GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA -- The guys in the orange jump suits
get nervous when Specialist Amelia Bailey comes around.
Many are prisoners from the war in Afghanistan, where women wear the all-concealing
burqa and until recently were banned from paid work. Specialist Bailey,
on the other hand, is a woman with smooth skin, intense black eyes, a job as prison
guard and enormous power over them.
"Most of them don't speak to me because I am female," the 22-year-old
military policewoman says with a drawl you could spread on toast. "Most of
them, if they do speak to me, they don't look at me. Nine times out of 10 they'll
cover their faces so they can't actually see me."
Covering their faces in front of a female guard is one of the few options
enjoyed by the 598 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Inside its metal-mesh prison camp,
named Camp Delta and surrounded by fences and razor wire, suspected members of
the al-Qaeda terror network and Afghanistan's former Taliban regime are housed
and periodically interrogated. But not within the limits of U.S. law.
U.S. Marines escort a detainee prior to questioning at Camp X-Ray in this February
10, 2002 file photo at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Although Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is controlled by the United States, it remains
Cuban territory. That means no judicial scrutiny of the captives' treatment because
of the Bush administration's decision to deny them many of the privileges accorded
to prisoners of war. It also means a historic challenge to the United States,
a nation founded on the principles of individual liberty and checks on executive
Much more than a military outpost (and a minor one at that), Guantanamo Bay
has become a symbol of a deepening post-Sept. 11 struggle over U.S. justice. A
government that claims extraordinary powers to fight an extraordinary war has
thrown a shroud of secrecy over its roundup of suspected terrorists abroad and
at home. It refuses to say whom it is holding in connection with the Sept. 11
attacks at Guantanamo Bay or in prisons across the United States.
It has jailed more than 1,000 people and deported on minor immigration violations
hundreds of people with no connection to terrorism. It has moved aggressively
to thwart judicial and congressional scrutiny of its actions.
But opposition is growing from judges, lawmakers in Congress and civil libertarians
who ask why cherished principles of transparency in U.S. justice must be flouted
in the name of defending freedom.
"The notion that this is antithetical to what this country is all about
is finally starting to penetrate," says Jane Kirtley, a professor of journalism
and law at the University of Minnesota.
In a landmark ruling last week, a federal appeal court in Cincinnati said the
government broke the law when it ordered secret deportation hearings for hundreds
of immigrants rounded up after Sept. 11.
"The executive branch seeks to uproot people's lives, outside the public
eye and behind a closed door," Judge Damon Keith wrote in the unanimous judgment.
"Democracies die behind closed doors."
Other rulings, still under appeal, say the government must release the names
of prisoners held in the United States and suspected of terrorist links. But the
rulings do not apply to Guantanamo Bay, a 116-square-kilometre territory seized
by the United States a century ago and held under a lease arrangement.
Reporters touring the base are driven to Camp Delta under military escort,
past arid, cactus-dotted hills that slope down to the Caribbean Sea, but they
are not allowed to come within 200 metres of the prison or steal more than a glance
at the prisoners behind its fences.
Camp Delta holds inmates from 43 countries, all men, and all but a handful
are Muslims. Officials say little else about them.
"We're trying to prevent future guests, if you will, from understanding
what's happening down here," says Lieutenant-Colonel Dennis Fink, spokesman
for Joint Task Force 170, the interrogation unit that periodically grills the
Guantanamo prisoners about Sept. 11 and other terrorist activities.
"We don't want them to know what the process is about so they can prepare
and train. We don't want them to know what we know and what we don't know. We
don't want them to know who's here. All these factors will only contribute to
Pictures of the first shackled captives arriving at Guantanamo in January sparked
worldwide condemnation. They were housed farther inland in chain-link cages at
a site known as Camp X-Ray.
Stung by the criticism, military spokesmen are at pains to describe Camp Delta
as more humane. Conditions are undoubtedly better than they would be in an Afghan
or Pakistani jail.
But independent verification is not allowed. And something has led four to
30 prisoners -- depending on which military officer is telling the story -- to
attempt suicide by hanging or wounding themselves.
Cells at Camp Delta measure two metres by 2.4 metres and are 2.4 metres high,
spokesmen say. Each has a metal bed frame, sink and flush toilet. Meals conform
to Islamic specifications; arrows stencilled onto the beds indicate the direction
for Muslim prayers.
