Guantanamo detainees permitted to watch World Cup
By Carol Rosenberg | The Miami Herald | Published: June 20, 2014
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Guards revealed that detainees get to watch the World Cup — the fourth for many in U.S. custody — on a one-day delay to give staff time to scrub recordings of incendiary material.
Journalists were allowed to peer through one-way glass for a few minutes at a white-clad, cooperative captive sitting at a stainless steel picnic table, possibly watching an unseen television screen.
And an Army lieutenant in charge of the library and prisoner classes disclosed Thursday that a horticulture course was under way for the more than 70 compliant captives.
“I believe they’ll start planting soon,” said the officer, whose name and face are banned from publication under six-month-old media restrictions.
The military pulled back the curtain on detention center operations during a war court week and granted 15 journalists a quick look inside two prison buildings. The access came near the end of a quirky week that included a half-day hearing in the Sept. 11, 2001, case and a half-hour arraignment of an alleged al-Qaida commander.
The tour, as the soldiers call it, was short on facts. Commanders wouldn’t say how many of the 149 captives were tube-fed that day. A Navy doctor couldn’t explain why there was such a high ratio of medical staff to detainees — seven doctors and 94 corpsmen plus an assortment of nurses and physician’s assistants.
But the commander of the prison, Navy Rear Adm. Richard Butler, said that there was no basis for complaints aired in court this week by lawyers for Yemeni ex-CIA detainee Ramzi bin al-Shibh that guards were subjecting him to sleep deprivation.
“None of those things are happening,” he said from a podium set up at a prison compound not far from the psychiatric ward.
The trip to the prison camp was the first during a week of war court hearings since a prison spokesman squired war court journalists around a $744,000 soccer field called Super Rec in February 2012 — and some Pentagon executives apparently recoiled at the coverage, pulling the plug on prison camp visits during military commissions weeks.
The war court hearings drew more than a dozen news organizations in the aftermath of the Taliban prisoner exchange.
TV news reporters were especially eager for details of what went on during the transfer of five Afghan indefinite detainees in exchange for Taliban prisoner Army Sgt. Bowe Berghdahl.
Not much happened, according to Butler.
“There was no disruption in the camps as a result of the movement,” he said.
Butler did clarify, however, that it was neither expedience nor error that excluded International Red Cross representatives from interviewing the five Afghans before they left Guantanamo, a usual practice prior to a prisoner release. It was a decision, he said, made at the Pentagon.
Over at the prison hospital, while a Navy doctor in charge of the medical staff argued that tube feeding is humane, photojournalists jostled for shots of a restraint chair that has become emblematic of the massive hunger strike that erupted in the camps last year.
Not everyone who refuses to eat is tube-fed every day, said the doctor, a commander. “Different people are allowed to have nasal rest days,” he said. And hunger-striking prisoners who observe Monday and Thursday fasts for religious reasons aren’t tube-fed on those days, he added.
Ramadan is around the corner, and the doctor assured that the medical staff will continue its practice of administering tube-feedings to hunger strikers after sunset in consideration of Islam’s month-long holiday that requires daylight fasting.
The guards’ description of detainees watching World Cup matches a day late was at odds with a talking point peddled by prison spokesmen earlier in the week that captives can feed their obsession with the sport they call football live on satellite feeds into the prison cells.
One prison staffer said the captives’ television sets get free satellite stations — no for-charge cable programming — so they can sometimes tune into grainy games on foreign government stations. The DVDs they distribute are cleaner, captured from a certain sports channel.
At the library, the lieutenant in charge of detainee diversionary activity said the staff needed the day to check recordings of the matches in Brazil for three things — extremist material; “military technical stuff, we’re not going to give them ‘How to make a bomb’ ”; and material that might incite unrest.
So far, he said, all the World Cup games have gone into the prison uncensored.
This year marks the fourth World Cup in U.S. detention for many of the detainees, who started arriving on Jan. 11, 2002. But it’s only the second that many captives can watch, according to a long-time prison staff member, who noted that the majority only got satellite television in time for the 2010 World Cup.