Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Asharq Al-Awsat – There is a big difference between the prison conditions of the fourth and fifth camps in the US naval base in Guantanamo, in which Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners
In the Fourth Camp, which Asharq Al Awsat visited accompanied by Commander Katie Hampf from Camp Delta, the group of detainees that we met looked like they were similar in age. All of the detainees are over 30-years old, with long beards, were sitting under wooden parasols to protect them from the burning sun, staring into the wide infinite space overlooking the azure waters of the Caribbean, remembering the past, and thinking about their families and children. They think about the days spent in Afghanistan when they lived in Wazir Akbar Khan, the most exclusive district of Kabul, and about Kandahar, in the proximity of Mullah Omar, the deposed leader of the Taliban. They think about what has brought them to Guantanamo, thousands of miles from their countries of origin.
There are strict instructions for journalists when they arrive at the airport in Leeward Island in Guantanamo. These instructions are set so as not to exploit the condition of detainees. The regulations of the camp stress the prohibition of any communication with the prisoners, or photographing their faces. Any violation of these rules would lead to deportation on the first aircraft leaving the island. Furthermore, the island’s security officials with their equipment check photographs taken by journalists every night, and they frequently request that certain photographs that violate the
privacy of the guards or prisoners or the security regulations of Guantanamo are deleted.
Today, there are twenty detainees imprisoned in the Fourth Camp. These prisoners could be described as the least cooperative with authorities in investigations, interrogations, and the respect for the camp regulations. The prisoners in the Fourth Camp live in small groups. The rooms and wards contain some ten beds, their doors are open most hours of the day, and they have close relations with each other. Inside every ward, there is a bathroom and a water closet. The prisoners of the Fourth Camp eat together, and can leave their wards several times throughout the day to other areas of the prison where there are notice boards with leaflets about the current work to reconstruct Afghanistan or on the war in Iraq. In front of their wards, there are football, basketball, and volleyball courts.
Captain Dan Bayer, the official in charge of information at Guantanamo, revealed to Asharq Al Awsat that the prisoners of the Fourth Camp had watched the three World Cup matches in which the Saudi team were playing. This was a valuable gift from the camp administration to some prisoners, as the administration prevents the rest of the detainees from having any newspapers, journals or watching television. In reply to a question posed by Asharq Al Awsat, Commander Katie Hampf said that the detainees, to some extent, were disappointed that the Saudi team lost in the first round of the World Cup tournament hosted by Germany last July.
Contrary to the prisoners in the other three camps, some of whom wear orange-color uniforms, the prisoners of the Fourth Camp wear white uniforms, “the color of purity in Islam,” explained some of the guards proudly.
Our attention was drawn to the fact that these prisoners had been allowed to have prayer mats, in addition to copies of the Quran, which were distributed to all prisoners after the hunger strike that characterized the first weeks of their arrival.
Commander Hampf emphasized the importance of the safety and security of the detainees, and of the continuation of gathering information from the prisoners. She pointed out that a small piece of information might help a great deal in the war on terror.
One of the strangest requests that Commander Hampf received from the Fourth Camp’s prisoners was for a football field with real grass and to play a friendly match against the guards, the latter of which Commander Hampf stated would be impossible.
Camp Iguana in Guantanamo looks as if it is hanging off a rocky beach overlooking the sea, and is surrounded by a metal fence for security reasons. There are three “enemy fighters” imprisoned in the Iguana Camp. We were told that they receive English language lessons, play football, and are on occasion allowed to watch videotapes. However, it was impossible to see them under any circumstances,or even to identify their nationalities.
Furthermore, there are three Saudi prisoners about to be deported to their country.
