London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Asharq Al-Awsat interviews Guantanamo Bay Spokesman Robert Durant on alleged prison torture, inmate conditions and why there is no need for a Muslim preacher at the camp that holds approximately 400 Al-Qaeda and Taliban members.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is there a Muslim preacher in Camp Delta who provides spiritual guidance to Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees?
(Durant) Detainees receive all necessary requirements from the prison management to perform their daily worship, including the five prayers, reciting the Koran, and fasting during Ramadan. All the detainees are religious, and are very knowledgeable in Islamic issues, and they help each other in understanding Islam or when they face some ambiguous religious issues. Inside every section of Camp Delta there are Imams, religious guides, and preachers from among the prisoners themselves. Generally speaking, prisoners are more aware of their religious affairs. As for Muslim preachers who work in the military institutions, their number is usually relatively limited, and hence the sphere of their work and responsibilities become greater so that they can serve the largest number of soldiers and officers.
The joint task force, which is in charge of the camp, has nominated a number of Muslim Imams who work in other military units, from whom help can be sought when needed. The necessary requirements are provided for prisoners to facilitate their daily worship, including the five prayers and fasting during Ramadan. The prisoners have been supplied with prayer mats, prayer beads, and copies of the Koran in the language they want, in addition to the azan (call for prayers) which calls five times a day from loudspeakers hung on poles inside the camp, with suitable time for prayer without interruption from the guards. There are Imams among the prisoners, elected by prisoners themselves from the sections and cells to lead the prisoners in the five prayers or group prayer. All meals that the prison management provides for the detainees are cooked according to the Islamic law, and the time of serving the meals changes during the fasting month to accommodate Al-Suhur and Al-Iftar meals. Special meals are offered to detainees during Islamic Ids, such as Id Al-Fitr, Id Al-Adha, and Ramadan, where special meals with dates and sweets are served.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What changes have taken place at Guantanamo in the last five years?
(Durant) The most important event was the release of 377 Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees, leaving about 395 detainees in the Delta Camp and Camps Four, Five and Six. It is notable that the number of released detainees is close to the number of those inside the prison, which proves that the camp’s management does not want to detain any prisoner more than it is supposed to. As for the prisoners’ living conditions, these have improved steadily. They have been moved from Camp X-Ray, which was used for four months only in 2002, to Camp Delta, which is more modern in construction, while the Fifth and Sixth Camps are air-conditioned. In Guantanamo camp library there are about 6,000 books on loan for detainees, and it is planned to increase this to 20,000 books during this year, most of which are in Arabic and Pashto. There are also literacy programs for prisoners, and various types of food are available.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is there a cultural counselor at Guantanamo to help the joint task forces to understand the cultural and Islamic issues of prisoners?
(Durant) Yes, we have a cultural counselor, who is of Arabic-Islamic origin, and his task is to advise the camp’s management on issues related to prisoners from the cultural and Islamic aspect. He also meets detainees every now and then to discuss the latest developments that concern them from the Islamic and cultural perspective, and he can contact any prisoner at any time.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) what are your comments on statements made by most of the released detainees from Guantanamo, who claimed that they were subjected to abuse and torture?
(Durant) There has been absolutely no substantial complaint of torture or claims of abuse in Guantanamo, although 12 basic cases have been investigated. We have examined 35,000 interrogations, but we found no clear evidence to support these allegations. Minor incidents were discovered, and the involved soldiers and officers were convicted and punished. Nobody was tortured in Cuba, and the truth is that Al-Qaeda detainees memorize chapters of jihad’s greatest encyclopedia, known as the Manchester Documents, which demand that they tell lies and fabricate stories about torture, justifying this for them in case of need or during interrogation; exploit lawyers and their legal representatives to pass those stories to the media; and create sympathy for them as a kind of pressure to secure their release. It should be mentioned that jihad’s greatest encyclopedia, which is known by American investigators as the “Manchester Documents” and by fundamentalists as “Military Studies in Jihad against Tyrants,” comprises 18 chapters. It was seized by British anti-terrorism police from the house of Abu-Anas al-Libi in Manchester, who is accused of bombing the two embassies in 1998. The encyclopedia includes details for militants about the use of explosives and making and using poisons. It also includes advice, such as lying to interrogators, and claiming that they have been subjected to torture. The last chapter of the encyclopedia is devoted to the way Al-Qaeda detainees should deal with investigators when captured.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) In most prisons, leaders appear among inmates. Does this apply to Guantanamo camp where Al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners are detained?
(Durant) In this camp, among the Al-Qaeda prisoners there are legal scholars, political officials, message bearers, physically strong men, security and intelligence officers, and militants. There are also leaders from Taliban and other members who are as important as Al-Qaeda figures, as well as others who came from the border tribal region.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is the prison population in the recently opened Sixth Camp? Is this camp devoted to detained Al-Qaeda leaders?
(Durant) The camp contains 222 cells, and it is heavily guarded. It now houses 178 detainees from Al-Qaeda, and I cannot reveal the identity of these prisoners.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) According to media reports, the number of prisoners on hunger strikes is increasing. What steps have you taken to deal with this?
(Durant) I must admit that the number of hunger strikers among prisoners has increased, but it is not common in Guantanamo. Among 395 detainees, there are 15 cases of hunger strike. The number of strikers during the last three months ranged between three and 20 cases. The camp witnessed the largest number of strikers for a short period in May 2006. The prisoner is regarded as going on hunger strike when he rejects nine consecutive meals. Prisoners are supplied with all halal food that is suitable for them. There are diet meals, meals for diabetics or those who want to lose weight, others for vegetarians, low-fat meals, and low-sodium meals. There are two prisoners who have been on hunger strike since last August, and they are tube-fed every now and then, and they are in a good state. A complete medical team from the joint task force supervises the condition of prisoners on hunger strike. As for the condition of the two prisoners on hunger strike since last August, their weight has increased by 20 pounds since before they started the hunger strike. Generally speaking, most prisoners have shown an average weight increase of around 19 pounds since their arrival at the camp. All prisoners enjoy excellent medical care, which is not available to them when they are captured in the battlefield.