Inside Guantanamo

Al Jazeera visited the detention centre to see what conditions are like for inmates.

    The detention centre was built at a
    US naval base in southeast Cuba
    The first 20 men arrived, bound and shackled, at the US military detention centre in Guantanamo Bay from Afghanistan on January 11, 2002.

    Five years later Rob Reynolds, Al Jazeera's senior Washington correspondent, was granted a rare visit to the US naval base on 78 square kilometres of land in the southeast of Cuba where the facility was built. 

    Nearly 400 men that the US government describes as "terrorists, unlawful enemy combatants, the worst of the worst" are still being held at the centre. 

    Rear Admiral Harry Harris, Guantanamo's commanding officer, said: "We understand that they are dangerous men, and we understand that they are willing to kill Americans here in Guantanamo."

    Al Jazeera was shown maximum security Camp 5 where detainees are held in solitary confinement under 24-hour guard. Each small concrete cell contains a metal sink and toilet, a thin mattress, personal hygiene items and a Quran.

    Interrogation rooms

    There are interrogation rooms on each corridor with shackles set into the floor. The US administration says that Guantanamo inmates continue to provide information about terrorist networks.

    Suicidal inmates are given a smock and blanket
    that they are unable to make into a noose
    Elsewhere on the base, detainees in the medium-security Camp Delta get more privileges, as long as they obey the rules.

    One of the guards showed Al Jazeera a sparse recreation area with a few pieces of equipment where the detainees spend up to two hours a day.

    The lieutenant-colonel, who did not want to give his name, said that some of the guards have been attacked by the inmates.

    "When they throw faeces or urine in their [the guards] faces, then that's just not good. And, yes, detainees have attempted to assault the guards."

    In June 2006, three detainees committed suicide by hanging themselves with nooses made from bed sheets. The US military called the deaths a form of asymmetrical warfare.

    Suicide attempts

    Guantanamo's jailers say they are determined to prevent any more.

    "If a detainee expresses suicidal ideation, does anything to indicate that they might commit self-harm they are issued a combination of a smock and blanket and they are evaluated by behavioural health. The idea behind the blanket and smock is that you can't tie them into a knot, you can't make a noose out of them," the lieutenant-colonel said.

    Al Jazeera was not allowed to talk to any of the inmates but it did speak to their lawyers.

    Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, an attorney who represents several detainees from Bahrain, witnessed one client's suicide attempt.

    "I had left our interview room so that he could have a bathroom break ... I went back into the room and I saw Juma hanging from the inside wall that separates the cell and the meeting area. He had also cut open his arm and bled all over himself and the floor," he said.

    Juma was unconcious but the guards were summoned to cut him down and he survived.

    Guantanamo Bay has created a good deal of controversy abnd criticism but US officials still insist that it is vital in dealing with terrorism.

    "I am convinced that they are in fact terrorists. I am convinced that they are in fact dangerous men. I am convinced that they are all in that category," Harris told Al Jazeera.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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