Guantánamo Bay: Beyond the Prison

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — Mention this place, and folks have a tendency to think about caged males carrying orange uniforms and on their knees, the picture of opening day at the wartime jail 4 months after the assaults of Sept. 11, 2001.

But this navy base is a couple of huge jail. About 6,000 individuals reside at the U.S. Navy outpost, which has the trappings of small-town America and the facilities of a faculty campus, and features like a cross between a gated neighborhood and a police state.

It has a Defense Department faculty system for the youngsters of sailors and contractors, a seaport for Navy and Coast Guard provide missions, bars, ball fields, neighborhoods with swing units, seashores with barbecue grills and pleasure boats to lease for excursions on the bay.

It additionally has a McDonald’s with a drive-through huge sufficient for tactical automobiles, just under a hilltop church with a white steeple. A ten-minute drive in a single path takes you to Nob Hill, a neighborhood of three-bedroom properties for junior officers on the base of 700 households.

Drive 10 minutes in one other path, previous the base’s scrubby nine-hole golf course, and also you arrive at a gate to what’s primarily a base inside the base, the detention zone. It is beneath the command of an Army brigadier common who’s accountable for the Pentagon’s final 39 wartime prisoners and a workers of 1,500 individuals, largely troopers from the National Guard on nine-month excursions of obligation.

The base covers 45 sq. miles straddling Guantánamo Bay, the U.S.-controlled physique of water that splits the base in two. A small unit of Marines is accountable for safety on the U.S. facet of 17.4 miles of fences that encompass the base. A portion of the Cuban facet has a minefield.

Most days it’s simple to neglect that the base sits in southeast Cuba.

Little Spanish is spoken right here, besides when a unit of the Puerto Rico National Guard is on the put up for a tour of obligation in the jail zone. Tagalog and Creole are extra prevalent as a result of about one-third of the residents are Filipinos and Jamaicans. They are employed by Pentagon contractors and function the spine of the labor drive.

They do development, make and serve meals in the eating places, and are cashiers in the commissary. They change beds at visitor quarters, reduce and colour hair at the salon, and provide crusing classes at the marina. None are allowed to deliver household, they usually reside in separate housing areas maintained by their employers. Bingo inside the base ballroom is a well-liked permitted pastime.

By some measures, the base resembles a school campus — however one with a taking pictures vary, razor wire, lots of of troopers and sailors in battle dress, and automobiles that abruptly cease in the street at 8 a.m. when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is broadcast every morning.

Some residents are issued meal playing cards for the cafeteria-style eating amenities. Single troopers and sailors reside in dormitories. The base has a memento store peddling alumni-style T-shirts, espresso mugs and shot glasses. “No Bad Day,” says a T-shirt decorated with palm trees that boasts “Good Vibes” and “High Tides” at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It has a Saturday evening scene at the Tiki Bar, a volunteer automotive pool known as Safe Ride so individuals received’t drink and drive, and Alcoholics Anonymous conferences 3 times every week.

It additionally has intramural sports activities occasions and a sexual assault consciousness marketing campaign.

But it’s a navy base, in spite of everything. Drones are forbidden. Trick or treating is allowed solely in sure neighborhoods. News photographers should submit each image they take to navy censorship. Forbidden photos embody guard towers, sure razor-wire-ringed fences and safety cameras, in addition to crucial infrastructure, similar to the 4 wind generators that tower above the base and might be seen at sea.

Anyone touring to the base wants permission from the commanding officer, a stamped entry kind that’s primarily a visa to the Independent Republic of Guantánamo Bay, after which a seat on an permitted flight, typically a Pentagon constitution from the Eastern Seaboard.

The present commanding officer is Capt. Samuel “Smokey” White, who goes by Sam to the few residents on board who don’t tackle him as “sir” or “skipper.”

He has a zero-tolerance coverage for alcohol, that means irrespective of how huge you might be, you possibly can’t have a beer and drive. Get caught driving whereas drunk, and the commander can throw you off the base. Or not.

Usually the skipper is the particular person at the helm of a ship. But the honorific is especially apt as a result of, ever since the United States reduce itself off from the Cuban infrastructure grid in the Sixties, after Fidel Castro’s revolution, Guantánamo may be very very like an plane at sea.

The base treats its personal water in a desalination plant and generates its personal power from fossil fuels, photo voltaic panels and wind power. It is resupplied by air and sea. A twice-monthly barge from Jacksonville, Fla., brings meals for the commissary, new automobiles for the navy, development and constructing provides, and family items. A twice-weekly fridge flight delivers recent vegetables and fruit and different perishables.

For almost 20 years, base commanders have described the U.S.-Cuba relationship alongside the fence line as benign, with none of the tensions recommended in “A Few Good Men.” Each June, the base commander reminds his Cuban counterpart in the Frontier Brigade that there might be fireworks on the Fourth of July; no one is taking pictures at them.

In 2018, when a wildfire superior by the Cuban minefield towards Nob Hill, forces from each side dug ditches and fought the blaze. The collaboration culminated with a Soviet-era Cuban helicopter making a number of passes over the Navy base, scooping up water from the bay and dumping it on sure scorching spots to snuff them out.

The base additionally has 1000’s of feral cats, the descendants of felines that discovered their strategy to the base by the Cuban minefield or of home cats left behind by Navy households. A gaggle of involved cat lovers based Operation Git-Meow, which seeks to seek out properties for the feral cats and is attempting to steer the Navy to allow an all-volunteer catch, neuter and launch program to scale back the wild cat inhabitants.

A small neighborhood hospital on the base presents household care and broadcasts the first child of every new year on its web site. It additionally handles the take care of the prisoners, irrespective of how sophisticated, beneath a congressional prohibition on bringing prisoners to the United States. Everyone else with a posh medical case is routinely despatched to the mainland.

There was a time after the jail opened in 2002 and the detainee inhabitants rose to a peak of 660 in 2003 when the base bustled with a function that revolved round the detention operation.

Air Force cargo planes often delivered detainees introduced from Afghanistan, and base residents have been ordered to remain inside for the high-security switch of prisoners from the airstrip on one facet of the bay to the cells on the excessive different.

Troops in camouflage cruised the base in Humvees. Members of Congress, senior navy brass, authorities attorneys, journalists and international delegations paid common visits, filling Guantánamo’s hotel-style visitor quarters.

Over time, curiosity waned. There was a flurry of exercise after President Barack Obama ordered the jail closed, and administration officers labored to lower the detainee inhabitants. But congressional restrictions made it unattainable to switch the final dozens to the United States for any motive.

Most days, the jail operation that put Guantánamo on the map twenty years in the past is out of sight and out of thoughts — besides when a convoy of white, windowless vans passes the McDonald’s to deliver a detainee or two to the courtroom compound at Camp Justice.

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