GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – Dozens of brand-new personal DVD players for the prisoners are stashed in a closet, a perk the military has now put on hold. The $744,000 soccer field is empty. The halal kitchen still cooks three meals a day for each inmate, but guards throw away most of the food.
With nearly every one of the 166 Guantanamo prisoners now under lockdown, the military has reverted to a battle rhythm reminiscent of the Bush administration.
Pre-cleared captives awaiting political change are confined for long stretches to 8-by-12 cells, each man praying behind his own steel door, deciding for himself whether to eat a solitary meal.
Meanwhile, troops are back to managing the most intimate aspects of a detainee’s daily life — when he will be shackled and taken to a shower, when he’ll be shackled and taken to a recreation yard, when he’ll get to hear the call to prayer through a slot in the door.
And, for 100 hunger strikers, the military decides when to shackle each man into a restraint chair for tube feedings — an exacting control of the lives of these men that the prison’s Muslim adviser warns will not stop the next suicide.
“They are not done yet, and they will not be done until there is more than one death,” said the Pentagon-paid adviser, who goes by Zak.
Zak has worked at the prison since 2005 and blames a dozen hard-core prisoners for manipulating the others to join the hunger strike that has engulfed most of the prison — and is still growing.
Defense lawyer Carlos Warner argues that the hunger strikers are slowly trying to commit suicide in plain view. “Suicide will happen because the men are hopeless,” he said, “not because of influence by other detainees.” They’ve lost hope, he said, because “President Obama has no intention to close Guantanamo.”
Defense Department contractors built the first barracks-style prison camp in 2004 as a pre-release lockup for some of the first of the 500 or so captives that the Bush White House would eventually send home.
Once Barack Obama was elected president, communal became the norm. But whatever detente existed ended on Jan. 2. A captive started to climb a fence and a guard fired rubber pellets into the soccer field. Then on Feb. 6, guards undertook the most aggressive shakedown of the communal cells in years. The captives launched the hunger strike and refused to shut themselves in their cells for two hours of nightly lockdown. On April 13, troops stormed Camp 6 to lock each captive alone inside a cell. Troops with shotguns fired rubber pellets and rubber bullets. Detainees wielded broom handles and other improvised weapons. Somebody whacked two guards’ helmeted heads during a five-hour operation that injured five prisoners and put all but a few of Guantanamo captives on lockdown.