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A day in a detainee's life

Predictability, covert communication and isolation are hallmarks.

March 28, 2008|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

Only at Camp 4, a barracks-like compound with fewer than 50 prisoners, do men take their meals together or congregate. The communal-living camp designed for the most compliant prisoners once teemed with nearly 200 bearded young men kicking soccer balls or playing card games on their cots or at outdoor tables.

Older guards called it the "Hogan's Heroes" camp, after the 1960s TV show about U.S. POWs in World War II Germany. But it was emptied after a May 2006 riot over searchers' mishandling of the holy Koran.

Now repopulated with men awaiting transfer home, Camp 4's dusty oval sports court is idle and the prisoners' outdoor activities consist mainly of doing their laundry. Hand-washed towels and white undergarments can be seen poking through the chain link of the surrounding fences as they dry in the warm Caribbean air wafting from an ocean that the prisoners never see -- not even when they are transferred off the island, because they are blindfolded.

A schoolroom was added to the predominantly Afghan camp last year to teach basic written Pashtu and Urdu to the illiterate.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, April 05, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 7 inches; 316 words Type of Material: Correction
Guantanamo Bay: An article March 28 in Section A about a typical day in the life of a prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, as gleaned from reporting trips over the last three years, made several observations that Pentagon officials and officers of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo say are outdated or erroneous. The article said that reveille was at 5 a.m., when guards collect the bedsheet from each detainee. There is no reveille sounded at Guantanamo, and officials say the practice of collecting bedsheets ended in late 2006 for compliant detainees and last May for everyone else. The article said that lights were kept on in the cells 24 hours a day for security reasons, and that some prisoners grew their hair long to shield their eyes to sleep. Since September, all detainees have been issued sleep masks. The article said that detainees at Camps 5 and 6 could see each other only during prayer time when an aperture in their cell doors was opened. The prisoners can also see each other when being escorted to showers or interrogation, during recreation time and when the aperture is opened for meal delivery. The article referred to "the hour for rec time"; in fact, prisoners are allowed at least two hours of recreation daily. The article said the prison library had 2,000 books and magazines; it has 5,000, including multiple copies of many titles. The article said that once a prisoner had skipped nine meals he was considered to be on a hunger strike and taken to the medical center where he was force-fed. Medical officials say hunger strikers are force-fed only when their weight has fallen to 85% of their ideal body weight and a doctor recommends it. The article said that prisoners at Camp 4, a communal compound, were awaiting transfer home. Camp 4 holds prisoners judged to be compliant with camp rules.

Leather-and-steel shackles protrude from the floor beneath each desk where prisoners' ankles are tethered during classes.

Two video screens were installed at Camp 4 last year with plans to show movies to reward good behavior. The opportunity to make phone calls to family abroad is also being considered, said Army Lt. Col. Ed Bush, a Guantanamo spokesman.

Only the occasional detainee being moved to the medical facility or the Camp 4 inmates hanging their laundry are visible to visitors. Every now and then a prisoner in the white garb denoting the highly compliant waves or clowns for photographers, but any image showing his face will be deleted by censors.

The solitary life endured by the majority winds down each evening with the last bean-hole exchange and a final prayer call.

A yellow traffic cone marked with a P (for prayer time) positioned at the head of the cellblock reminds guards to keep the noise down.

The end of a day is signaled at 10 p.m. by the arrival of the bedsheet.

But a Guantanamo detainee's day doesn't end with the usual prison ritual of "lights out."

Lights are kept on in the cells 24/7 for what military jailers said were security reasons.

Some prisoners grow their hair long and drape it across their eyes to aid sleeping, as Australian David Hicks, transferred home last year, told his lawyer in explaining his nearly waist-length tresses.

Sleep is probably episodic, with the guards' boots audible every few minutes as they look for "self-harm incidents" or signs of prisoners "weaponizing" their few belongings.

Another day like the more than 2,000 most have already spent here is heralded at 5 a.m. when a guard arrives to retrieve the bedsheet.


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