Life in camp: art class for some, solitary confinement for others

A sign above the main gates of Guantanamo's prison camps warns visiting members of the public not to wear "bright orange clothing".

The open steel cages and shackles of Camp X-Ray may have been consigned to history but visitors to the replacement detention camps at the US naval base in Cuba are reminded that the US Government can turn back the clock at a moment's notice.

The orange jumpsuit, which has become synonymous with torture and extraordinary rendition, remains part of the colour-coded uniform for the detainees and is reserved for the hardline men of Guantanamo who refuse to comply with the rules.

A media spokesman for Guantanamo explains: "You don't want to be mistaken for a detainee who might be wearing orange, that's for sure."

Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson, the 10th commander of the prison camps, acknowledges that there are a small number of detainees who are held in much tougher conditions in different prisons around the bay.

Some of these detainees protest at their treatment by taking part in hunger strikes and their lawyers still complain they are not given proper access to these clients.

Admiral Harbeson says that while relations between camp commanders and inmates have improved in the last two years, there are still regular assaults on his guards. "We had a recent incident where a detainee threw a bag of faeces on troopers. The man and woman did not do anything, maintained the highest standards and they went right back on the watch. That's remarkable to take that type of abuse."

There are seven prison camps at Guantanamo Bay, each built close to the shore of the clear blue waters of the Caribbean. The detainees can hear the sea but they can never see it.

Those prisoners who continue to resist the authority of Admiral Harbeson and his prison commanders are placed in maximum security camps numbered one, two, three and five. Camp seven is reserved for the most "high value" detainees who still pose a risk to security or are believed to be withholding intelligence. The whereabouts of this camp is unknown.

Of the regime Admiral Harbeson says: "There are camp rules and there are those who choose not to comply with those rules. There are some who choose by their behaviour where they want to live. So do we have some issues with assaults on the guards. We have some of that, yes."

For the worst types of security breaches, the Guantanamo camp retains a guards unit known as the Emergency Reaction Force. These are baton-armed soldiers and sailors heavily kitted out in body armour who charge into a cell to quell a detainee's resistance. In the past, the Emergency Reaction Force teams have been accused of taking part in savage beatings and pepper-spraying incidents.

Nevertheless, the man in charge of Guantnamo's Joint Task Force says that the majority of the 176 held at Guantanamo are "highly compliant" and live in a communal environment at peace with their guards. They associate in communal conditions in camps four and six, collectively known as Camp Delta.

Here they live in open barracks freely mixing with each other. They enjoy up to 20 hours of free association where they can take part in a range of recreational activities including basketball and football.

Privileges include television (even Al Jazeera), art classes, access to the library and a wide range of meal options.

Admiral Harbeson says that one of the most popular privileges this year was the screening of the world cup in South Africa. For reasons of cultural sensitivity it was not shown live.

"It was extremely popular, we taped it and then showed it to them. We wanted to scrub it for anything offensive to any religions," the admiral explains.

"In camp four, we allowed them to play soccer between the two barracks in the soccer field. They were playing soccer themselves and that got a bit old, so we offered them a competition."

Even more popular than football is the 24-hour television programme showing instructions in the Koran.

And it is the pious pursuit of tenets of Islam which dominates life inside the communal camps. The detainees are allowed to organise their own prayers, which are called five times a day.

This recognition of the religious sensitivities of the inmates includes the censorship of magazines and newspapers which are distributed among the detainees. It means that the guards have to use marker pens to black out women's faces before they reach the camps and are read by the inmates.

Given the history of abuse associated with Camp X-Ray – the torture and waterboarding of so called "high-value" detainees including the most famous inmate of all, Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, the 11 September architect – the US Government's effort to present Guantanamo as a humane penal institution will remain a very hard sell.

Profile: The admiral in charge of the notorious camp

The Guantanamo commander:

The good news is we are promoting you from Captain to Admiral. The bad news is we are sending you to Guantamao Bay to take charge of the prison camps...

One can imagine the conversation between the US military high command and Jeffrey Harbeson just before he became the tenth commander of the most notorious prison camp in the world.

Admiral Harbeson, formerly the US Navy’s deputy director of Surface Warfare for Combat Systems, has signed up for the year-long posting. Given the Obama administration’s lack of progress in closing the camps, the admiral is expected to serve his time in full.

The 54-year-old former graduate of the University of Maryland was selected for a Federal Executive Fellowship and studied at the George Washington University before serving as special assistant to the vice-chief of naval operations.

At Guantanamo the admiral is in charge of 2,000 military servicemen and service women, a half of whom are directly involved in guarding the 176 detainess who remain in US custody. Some of his staff volunteered for the posting but the majority were ordered to Guantanamo by the US navy. Guantanamo Bay can be a lonely posting and Admiral Harbeson says the navy devote a great of resources to cobatting stress and depression. The admiral does his bit to boost morale by walking round the camps at least once a day.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)