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A look inside Guantanamo prison

Video by Nathan KING , Emmanuel SAINT-MARTIN

Latest update : 2008-12-12

Our correspondents got a rare look at the inside of Guantanamo prison, where they visited Camp 4, a facility for its less difficult detainees. Despite the prison's imminent closure, the US Army continues to allow journalists in.

We are only allowed to film the watchtowers while accompanied by a guard who can open the many locks that abound. Recording images is strictly forbidden; surveillance cameras are equally off-limits. Do not even think of filming the splendid coastline that surrounds the American base, as that would make it possible to locate the structure.

A guided tour of the detention camp brings with it a long list of prohibitions. Before arriving at the base, journalists must agree to subject themselves to military censorship; then, on the spot, any recorded image must be approved before broadcast. The rules are strict and the logic not always clear, but they are followed without hesitation. One suspects that there is no question of hoping to approach a prisoner. We are authorised to film them, provided their faces are hidden – officially, this is for the protection of the prisoners.

Our visit is guided by Jeff Hayhurst, a deputy of the detention centre’s commander and a true naval officer with an obvious objective: to show the media that the prisoners are well treated. The official terminology is “detainees,” and one is corrected each time another term is used: Guantanamo is not a prison, it is “a detention camp for enemy combatants.”

Drawing, one of the few authorised activities
We begin our visit at Camp Delta, the first enclosure built after the arrival of the first prisoners in 2002. The hospital is located here – the prisoners benefit from better medical monitoring than many Americans, our guardian angel tells us – as is the library and Camp IV, the part of the prison set aside for the most obedient detainees. They live in communal cells and are authorised to come and go as they wish within the confines of the camp.

These are the prisoners that can be seen in our report. We cannot approach them but they do not run from the cameras. There about 60 people in these bungalows, designed in 2003 to house 175. In the empty buildings, classes have been established for volunteers: Arabic courses to begin with, then more recently English, which was initially prohibited by successive commanders of the camp who were afraid that English-speaking detainees would be able to spy on their guards. This week brought an innovation that Hayhurst is particularly proud of: art courses. Several detainees have apparently developed a pronounced taste for drawing, one of the rare authorised activities.

For the past few months detainees have also had access to the press: USA Today in English, Al-Ahram (Egypt) and a Saudi daily newspaper. Since the prisoners are in frequent contact with their lawyers following a decision by the US Supreme Court, previous restrictions on access to information have become pointless.

‘Organics’ thrown in the guards’ faces

While all of the prisoners have benefited from the addition of the daily newspapers, the majority still live in individual cells and are allowed only a few hours of “recreation” within wire mesh enclosures. We are inside Camp V and Camp VI. Here, there are almost daily incidents, Hayhurst says. When delivering meals, for example, detainees will try to throw liquid mixtures containing “organics” in the guards’ faces. As a result, the guards are now equipped with protective visors, standard anti-riot equipment.

The two buildings are brand new, built on the model of US detention centres, and cost more than $60 million. Camp VI was supposed to be moderate security but was transformed, after construction, into a high-security building. In particular, communal spaces were done away with because the prisoners are too dangerous, Hayhurst says.

The tour ends there. For some months it has been known that a Camp VII also exists on the base, reserved for “high-value” prisoners, in particular five who are believed to have conceived and organised the attacks of 11 September, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The prison administration for a long time denied the existence of this camp, which shelters only some 15 detainees. Officials now affirm that the camp exists but refuse to say more. Even its location on the base remains secret. When detainee lawyers are authorised to make rare visits with their clients, they are brought there aboard vehicles with blacked-out windows. To date, our requests for a tour have remained unanswered.

Date created : 2008-12-11