Inmates are allowed a shower and 15 minutes of exercise twice a week. They
spend much of the day sleeping, says Sergeant B.J. Buehler, 23, one of about 1,000
If the inmates were considered prisoners of war, they would be entitled to
organize their own group activities, maintain their rank structure and be housed
in conditions similar to those of their captors. According to some interpretations,
they could not be compelled to give more than name, rank, serial number and date
If they were sitting in a U.S. jail awaiting trial on criminal offences, they
would have access to lawyers, regular visiting hours and considerably more exercise.
But in February, U.S. President George W. Bush said the United States does
not consider the captives prisoners of war. His rationale, in part, is that they
are terrorists rather than members of a military fighting unit.
Brigadier-General Rick Baccus, commander of the prison-guard unit at Guantanamo,
says "some sections" of the 1949 Geneva Convention on prisoners of war
are being applied to the inmates. He lists food and shelter, medical treatment
and freedom of religion.
When asked who decides when to follow the conventions and when to ignore them,
he replied, "That has been directed by the Secretary of Defence."
But the Geneva Convention says a "competent tribunal" should decide
the status of detainees if there is doubt as to whether they are prisoners of
war. The idea of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as sole arbiter does not sit
well with Michael Byers, a professor of international law at Duke University in
"It's a blatant violation. . . ," he says. "There's quite clearly
a disagreement and uncertainty about their status, so quite clearly international
law demands a tribunal. It can be a U.S. military tribunal, but it can't be the
Secretary of Defence."
Al-Qaeda members may not qualify as prisoners of war, says Tom Malinowski,
Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group. But even
then, he asked, are not they suspects in a criminal investigation? In which case,
should not the government have to prove it has reasonable grounds for holding
them, and should not the captives be entitled to legal representation?
"It's not an army," he says. "It's a transnational terrorist network.
. . . At what point does this war begin to resemble a law-enforcement operation?
At what point do the Geneva Conventions no longer apply, and you have to apply
domestic human-rights principles?"
Similar arguments were made in a U.S. court in the spring by lawyers for 12
Kuwaitis, two Britons and an Australian who are among the prisoners. But last
month, the judge in the case ruled that Guantanamo is beyond the reach of U.S.
Guantanamo Bay is not the only corral in Mr. Bush's terrorist roundup. About
2,500 kilometres north of Cuba, in western New York State, is a graveyard of immigrant
dreams called the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility, where several prisoners
suspected of links to Sept. 11 have been held.
The jail, at the end of a short road past a cornfield and a Comfort Inn, normally
holds immigrants under threat of deportation, and prisoners whose cases are at
various stages in the criminal courts. Under a bright blue sky, the razor wire
surrounding its open yard gleams as though it has been polished.
Inside, the smell of white paint lingers in the visiting area. Speaking by
telephone across thick glass panes, Ansar Mahmood told a story of bad fortune
and hopes betrayed.
Mr. Mahmood, a slender 25-year-old with a captivating grin, has been in jail
since January. He is a legal immigrant with no known connection to terrorism.
Had the Sept. 11 attacks not taken place, he still probably would be a likable
Domino's Pizza delivery guy in Hudson, N.Y., sending $400 to his family in Pakistan
every month. His love affair with the United States began well. A university graduate,
he applied for a U.S. visa and was chosen under a lottery system in 1999. He arrived
the next year and was immediately impressed. "I felt freedom here," he
says. "Nobody asked me: 'You are Pakistani; why did you come here?' "
His problems began on Oct. 9. He had been taking snapshots to send to his family,
and a pizza customer had told him about a scenic view of the Catskill Mountains.
When he reached the site, he saw two security guards and asked one to take his
The man obliged. But what Mr. Mahmood did not know was that the guards were
there because of heightened vigilance at a nearby water-treatment plant. A call
was made, and later that evening, the police showed up at Domino's.
Mr. Mahmood quickly was cleared of terrorist links. But in checking him, authorities
found he had co-signed a lease for his best friend's brother-in-law. That man
was in the country illegally, and helping such a person obtain housing is a criminal
Mr. Mahmood says he did not know his friend was in the United States illegally,
but he signed a statement admitting guilt on the advice of his boss. People accused
of violating immigration laws are not entitled automatically to legal aid, and
Mr. Mahmood says he did not consult a lawyer first.
