Mention Guantanamo Bay and two things come to mind: A Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise and the detention camp for terrorist suspects.
Guantanamo Bay is a little piece of United States owned property on the island of Cuba. In the years following 9/11, it has become the center of controversy and a vast treasure trove of propaganda bits for anti-Bush groups and individuals. Detractors paint a portrait of constant prisoner abuse, beatings, torture, and dehumanizing conditions. Advocates claim that the detention center is nothing more than a modernized high security facility designed to house a specific type of prisoner; radical extremist Islamic terrorists. Administration and security of the facility is handled by Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
What are conditions like at Guantanamo that has so many people in an uproar about how bad that it is there? There have been riots, suicides and suicide attempts, and claims of extreme disrespect of the prisoners rights, to include a retracted article by Newsweek which charged that a copy of the Koran had been flushed down a toilet by a guard.
Critics and human rights advocates demand that the detainees be granted rights according to the tenets of the United States Constitution, a document clearly created as the foundation of law for citizens of the United States. This demand lies in conflict with the Bush administration, and indeed with the legal system itself, as the detainees in Guantanamo are not American citizens. The Bush administration would prefer that they be considered "enemy combatants" rather than "prisoners of war" as defined by the Geneva Conventions under Article 4.
Much of the controversy surrounding Guantanamo stems from a 2004 report by the International Red Cross on the conditions at the facility:
An ICRC inspection team that spent most of June at Guantanamo Bay reported the use of psychological and sometimes physical coercion on the prisoners, the newspaper (the New York Times) said.
It said it had recently obtained a memorandum that quoted the report in detail and listed its major findings.
In Geneva, the ICRC said it would neither confirm nor deny the New York Times report -- in which allegations of treatment tantamount to torture go further than what the neutral intermediary has publicly stated before about inmates held at Guantanamo.
But, in a statement, the Geneva-based ICRC said it remained concerned that "significant problems regarding conditions and treatment at Guantanamo Bay have not yet been adequately addressed," and it was pursuing talks with U.S. authorities.
Reactions from critics of the Bush administration, both at home and abroad, were immediate, calling for both the closure of Guantanamo and the impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.
But there are other reports that come out of Guantanamo, as well, that tell a different side of life in the facility; detainees forming teams and playing baseball, prayer rugs distributed to each detainee, regular prayer times being observed, and even a high demand for the Harry Potter books from the facility library:
The Harry Potter craze has reached the cells of Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay. The ripping tales of the boy wizard are said to be top of the request list for the prison's 520 al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects.
Lori, a contractor who runs the prison library, said the J K Rowling stories had beaten Agatha Christie into second place.
"We've got a few who are kind of hooked on it," she told the Washington Times. "A couple have asked if they can see the movie."
Still, life in the Guantanamo facility is far different than in other prisons. Toilet paper is rationed, bed sheets are issued nightly for sleep and collected the next morning in order to cut down on the number of suicide attempts by detainees, and their eating utensils are accounted for after every meal to ensure that none are turned into makeshift weapons. Television is available for detainees to watch preapproved programs, now, where they had once been allowed television only as a privilege for cooperating during interrogations. And some prisoners have been reported as gaining weight, with one detainee having doubled his weight from 215 lbs. at his arrival to 410 lbs. today. This stems from efforts by the Bush administration to improve the conditions of life at Guantanamo for the detainees:
There are certainly benefits to giving them outlets other than sitting in their cell or sitting in their recreation cell for hours at a time with nothing else to exercise their mind or think about other than their situation," Buzby said.
The easing of conditions marks a new course on discipline at Guantanamo, where the U.S. holds about 375 men on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
One thing is certain, no matter how much things are improved at Guantanamo, there will be controversy surrounding the facility. Some of the controversy, notably, is justifiable. The transformation and conversion of a facility built to handle Haitian refugees into a military prison in a short period of time was bound to be a situation that would be bereft with problems. Factor in the willingness of those who wish to blame George Bush for everything that goes wrong in the world (the infamous Bush Derangement Syndrome), the willingness of our enemies in this most recent war to engage in "lawfare" in our court systems, and the very literal conflict of cultures of East meets West, combine them into a detention facility called Gitmo, and thus is born a breeding ground for politics and propaganda wrangling.
Are there problems at Gitmo? Of course there are. There are problems with any maximum security prison anywhere in the world. The difference with Gitmo is that it was opened to house a group of individuals suspected of committing acts of terrorism. This is a different type of criminal than is found in other maximum security facilities, and there are nearly four hundred of them at Gitmo. Have there been violations of prisoners rights? More than likely. Again, that comes with the running of a prison. It should be noted, however, that in the entire time since detainees first arrived at the facility in 2004, no prisoner at Gitmo has been filmed being beheaded by their sword-wielding captors.
That in and of itself sets it apart from the treatment that the detainees at Gitmo have been receiving as compared to what westerners experience at the hands of capturing al-Qaeda and Taliban groups.
That, and one 410 lb detainee at Gitmo...
Once and Always, an American Fighting Man