In fact, obesity is increasingly a problem, says Gitmo’s chief physician, a reservist who volunteered for this six-month assignment and found the “professional and compassionate” medical care offered here stunning. The detainees make roughly 7,800 visits per year to receive state-of-the-art medical care. That includes colonoscopies for “age-appropriate” detainees, 25 of which have been performed so far.
It’s been a busy summer at the detention center at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base. The joint task force in charge of the 226 remaining detainees—they are never called “prisoners”—is spending about $440,000 to expand the recreation yards at Camp 6, a medium-security facility. At nearby Camp 4, which offers communal living for the most “compliant” captives, the soccer yard is being enlarged. At Camp 5, a maximum-security facility, another new, $73,000 classroom is under construction, and satellite TV cables have just been installed. In March, Joint Task Force Guantánamo added art classes to the thrice-weekly instruction it offers in Arabic, Pashtu, and English. And the estimated 16 detainees who have been cleared for release as soon as Washington can find countries willing to accept them have just received training on new laptop computers, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.
Though President Obama vowed on his second day in office to close the detention center within a year—the January 22 deadline is now less than five months away—Gitmo’s officers say they intend to continue spending previously budgeted funds to improve life at the center until the last detainee leaves. “It’s business as usual around here,” the task force’s deputy commander, Brigadier General Rafael O’Ferrall, told me two weeks ago during one of the weekly tours that Gitmo offers journalists, legislators, military and other officials, human-rights groups, and other “distinguished visitors,” more than 1,800 of whom visited last year.
The point of the tour is to show that Gitmo, which President Obama called a “stain” on America’s reputation, has become a model, if somewhat surreal, detention center. But another message is implicit in the barrage of statistics about the services and amenities being offered to such ostensibly dangerous people: closing Gitmo, now that it has been transformed into a first-class detention facility, is a largely empty political gesture that makes little sense for either the detainees or tax-paying Americans.
My hosts would never dare publicly challenge their commander-in-chief’s orders. But they clearly believe that Gitmo no longer deserves to be seen as a symbol of human-rights abuses. “This place is synonymous with military abuse and it’s just not fair,” says Rear Admiral Thomas H. Copeman III, the task force’s commander, who took charge only two months ago. “In the last five and a half years, there has not been a single substantiated allegation of abuse.”
GOOMBA NEWS NETWORK