National Geographic : 2005 Apr
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA "downtown" where soldiers go to shop, watch a movie, or eat at one of nine restaurants. A narrow ridge separates the main area from Camp Delta, a series of prisons facing the ocean. Nearby is Camp America, where the soldiers live in metal warehouses partitioned off with shower curtains into "hooches"-cubicles little bigger than a queen-size bed. Troops here say they are serving a role as important, if not as danger ous, as the one being played by soldiers in Iraq. Yet they describe life in Camp America as painfully dull. "It's like GroundhogDay-the same day over and over," says Sgt. 1st Class Steve Segin, a National Guardsman. Many seek diversion by scuba diving or tucking swatches of Astroturf into their golf bags so they can tee off on a grassless course. Guantanamo might not rate as a tourist spot, but it's proved the ideal place for keeping the detainees in legal limbo. Not wholly American, not wholly Cuban, the naval base operates under a lease that dates back to 1903. After Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, the U.S. military encir cled the base with a 17-mile fence topped with barbed wire and dotted with sentry towers and planted some 60,000 land mines. Today marines still speak lock-jawed so Cuban soldiers watching them through binoc ulars can't read their lips. One marine I met keeps a dog tag around his neck and another in his boots in case his lower body gets separated from his upper body.Yet such vigilance seems to be mostly habit. The U.S. dug up the minefield in the late 1990s, and Captain McCoy meets with his Cuban counterpart to discuss such banalities as joint fire drills. Now there is a new enemy. At Camp Delta detainees are sorted into different security levels. Under a reward system established in 2003, those who cooperate are transferred to a medium security facility where they wear white clothing instead of orange uniforms and share sleeping quarters and meals with other detainees. They may spend nine hours a day out side, play soccer and chess, and watch movies. The majority, however, lead a bleaker existence, housed in a maximum security facility and allowed only 30 minutes outside every other day. On a tour of this area, we walked through a cellblock reminiscent of a dog pound. In outdoor pens, one detainee kicked a soccer ball against the fence, another sat for im Bare essentials await a new arrival in a cell measuring eight feet by six feet eight inches: an orange uniform, flip flops, linens, toiletries, a prayer cap, prayer beads, and a copy of the Koran. When not in his cell or outside exercising, a detainee spends hours in an interrogation room responding to questions from the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon, or other agencies dealing with U.S. security. Interrogations begin with the detainee shackled to a bolt in the floor.