I spent the evening with someone who recently came back from a visit to Guantanamo Bay.
The first thing he said was that the biggest health problem facing the detainees at Guantanamo is obesity. They are better fed, better cared for, and better treated than most have them have been at any time in their lives. Contrary to being the center of the torture universe, Guantanamo has very strict regulations that guide their actions. “It’s the carrot and the stick thing, and I have nothing but carrots,” said one of the guards. “I have no sticks.”
Many of the prisoners have been known to prepare something known as “the Cocktail.” The Cocktail is made up of whatever loathsome materials are accessible to these guys. Given their limited resources, that means whatever their own bodies can produce. The Cocktail consists of various parts blood, urine, feces, and semen. One of the female guards, on her first night on duty, was hit in the face with a Cocktail, which was thrown through the wire mesh laid over the bars of the cells. This guard went out, showered up, and went right back on duty to demonstrate her unwillingness to be intimidated.
New detainees are kept in isolation with nothing but a bare cell and a Koran. As they demonstrate their capacity to avoid trouble, they’re brought into contact with other prisoners and given extended privileges – more time outdoors, for instance. During interrogations, prisoners are seated in large, overstuffed chairs, with their ankles chained to the table so that they can’t lunge forward and injure the guards. The detainees begin by talking about how they were innocent goat herders who were gathered up by mistake. So the interrogators then begin talking about seemingly innocuous things, like their family and their hometowns. These conversations extend over periods of weeks and months, allowing the military to piece together details and use them in conversations with other inmates to leverage more information. It’s not that difficult to recognize the al-Qaeda hierarchy, as it manifests itself within Guantanamo in ways identical to how these people operated outside of Guantanamo. They operate according to the command structure within the Guantanamo walls.
Case in point: On one occasion, the guards were concerned that one of the detainees was blocking the surveillance camera in their cell. Someone was sent to investigate, and he ended up slipping on the floor in the cell on a sticky, smelly sea of Cocktail ingredients, after which he was battered within an inch of his life. The prisoners had unscrewed several long, fluorescent light bulbs over the course of several months, and they were using them as clubs to assault their captors. This operation took weeks, if not months, to plan in advance. The goal was not escape or even humiliation of the guards. It was to goad the Americans into finally killing one of the inmates, which would provoke an international incident. So far, the detainees have not been able to convince an American to execute one of them. It’s not for lack of trying.
The question remains unanswered: what do we do with these people? No prison in the United States wants them. Even Fort Leavenworth, the military detention center, has said it is not equipped to handle prisoners like this.
We can’t send them back to their own countries, either. Even the Amnesty International types recognize that Middle Eastern countries are far less forgiving than we are. If handed back to their home governments, these people will be genuinely tortured and killed, usually as part of the same gruesome process. If they’re released into the wild, so to speak, they return to their natural habitat. The number two al-Qaeda operative in Yemen was once a resident at Guantanamo Bay.
President Obama has decided to close Guantanamo. It will make all the Bush-bashers happy, but it creates more problems than it solves. It also puts American lives at risk.
This may prove to be the single most ill-advised decision he will make in his presidency.