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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 11:56 GMT
Grim life at Guantanamo
Prisoner escourted around camp by guards
Prisoners with clanking leg irons shuffle across the yard
By the BBC's Richard Lister in Guantanamo Bay

Camp X-Ray is an island, on an island, on an island.

It is a sealed off zone within the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which is itself sealed off from the rest of the island of Cuba.

That is one of the reasons the US chose to bring the al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects here: it is impossible to get to, unless the US military flies you in.

At the same time though, it is not US territory, so those imprisoned there have none of the rights of someone brought to American soil.


  • Buckets for toilets
  • Thin foam mattresses
  • Beards shaved

    Clickable guide: Inside Camp X-Ray

  • Washington has said repeatedly that the prisoners at Camp X-Ray have no rights, and when you get to the prison itself that much is quite clear.

    It is a maze of chain-link fences, razor wire and guard towers. There are dog patrols and snipers.

    You can see into the prisoners' cell block quite clearly, as its walls are also made from chain-link.

    The cells are protected from the elements only by a metal roof.

    From what I saw, the prisoners in their bright orange jumpsuits spend most of their time in their cells, sitting on the floor or lying on foam sleeping mats, trying to keep cool in 30C heat.

    Troublemakers

    They are shackled only when taken out of the cells for brief exercise periods, a shower or medical check.

    Sign pointed to Mecca at Camp X-Ray
    A sign points the way to Mecca

    I watched several shuffling across the compound with leg irons clanking along the ground and a marine gripping them firmly on either side.

    Now, two weeks later, camp officials say detainees no longer exercise in leg irons - they jog with handcuffs on.

    The food is basic but nutritious and is approved for consumption by Muslims.

    A typical evening meal is kidney beans and rice, cabbage, bread and milk.

    The prisoners are allowed to practise their faith too. A sign on one wall of the camp points to Mecca.

    Officials say the prisoners will soon get access to books other than the Koran.

    The military authorities say there are only a handful of troublemakers, who shout and protest every couple of days or so.

    Surveillance

    From outside the camp one evening I heard a guard swearing at a prisoner in English, telling him to "get back in your ... cage".

    By the end of the day there is a faint smell of sewage and chemicals that drifts from the prison - all the prisoners have waste buckets in their cells.

    There is no privacy. At night the whole compound is lit up by arc-lights, so the guards can see their prisoner's every move.

    The authorities insist that the "detainees" are being treated humanely, and broadly within the guidelines for prisoners of war laid down by the Geneva Convention - although the US does not accept that they are POWs.

    There is no doubt though, that life for the prisoners at Camp X-Ray is extremely grim. And the US makes no apologies for that.

    See also:

    22 Jan 02 | Americas
    Judge's 'doubts' over Cuba prisoners
    22 Jan 02 | Americas
    Geneva Convention to cover Taleban
    22 Jan 02 | UK Politics
    UK would oppose death penalty
    21 Jan 02 | Americas
    US sedates terror suspects
    21 Jan 02 | Media reports
    US on trial over prisoners in Cuba
    20 Jan 02 | Americas
    In pictures: Camp X-Ray prisoners
    28 Dec 01 | Americas
    Destination Guantanamo Bay
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