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New incentive dangled at Guantanamo

Max-security Camp 6 will be modified to let compliant detainees interact by eating and exercising together.

August 03, 2008|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — In hopes of encouraging better behavior among terrorism suspects in a maximum-security facility here, parts of it will be gradually transformed to let some of the men eat, visit and exercise together.

The planned easing of conditions in some cell blocks of Camp 6 is part of an effort to provide more "intellectual stimulation" for the prisoners, said Rear Adm. Dave Thomas, who two months ago took over command of the military prison and interrogation network.

"The effect I hope to achieve is to get greater compliance," Thomas said Saturday as he showed journalists the construction work underway to reconfigure guard posts and access.

Prisoners excluded from the initial communal-living group "would see that others got this, and that might be an incentive," he said.

Camp 6, where about 75 prisoners live in individual cement-walled cells with steel doors, was modeled after a prison in Michigan, with a common area outfitted with tables and stools for meals, games and conversation.

The detainees have been able to see those areas from the narrow windows in their cell doors, but they haven't been allowed to use them.

Camp 6 was nearing completion in May 2006 when a riot in Camp 4 -- which housed detainees considered the most compliant -- prompted prison officials to tighten restrictions throughout the sprawl of what are now eight prison camps.

Camp 4 held 175 men before the riot -- which was reportedly sparked by guards' mishandling of a Koran during a search for contraband.

Only 75 men are now at the barracks-like facility, where they live 10 to a room, take their meals together and can spend most daylight hours outside playing sports.

Guantanamo's prisoner population has dropped in the last few years from more than 700 to about 270, with men deemed of little threat to U.S. security being released or transferred to be dealt with by their home countries.

Thomas declined to say whether the prisoner population had become more difficult as less confrontational detainees had left.

But he did concede that there was no further demand for facilities for the "highly compliant."

At Camp 4, which has a capacity of 200, one of the empty rooms has been outfitted with a flat-screen TV to show taped sports events and TV programs -- the favorite being the Discovery Channel's adventure fishing series "The Deadliest Catch," Thomas said.

Another barracks has been converted into a schoolroom where English lessons are offered, as are lessons in basic written Arabic and Pashto for illiterate detainees.

At Camp 5, housing about 50 prisoners in maximum-security conditions, movies are shown every two weeks to individual detainees as a reward for good behavior, the admiral said.

The films are shown in the prison's interrogation room.

Though the changes at Camp 6 are intended to allow more interaction among prisoners, camp-to-camp communication is still discouraged.

Among the new features of the side-by-side Camps 5 and 6 is an external speaker system that emanates a gargling sound to muffle shouted messages from the outside recreation pens of the adjacent compound.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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