Prison tilts to hard time for hard-liners
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – Looking through the narrow windows in the doors of their 7-foot-by-12-foot steel-and-concrete cells, detainees at the new Camp 6 of the Guantanamo prison complex will see metal tables and stools in a common room.When the prison was designed two years ago, the communal area was intended to bring detainees together for meals, games and conversation, a place where they could mingle with brothers in faith, language and customs.But virtually all time at Guantanamo has become hard time, and when the $38 million building begins taking in prisoners in the next few weeks, the common rooms will be off limits.A May 18 riot in which dozens of detainees attacked U.S. soldiers, the suicide of three prisoners in June, and changes in the camp population – including the arrival of 14 “high value detainees” – have transformed the camp into amaximum-security facility.The first new arrivals in two years – the “high value” group including Sept. 11 plotters Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh – were flown in from secret CIA prisons abroad over Labor Day weekend. But dozens have left in recent months, too, having been cleared by annual review boards for release or transfer to their native countries.Negotiations also are under way between the State Department and foreign governments on the possible group repatriations of 300-plus Afghans, Saudis and Yemenis — if Washington can obtain sufficient assurances that the men will neither be tortured nor freed to threaten U.S. or allied forces.The 100 or so expected to remain once the transfers are completed will be the more hard-core and combative figures with little hope of release or reward for good behavior, according to military jailers.In addition to the incidents in May and June, officials discovered that prisoners with good behavior records had been dismantling their faucets to fashion weapons. That prompted military jailers to reconsider whether prisoners should be allowed to interact.”We had to think about whether there is such a thing as a medium-security terrorist,” said Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris, commander of the prison and interrogation network that houses 460 war-on-terror suspects.Col. Wade Dennis, who as commander of the Joint Detention Group is effectively Guantanamo warden, echoed Harris’ concern that while the majority of detainees cooperated with camp rules, the recent violence suggested they had been hiding their true nature.”Detainees have already demonstrated they have the will and the thought processes to do self-harm and I facilitate that if I let them live in a communal-type environment,” said Dennis.Shortly after the suicides, the prison commanders decided to scrap the medium-security comforts and will keep inmates isolated behind steel doors for all but an hour or two of daily exercise time.”Meals will be served in their cells,” said Cmdr. Kris Winter, head of the Naval Expeditionary Guard Force staffing the prisons.Since the discovery of the vandalized faucets, Camp 1 has been emptied and its seemingly compliant detainees moved to temporary metal-mesh cells pending repairs or relocation to Camp 6, expected to be fully populated by the end of the year.Camp 4, which held about 175 prisoners before the riot, is a barracks-like compound where detainees slept 10 to a room, ate together and were free to congregate for as much as 14 hours daily. It has been cleared of all but about 30 Afghans who didn’t take part in the uprising — the only detainees not currently confined to solitary cells.Harris and Dennis say they will invoke tougher screening before any prisoners are allowed back into communal living. In addition to mothballing the tables, lockers and leg-stretching spaces in the new camp, the Navy’s construction battalion, or SeaBees, and the prison’s Kellogg-Brown-Root contractors have erected chain-link partitions to make 10-foot-by-30-foot exercise pens in what was designed as an open sports court.Other retrofitting has included shower doors that will prevent detainees from communicating, said Lt. Cmdr. Eileen d’Andrea, who was in charge of the prison’s construction and 11th-hour revisions.An expanded guard force also will be needed to provide the manpower to shackle and escort each prisoner every time he needs to leave his cell, said Lt. Col. Mike Nicolucci, Dennis’ deputy.The hardening of Guantanamo detention dispirits the detainees and their lawyers, who see it as part of U.S. political posturing in an election year to look tough on terror.”They’ve set this up as a showcase and they feel they can’t back down from it,” Marine Maj. Michael Mori, who represents Australian prisoner David Hicks, said of the Bush administration’s detention operations at Guantanamo. “Every day in Iraq and Afghanistan they let people go who they know are far more dangerous than these guys.'”
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