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Guantánamo detention: How harsh is it?

President Obama must decide whether to embrace or change Bush's detention policies.

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Military officials disagree. The current conditions do not amount to solitary confinement or isolation, they say. "Severe isolation is a complete fabrication," camp commander Thomas says. "It is easy [for the detainees] to communicate."

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Detainees are permitted to talk with each other through their locked cell doors. In addition, if there are other detainees in the recreation area during their designated time for recreation, they can talk then, officials say. But lawyers say their clients are often alone in the recreation yard.

"They are not isolated," says the camp psychiatrist, who asked that she not be identified by name. "They can talk loudly, shout loudly to their neighbors next door."

She said that level of shouted communication is not possible at the supermax prison in Colorado. "There are no detainees I would consider isolated," she says. But she conceded: "That does not mean they could sit together [and talk]."

Prisoners shout their objections

Camp officials do not allow members of the media to speak with detainees. But during a tour of the Camp 5 recreation area, detainees noticed camp officials talking with two reporters who were taking notes.

One detainee began to shout. "Liar! Liar! Liar!" Another detainee on a wing on the other side of the recreation area joined in: "He is lying."

Within moments, at least eight bearded detainees were pressing their faces close to the thick glass in the narrow windows in their individual cells, shouting to the reporters. "He is lying. He is lying."

Soon a chant went up. "Liar. Liar. Liar."

The shouts continued until the reporters reentered the main building. Then the camp fell silent again.

The detention camp at Guantánamo is designed to confront detainees with a series of incentives and choices. They can comply with the rules and receive a few extra comfort items, longer recreation time, and the possibility of moving from a high security camp to a medium security camp.

In Camp 4, detainees live communally in bunk houses. They live together and eat together. There's a room open 20 hours a day with a satellite television tuned to a Saudi Arabian TV station. There are two movie rooms, and an open area where detainees can play soccer, volley ball, ping-pong, or basketball.

"This is the compliant camp," says Lt. Rick Baker, the officer in charge of Camp 4. "They don't want to leave this place [for another camp]," he says.

Perks for 'compliant' detainees

As he speaks, three detainees dressed in white sit and talk in the shade inside a fenced compound, while a fourth, jogs back and forth across the yard. When they see the reporters on a tour of their camp they do not start shouting. They simply continue their conversations and ignore the officials and reporters.

Nicholas Meyers of Minocqua, Wis., has been a guard in Camp 4 for four months. He says the demeanor of the camp is "generally upbeat."

"When I am interacting with a detainee I try to put myself in his situation and treat him like a man," says Petty Officer Meyers. "I think if I was held in a position such as them [at Camp 4], I think it is humane, fair."

Despite the incentive, not all detainees view compliance and cooperation as an option. Some are determined to continue to fight in whatever way they can. And that makes the job of the guards potentially dangerous.

"My goal is to make it as safe and humane as it can possibly be," says camp commander Thomas. "I'd have them all in Camp 4 if they would all comply with the camp rules."