Inside the Most Secret Place at Guantánamo Bay

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This article was developed in partnership with the Pulitzer Middle on Crisis Reporting.

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — For many years, starting up from the time they ended up held and interrogated by the C.I.A. just after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the prisoners put in their times and nights in isolation, each individual gentleman locked by yourself in a cell, at times engulfed in darkness and white noise.

For the duration of the interval they have been held in the C.I.A.’s network of magic formula prisons, they would get reliable foods if they happy their American captors, liquids if they did not and a mock health-related treatment referred to as “rectal feeding” if they refused their rations.

Later on, at the time they arrived at Guantánamo Bay and were being placed in the base’s most clandestine of lockups, called Camp 7, they had been stored in isolation most of the working day. When they were permitted out of their cells, guards would take them in shackles and chains so shorter they could only shuffle.

Times have adjusted. Now the navy makes it possible for the 14 former C.I.A. prisoners to wander unencumbered from their cells in two independent blocks, identified as Alpha and Bravo, to enclosed open up-air, recreation pens. There, they can pray and share meals collectively, in teams of six or 8. Some prisoners on Bravo block have fashioned a Ping-Pong desk.

Just about every block has a cell that the military services has transformed into a communal pantry with a refrigerator, microwave and spices for food preparations. With permission from the prison final calendar year, a Maritime attorney donated a $50 leg of lamb to the prisoners, who figured out how to roast it in the microwave.

Camp 7, which residences Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001 assaults, is by much the most mysterious prison at Guantánamo. Each its locale and price tag are classified. Attorneys who received courtroom orders to see the jail have been transported there in windowless vans.

A succession of commanders have sought funding from Congress to substitute it, describing the construction as deteriorating and perhaps hazardous for the guard drive.

In the previous two yrs, in accordance to war court docket testimony and people today familiar with the prison, the armed forces has eased the situations of confinement of Guantánamo’s significant-price detainees, six of whom await loss of life-penalty trials. It is a high-quality-of-existence improvement for them that has also minimized the workload of the guards at a time when the army is lowering the amount of troops assigned to detention operations at Guantánamo.

Now the troops monitor the prisoners by cameras and other surveillance during 20 hours a working day of what the warden, Col. Steven G. Yamashita, has explained as “a communal dwelling arrangement” that is starkly various than their several years of isolation and indignity in C.I.A. detention.

“They are totally free to transfer about most of the day” within just the confines of their block, Colonel Yamashita testified at the war courtroom very last 12 months. He explained he instituted the improve when he took charge of the guard drive in June 2018, though the determination to do so was designed just before he took about.

Lockdown is generally confined to 4 hrs a day, generally from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. During all those durations, the prisoners go inside of their 86-sq.-foot cells, at the rear of two doors, a command space locks them in and the soldiers occur on to the blocks. If there is a want, they lookup a mobile or prisoner. They also inspect the food stuff pantry, a further communal mobile with jail-permitted textbooks and videos, and the open up-air recreation garden.

“There’s been a genuine relaxation of the conditions of their confinement that has taken off a ton of the absurdly unneeded limits for the earlier 10 several years,” mentioned Maj. James D. Valentine, a Marine law firm. He represents two previous C.I.A. prisoners who are held as Law of War detainees at the maximum-safety jail, that means neither man is charged with a crime at the war courtroom.

Previous commanders have described the military’s steady shift towards a doctrine of communal confinement at Guantánamo as a reward for adhering to the guidelines that benefits equally the overall health and safety of the guard power and the detainees. Steady shut get in touch with can be hazardous. One cell confinement can be brain numbing.

“Isolation is far too individual and resource intensive,” stated Stephen N. Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired Military brigadier basic who treats U.S. war veterans who undergo from put up-traumatic strain disorder when he is not consulting on detainee circumstances at Guantánamo. “It’s less of a burden on the employees if they are using treatment of just about every other. Your local community is going to be healthier, much easier to take care of and safer.”

Commanders have claimed the U.S. armed forces delivers no formal torture-survivor procedure for the males in Camp 7, whose lawyers say they experience sleeplessness, mind accidents, back again and joint discomfort and other disorders they blame on their brutal interrogations although in C.I.A. custody.

But Dr. Xenakis stated one particular reward of communal confinement is that the captives can care for every single other. He in contrast it to “an outdated idea in armed service medicine” that was to start with adopted in psychiatric clinics at Walter Reed Health-related Center in 1971, through the Vietnam War, called “milieu therapy.”

Following a prisoner called Abd al Hadi al Iraqi underwent 5 backbone surgeries in 9 months at Guantánamo starting off in September 2017, other detainees assisted him with his meals, individual hygiene and other individuals factors of day by day everyday living. He relies on a four-wheeled walker to get close to, and has to sit in a chair when the other prisoners on Alpha block kneel in prayer.

In the summertime of 2018, a spokeswoman for the prison at the time described the communal solution as a part of end-of-lifetime treatment for the guys of Camp 7, now aged 32 to 59, who may perhaps incredibly well die at Guantánamo Bay.

“Picture in your mind elderly detainees, brothers getting care of a person an additional,” stated then-Cmdr. Anne E. Leanos of the Navy. “That is the humane way forward.”

Outings from the jail — to court, legal appointments and meetings with the Intercontinental Pink Cross — continue to require stability steps that had been as soon as regimen inside Camp 7: Two to a few soldiers with their hands on each individual captive’s arm as well as a back or shoulder, guiding a prisoner who is shackled at the wrists and ankles.

But the Military guards and Navy corpsmen who beforehand delivered foods, medication and provides to each and every detainee by means of a slot in his mobile doorway, and patrolled the corridor outside each cell’s double steel doorway are no for a longer time routinely on the cellblocks.

Now, it is the detainees who go to the guards, at a sally port at the conclusion of the block, to fetch their deliveries, solution concerns and exchange provides other than during the four hours a working day they are confined to their cells. It is a design and style of detention that when put into exercise in other portions of the prison many years ago lowered friction in between the captives and the captors.

Foods have turn into a big pastime. Detainees repurpose chow corridor rations in the pantry making use of a prison-issue plastic “spork.” Knives and other standard cooking utensils are prohibited at the jail.

Just after Ramadan, Major Valentine acquired a frozen leg of lamb at the Navy foundation commissary — labeled halal for Islam’s dietary restrictions — and with permission of the jail commanders gave it as a present to one of his shoppers, presenting a unique culinary problem: It was much too big to fit within the armed service-challenge microwave.

According to multiple accounts, just one prisoner held it to a cell doorway jamb and a different slammed the door, breaking it into cooking sized chunks.

With every corner of the prison less than online video surveillance, the guards had been no question able to see what happened. But the jail declined to go over existence within Camp 7. What goes on there is categorised.

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