After pleading guilty to harbouring an illegal immigrant, Mr. Mahmood was ordered
deported. He has a lawyer who is fighting the deportation and challenging a directive
ordering mandatory detention for deportees. Civil-liberties advocates say the
U.S. Justice Department deliberately used immigration law to question suspected
terrorists without having to provide legal aid or persuade a court it had grounds
to hold them.
"The rights of these people have been violated because they were suspects
in a criminal investigation," says Human Rights Watch researcher Cesar Munoz.
In normal times, even immigrants who overstay their visas often escape deportation
because no one has the time or money to embark on a massive search for them. It
became harder for them after Sept. 11 -- particularly for Muslim or Middle Eastern
immigrants, says Sophie Feal, a Buffalo immigration lawyer. Sightseeing at Niagara
Falls was one of the riskier activities such a person could engage in, she added.
"The [Immigration and Naturalization Service] and law enforcement were
watching. They'd see two Arab men in a car, and right away there would be 10 of
them with guns drawn."
Prisoners have complained of beatings and harsh treatment, especially in the
maximum-security unit at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. But
Mr. Mahmood says he has been treated well, adding that authorities were not wrong
to question him.
"They're doing their job," he says. "If you see someone taking
pictures at a water-treatment plant -- he's young, he's from Pakistan, he looks
Muslim -- in my country they would do the same thing. But [what happened] after,
that is not right, because I'm not dangerous to the community."
The government has won some court decisions on post-Sept. 11 practices. A judge
in Chicago ruled that the government was within its rights to hold people indefinitely
as material witnesses in connection with the terrorist attacks, without identifying
But Gladys Kessler, a federal judge in Washington, ruled in June the government
is wrong to withhold identities of the prisoners.
"Secret arrests are a concept odious to a democratic society," she
wrote. The government is appealing her decision.
Justice Department officials defend the secrecy by saying they do not want
to provide a "road map" to their investigations. They may go further.
In a development that alarmed some, the Wall Street Journal said last month that
authorities plan to expand the practice of designating U.S. citizens as enemy
combatants, thus exempting them from civilian justice. Two jailed citizens, Jose
Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, have received that designation and are challenging it
in the courts.
As for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, how much they know and whether any court
would convict them of anything is an open question. The Bush administration said
last fall that it would set up special military tribunals to try terrorism-related
cases but has not done so.
Most of the prisoners have been here for months and are unlikely to know much
about what Osama bin Laden is up to. His most senior associates probably are not
here. There are reports that a key lieutenant, Abu Zubaydah, is being held at
Diego Garcia -- a British-owned island in the Indian Ocean also used as a U.S.
But no one outside the U.S. military knows, nor will they any time soon. As
long as the war on terror continues, the identities and locations of prisoners,
their alleged wrongdoings and their rights, if any, seem to remain as distant
as the tiny cells at Camp Delta.
The interrogations at Guantanamo Bay are "having results," Lt.-Col.
Fink says, noting that criminals sometimes reveal details of their crimes years
after their convictions.
"There's no timeline," he says. "Our mission is to interrogate
and extract information that will assist in a global war on terrorism. How long
we'll do that? We'll continue to do that until we're told to stop."
Change of venue
After criticism of the harsh conditions at Camp X-Ray, Taliban and al-Qaeda
prisoners have been moved to Camp Delta, a larger facility designed to be more
New living arrangements
While the open air cells are roughly the same size as those in Camp X-Ray,
there are a few differences in the accommodations at Camp Delta:
- Walls are made of a heavy metal mesh, and the back wall (serving as the exterior
wall of the blockhouse) is solid metal with a window.
- Each cell has a raised metal bed frame, a floor style toilet, and a sink with
running water set low to the ground to accommodate religious foot washing.
- Prisoners are given a fluorescent orange jump suit, sandals, canteen, a sleeping
mat, two blankets and a sheet, a copy of the Koran and prayer cap, two towels
(one to serve as a prayer mat), a facecloth and toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste
- Meals conform to Islamic specifications, and arrows are painted on each bed
to indicate the proper direction for Muslim prayers.
- Twice a week, the prisoners are allowed 15 minutes of exercise and a shower.
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