Miss Universe had a 'lot of fun' in Guantanamo

A "relaxing, calm, beautiful place" may not be everyone's description of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States holds about 240 prisoners in a detention centre that has drawn condemnation from around the world.

But this was the opinion of reigning Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela, who visited the US naval facility in eastern Cuba this month on a trip organised by the United Service Organisations (USO) which supports US troops.

The Guantanamo Bay base, whose presence Cuba's government has contested as illegal for years, is used by US authorities as a prison camp for foreign terrorism suspects. Critics have condemned it as a symbol of abuses in Washington's war on terrorism launched after the 11 September, 2001 attacks.

Caracas-born Mendoza, 22, who visited the facility between 20-25 March along with Miss USA Crystle Stewart, 27, enthused about her Guantanamo trip as an "incredible experience" in a blog entry posted on the Miss Universe website dated 27 March 27, 2009 (www.missuniverse.com/missuniverse/blog.php).

"It was a loooot of fun!," Mendoza wrote, describing how she and Stewart met US military personnel and took rides around the camp, which is encircled by a barbed-wire fenced, minefields and watchtowers. She said they also visited a bar on the base and the "unbelievable" beach there.

"We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the(y) recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting," she wrote.

"I didn't want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful," she added.

Former detainees and human rights groups have alleged the use of torture, including "waterboarding" (simulated drowning) and other physical abuses, at the Guantanamo prison.

Britain announced last week it would investigate whether members of its secret services were complicit in the torture of a British resident released from Guantanamo Bay last month.

Spanish prosecutors may decide this week whether to start an investigation of six former officials from George W Bush's administration in connection with the torture of Guantanamo detainees.

In one of his first acts in office, US President Barack Obama has set a one-year deadline for shutting the prison.

The Pentagon said last month it had received renewed reports of prisoner abuse during a recent review of conditions at Guantanamo, but had concluded that all prisoners were being kept in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Recounting her "memorable" trip, Mendoza, who was crowned Miss Universe 2008 in Vietnam, said: "We also met the military dogs, and they did a very nice demonstration of their skills. All the guys from the Army were amazing with us."

Before the visit, USO had announced Mendoza and Stewart were being "deployed" to Guantanamo on an entertainment tour to visit US troops abroad to "boost morale."