Grim maze of razor wire, and some humane efforts
US officials insist the 300 detainees at Camp X-Ray are being treated decently
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA
The view from Camp X-Ray is anything but inspiring.Skip to next paragraph
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Looking due east through multiple layers of chain-link fence and coils of gleaming razor wire, suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters can clearly see a large white sign in Arabic about 15 feet above the ground. It signals the correct direction to pray. But it's about as close to Mecca as most of them are likely to be in a long, long time.
Beside the sign is a US marine sniper in a watchtower. Beyond the tower are the parched and heavily mined hills of Communist Cuba.
As if the physical circumstances of their confinement weren't grim enough, lingering uncertainty about their future has left many of the 300 detainees from Afghanistan with a mounting sense of hopelessness, according to camp officials.
Will they be treated as prisoners of war or mass murderers? Will they be set free, sent home to face trial, or held indefinitely? The Bush administration has yet to decide.
But as Camp X-Ray begins its third month of operation as a wartime detention facility on this hot and dusty US base in southeastern Cuba, camp officials insist that they are providing humane treatment and services to the detainees in accord with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions.
Some human rights activists concede that while US treatment of the captured men has been anything but a model of hospitality, it does not appear to involve systematic abuse or torture.
The US response to a nearly two-week hunger strike has been to administer intravenous nutrient solutions to prevent the three captives who have refused to eat since March 1 from dying of dehydration. In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross is permitted open access to the camp to accept and investigate prisoner complaints.
While there have been some incidents involving verbal or other threats against guards, none has resulted in physical injury to anyone, camp officials say.
They emphasize that detainees are receiving the same level of medical care as US service members. That the detainees are offered three Islamic-approved meals a day and are able to practice their religion without hindrance.
"What we are doing here we feel is morally and ethically the right thing to do," says Marine Maj. Stephen Cox. At the same time, he makes no apologies for the deliberate harshness of the eight-foot-by-eight-foot chain-link cages the men reside in. Some observers have described the cells as dog pens for people.
"Humane but not comfortable," is how Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert describes his approach to running the camp.
Living conditions are set to improve soon with construction of a more permanent detention facility that may eventually house up to 2,000 detainees.
At issue for human rights activists is whether any aspect of the camp's approach is designed to be punitive rather than merely functional. How the United States treats the men is important, they say, because it could dictate what happens in a future conflict.
"We may face a situation with US service members being captured somewhere down the road, and we would want [humane] standards," says Allister Hodgett of Amnesty International.