Guantánamo detention: How harsh is it?
President Obama must decide whether to embrace or change Bush's detention policies.
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On Jan. 22, on his second day in office, Mr. Obama ordered the Guantánamo detention camp closed within a year. He also ordered the defense secretary to conduct an immediate review of conditions at the camps to ensure full compliance with "all applicable laws ... including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions."Skip to next paragraph
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The order says "any necessary corrections shall be implemented immediately thereafter."
Underscoring the importance of the presidential order, Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked the Navy's second ranking officer, Adm. Patrick Walsh, the vice chief of naval operations, to lead a team to determine whether detainees are being treated humanely. That report is expected within days.
Camp Commander Thomas said the review team was granted "free and unfettered access" to the detention operation. He said he did not know what the report might say. "We're focused on taking care of these guys and will let the policy makers decide policy," says Cmdr. Pauline Storum, the camp spokeswoman.
The most criticized detention facilities at Guantánamo are Camps 5 and 6. Camp 5 was built on the design of a maximum security prison. The $16 million two-story concrete structure can house up to 100 prisoners. Each detainee lives alone in a 12- by 8-foot cell. The cell features a narrow window in the outer wall and another slit window in the door. The thick metal door also has an opening with its own door to allow guards to pass food trays into the cell.
Military officials say the maximum security features are necessary to safely handle what they call "very noncompliant detainees."
A Camp 5 officer noted: "These are your feces throwers, the guys who are going to assault you with saliva."
Lawyers with clients in Camp 5 say the camp resembles a maximum security prison in permanent lockdown. They say that forcing detainees to endure prolonged periods of isolation in their cells can trigger psychological deterioration that will guarantee even greater noncompliance in the future.
Adjacent to Camp 5 is Camp 6, a $36 million two-story concrete structure opened in 2006. The cells in Camp 6 are oriented inward, toward the center of the facility. There are no windows other than a small window in the steel door to permit guards to perform checks.
As at Camp 5, many detainees spend 18 to 20 hours every day alone in their cells. Lawyers say their clients are being kept under punishing conditions of isolation. They say such treatment is particularly inappropriate because their clients have never been convicted of a crime, and most detainees at Guantánamo have never been charged with a crime. They are being held because the military has designated them enemy combatants.
Isolation is a sensitive subject. It is banned in the Army Field Manual as a potential form of torture.
"To the extent that they can actually speak to someone, the military is trying to place every obstacle in their way to prevent that," says Ramzi Kassem, a Yale Law School lecturer and lawyer for several detainees. Mr. Kassem visited his clients at the detention camp last week.
"They may be able to communicate with one another by screaming under the solid metal door so maybe the guy in the cell across the walkway will hear them," he says. "But they are still in their cells 22 hours a day in conditions that are worse than what you would find in the supermax [federal] prison in Florence, Colo."