Camp Echo in Guantanamo is where lawyers meet their imprisoned clients. In Camp Echo, there are 36 Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. The Guantanamo Camp officials say, “We cannot impose on the privacy of the meetings held with lawyers and translators in the Echo Camp. They could sit there for hours. There are surveillance cameras inside the rooms in which the meetings take place, but there are no machines to record what is being said.” A US Army officer expressed his belief that lawyers were providing detainees with news on the outside world. The officer pointed out that Al Qaeda prisoners may be aware of the recent war in Lebanon because of their lawyers.
Some prisoners have asked to be transferred from the high-security Fifth Camp to the medium-security Fourth Camp. One of these prisoners is the Algerian Sufyan Barhoumi, alias Abu-Ubaydah, who is one of the ten prisoners officially charged with terrorism. Barhoumi, whom the US authorities consider a bomb maker, lost most of his left hand in a mine explosion in Afghanistan in 1999, and hence has difficulties using the washbasin and toilet in his cell in the Fifth Camp. Previously, Barhoumi was in the Fourth Camp with other cooperative prisoners.
One detainee, who was in the Fourth Camp and was transferred to the Fifth Camp, is the Canadian national Omar Khadr of Egyptian origin, the son of Al Qaeda’s financier and one of the ten prisoners officially charged who stood before the military courts.
The Fifth Camp is designed along the lines of high-security US institutions, in which detainees are kept for up to 23 hours a day in a single cell that does not see sunlight. Omar Khadr was 15-years old when he was arrested, and is charged with killing a US soldier during battle in Afghanistan.
In May 2006, a detainee tried to hang himself using a bed sheet in the room in which he was held with nine other detainees. However, the camp administration said that the attempted suicide was a trick to lure the guards. The guards entered the cell and found that the floor was wet with urine, excreta, and soapy water to make it slippery. The ten detainees attacked the guards from the Rapid Response Forces using parts of a fan and metal pieces. The detainees were in control for a few minutes and were able to throw soldiers to the floor; however the guards regained control and suppressed the uprising within a few minutes.
In the Fourth Camp, the detainees are given three daily meals compatible with the religious requirements. According to a less strict system, the detainee is granted a few hours every day for exercise and entertainment. Currently programs are being prepared to enlarge the communal living rooms, increase the exercise and entertainment opportunities, and form sports teams for football, volleyball, and table tennis.
The camp administration allows detainees to worship, as every detainee is given a copy of the Holy Quran in one of the following languages: Arabic, Dari, Pashto, Russian, or Persian. They also receive prayer beads, prayer mats, and other reading materials. The call to prayer is broadcast through the camp’s loudspeakers five times a day. After each call to prayer, twenty minutes are allocated without any interruption for prayer and the guards do their utmost during this period to prevent any disturbance or interruption. Allover the camp there are indicators for the direction of Qibla, towards which Muslims pray. There is reading material around the camp, and there are plans to increase the number of reading material in foreign languages.
The Guantanamo Camp administration states that there is excellent medical care in the camp through which the detainees obtain the same level of care as men and women of the US Armed Forces. It has been suggested that the medical efforts exerted by the US Medical Corps have saved the lives of dozens, even hundreds of detainees.
The detainees are allowed to send and receive mail. During six months between 2004 and 2005, over 14,000 letters and parcels were sent and received.
Every one of the 450 detainees currently in Guantanamo has had his status as a fighter revised by a special court. Due to this measure, it has been decided that 38 of the detainees do not satisfy the conditions of “enemy fighter,” and 29 of them have been released; the US Defense Department is working with the US State Department to release the remaining nine detainees.
The camp administration says: It is unfortunate that despite the promises of those released, some of them – at least 20 if not more – have returned to fighting. One of those, Abdullah Maqsud, claimed that he was a clerk and a driver for Taliban, and had denied any links to Al Qaeda. Maqsud said that he was forced to join the battalions of the Taliban, and that he did not receive any military training, or training to use weapons. After he was released, it became apparent that he was behind the orders given to an armed group to kidnap Chinese engineers. Another detainee, after being released, assassinated an Afghan judge. Many of the released detainees have been killed after returning to fighting.