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Guantanamo prison's media makeover

Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- Inside a vacant former maximum-security prison, the Pentagon has nearly finished building a new health clinic with nearby surgical and radiological suites. Soon, contractors will add furniture, equipment and put a padded cell in the facility's psych unit.

At the adjacent prison, the military has transformed Bravo Block into a recreation site. Guards move seven shackled captives there, one at a time, then remove their restraints to let them mingle for four hours. There are stacks of books to browse, rugs for prayer, an exercise bike, Ping Pong table and video-game devices.

The soccer video game "FIFA 2018" is particularly popular now, an Army lieutenant told journalists being shown around the block in Camp Six, a prison where the Pentagon keeps two dozen of Guantanamo's 41 war-on-terror captives.

It is a Saturday, less than 100 hours after President Donald J. Trump has canceled his predecessor's closure order. In the State of the Union he's asked Congress to make sure "we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists, wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them. And in many cases, for them, it will now be Guantanamo Bay."

Prison commanders have been saying for months now that the troops are trained and ready to take new prisoners. But the man in charge, Rear Adm. Edward Cashman, makes clear that, on this day, he's still waiting for the Pentagon to transform the commander-in-chief's "policy guidance" into "military operational orders." And he's received none.

Meantime, the prison is showcasing "recent consolidations and current facilities" and although conversations with guards among the 1,700-member prison staff are excluded, prison spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos informs that they execute their mission "flawlessly."

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Call it the Make Guantanamo Great Again media tour.

Significant changes

The prison staff is looking forward, and gone are the basic opportunities that shaped earlier media visits. Detainee art is no longer on display after the Pentagon declared the captives' artwork U.S. government property and halted releases to the public.

News crews can no longer observe or film the rituals of Muslim prayer in the cell block, a time when the captives lay out their rugs, unaware that on the other side of one-way glass troops are tiptoeing in their combat boots to keep quiet.

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