Army Col. Adolph McQueen as he greeted two visitors at the outer gates of the prison camp housing 664 captives of the United States' war on terrorism.
The bright blue waters of the Caribbean beckon just beyond the prison's edge, but once inside Camp Delta, the only colors are tan, beige and the camouflage green of the guards' uniforms and M-16 rifles.
Occasionally, one can see a few bearded inmates in their orange jumpsuits and black prayer caps being transported in handcuffs and leg irons from one place to another.
It's not clear how many of these 664 "unlawful enemy combatants" from the war in Afghanistan know they're at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because reporters are not allowed to interview detainees or even get close to them.
But one thing is certain: Unless they cooperate with their interrogators, the prisoners won't be getting out anytime soon. "Every detainee in this camp is a threat to the United States," said Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
"We have already exploited quite a bit of intelligence. We are in the business of looking for golden threads and links, and every day we get something new."
As the base known as "Gitmo" by generations of American sailors marks the 100th anniversary of its lease from Cuba, critics say it might become a permanent dumping ground for anyone the Bush administration wishes to permanently deprive of judicial review.
"The United States has devised a criminal jurisdiction whereby we can lease property anywhere in the world and create a Devil's Island where individuals have no access to the U.S. court system to determine whether they're being held legally," said Bill Butler, chairman emeritus of the International Commission of Jurists.
Human rights lawyer Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, noted that "from the U.S. point of view, Guantanamo has a lot of advantages."
"It's close to the United States, so they can send personnel back and forth all the time. And unlike with military bases in other countries, the U.S. has complete jurisdiction.
"There's no other lease like that, and there's no access by reporters unless the government decides to let you in. Fourthly, nobody has any rights, so the military can do whatever it wants," Mr. Ratner said.
Both lawyers spoke at a seminar last month in Washington focusing on the future of Guantanamo, the oldest foreign U.S. Navy base in the world and the only one in a communist country.
The lease agreement signed by the U.S. and Cuban governments Feb. 21, 1903, established the legal basis for Guantanamo's existence: In exchange for helping Cuba win independence from Spain and an annual payment of $2,000, later raised to $4,085, Cuba granted the United States 45 square miles of land at Guantanamo Bay for the Navy to use as a ship coaling and refueling station.
The lease "was virtually a conveyance of national territory to the United States," said Washington lawyer Robert Muse, who specializes in Cuba matters.
Since 1959, Cuban President Fidel Castro has refused to deposit the annual $4,085 checks sent by the U.S. Treasury, saying that doing so would indicate acceptance of U.S. sovereignty.
In the mid-1990s, more than 45,000 Cuban and Haitian refugees were intercepted on the high seas and brought to the naval base at Guantanamo for incarceration before being resettled in the mainland United States or sent back to their countries of origin.
In January 2002, the United States began transporting certain prisoners captured in Afghanistan to the base in Cuba. The Castro government, eager to show it was participating in the war on terrorism, issued a statement saying that "although the transfer of foreign war prisoners by the U.S. government does not abide by the provisions regulating [the lease], we shall not set any obstacles to the development of the operation, and we are willing to cooperate."
Capt. Bob Buehn, a former commander of the naval installation, said the United States will maintain the lease.
"It's a key part of the global war on terrorism, and this mission would be difficult to do anywhere else," he said.
"One of our missions is forward presence," Capt. Buehn added. "And if Roosevelt Roads Naval Base closes, that would leave Guantanamo as the only U.S. base in the Caribbean. We'd be the only game in town." Roosevelt Roads is in Puerto Rico.
Capt. Buehn, whose tour of duty at Guantanamo ended March 27, says that despite war in Iraq and the presence of 664 possibly dangerous men from 42 countries at Camp Delta, he's seen little tension between the U.S. Marines and the Cuban Frontier Brigade that patrols the fence line.
"There's been no visible change in our relationship since the arrival of the detainees," said Capt. Buehn, who for the past three years met his Cuban counterpart, Brig. Gen. Solar Hernandez, on the third Friday of every month for informal talks.
"We alternate one month on their side of the fence, one month on our side. These talks are strictly about local issues," he said.
"We also discuss natural disasters like brush fires and hurricanes. This helps keep tensions low and information flowing."
Camp Delta, parts of which are still under construction, replaced temporary chain-link cells at Camp X-Ray five miles to the north, where captives were initially housed upon arrival in Cuba. The new 816-unit compound is in a remote corner of the base, which is off-limits except to the military or visitors on official business.
At barriers on the only access road, Marines with M-16 rifles check cars and trucks for explosives, and review the identification documents of all passengers. "No photography" signs appear every 20 feet along the outer fence, and anyone caught snapping pictures risks having the camera and film confiscated.
"We leave this block empty so we can refine our training techniques," Col. McQueen, of Detroit, said as he dispersed a group of 15 or 20 soldiers engaged in a top-secret training exercise.
A metal-mesh detention unit measures 8 feet long, 7 feet wide and 8 feet high.
The units consist of a metal bed frame raised off the floor, a squatting toilet recessed in the floor and a stainless-steel sink "lower to the ground to help accommodate foot-washing for Muslim prayer needs," according to a Camp Delta fact sheet.
An arrow indelibly stenciled on each bed points toward Mecca, 7,932 miles away.
Camp Delta cost $42 million to build, but Gen. Miller, the Joint Task Force commander, declined to discuss the prison's operating budget.
The camp is surrounded by guard towers, powerful spotlights and four concentric 20-foot-high fences topped with razor wire. Troops patrol the perimeter fence. Even if a captive escaped, his orange jumpsuit would give him away.
And Mr. Castro has vowed to return to U.S. authorities any detainee caught on Cuban soil. Since their arrival, 25 inmates have been sent home, mostly to Afghanistan.
Asked how much longer Guantanamo will be host to these "illegal combatants," Capt. Buehn said: "This mission could last at least five years."
Camp Delta's prisoners spend most of their time being interrogated or reading the Koran in their cells. Five times a day, the Islamic call to prayer is played over the camp's loudspeakers thanks to Youssef Yee, a Muslim chaplain with the Army who downloads the chants onto a CD from a Saudi Web site that lists the prayer times for different locations around the globe.
"During Ramadan, we change the feeding schedule," Mr. Yee said. "One of the traditions is to break the fast with dates and water, so every detainee gets some dates to break the fast just as the sun goes down.
"On the holiday of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son, we also give them a holiday meal, which includes traditional Mediterranean sweets like baklava.
Between 15 percent and 20 percent of the captives speak English, and some of them even translate for prisoners who don't.
Although most of the captives come from mainly Muslim countries, the captives include two Australians, two Britons, a Swede and a Dane.
Most of the inmates at Camp Delta eat military ready-to-eat meals, get two 15-minute periods of exercise and take a minimum of two showers a week. When being transported, they are restrained with handcuffs and leg shackles, and are escorted by at least two guards.
But Gen. Miller said a new wing of Camp Delta, known as Camp 4, houses "more cooperative" prisoners. They live 10 to 12 in a cluster, wear white jumpsuits instead of orange ones and enjoy three recreation periods a day two of 30 minutes each and one of an hour.
"There's been a fairly significant increase in cooperation through the detainee award and penalties program," Gen. Miller said. "This program was initiated in November and includes small comforts such as books in the cellblock, water tumblers and up to seven showers a week. But if they don't follow the rules, they lose the benefits."
The soldiers who watch over the captives don't know their names, as the prisoners are referred to by numbers. Likewise, the guards hide their name tags with Velcro strips to protect themselves against retribution.
"We don't engage in casual conversation with the detainees," said Capt. Brian Pitts of the 132nd Military Police Company. "Soldiers are rotated on a regular basis, so they don't get too close to the detainees."
In civilian life, Staff Sgt. Horace Miller of Columbia, S.C., works in the vending-machine business. But before that, he was a corrections officer.
"I don't want to be friendly with the detainees, because if I have to use force on them, I don't want to feel it later. When you make friends, they'll use that against you."
He added, "They're in here because they might have done something bad, but if you don't treat them like dogs, they'll respect you."
Since the operation began, Camp Delta has had 22 attempted suicides, with one resulting in serious injuries.
Gen. Miller said at least 75 of the men have mental illnesses. At the new prison hospital, propaganda posters in Arabic, Farsi and English advise inmates that "the road to return must be paved with your complete truth and cooperation."
"Despite the rhetoric, a good portion of the men jailed at Camp Delta are probably innocent," said Mr. Ratner, the human rights lawyer who represented about 400 HIV-positive Haitian refugees detained at Guantanamo during the 1990s.
"In some ways, the Guantanamo detainees are the lucky ones, because they're not sitting in Diego Garcia or Bagram," he said. Diego Garcia is in the Indian Ocean, and Bagram is in Afghanistan.
Red Cross personnel visit Camp Delta on occasion, but have said its presence should not be considered an indication of whether torture is occurring.
Last month, the Pentagon hinted that Iraqi "enemy combatants" who use civilians as human shields or otherwise violate the rules of war in Iraq could be shipped to Guantanamo, adding to the legal problem of what to do with the 664 men languishing at Camp Delta.
"Gitmo might as well be on another planet, floating somewhere out there in space," Mr. Ratner said. "It's a lawless situation, and not one I, as a human rights lawyer, find acceptable."

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