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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Eerie reality of X-Ray's cousin
By David Schaffer
BBC News Online, Manchester

The Camp X-Ray replica in Manchester
Only prisoners and guards are allowed inside the installation
The watchtower guard demanded to see my ID, and for a second I thought I'd been caught trespassing on a military installation.

When I asked him what he'd have done if I had no identification, he casually said: "I'd shoot you!".

This is a Manchester replica of America's controversial Camp X-Ray and his humour left me feeling ever so slightly nervous.

The camp - on wasteland in Hulme, surrounded by day-to-day urban living - is peopled with campaigners making a political point about the harsh conditions of the genuine camp in Cuba, but they are deadly serious about the act.

I had naively expected a guide to greet me and take me on a tour of the installation - the brainchild of city artist Jai Redman.

Instead, more like the reception you would get in Guantanamo Bay, there was no welcome - I was just met by a razor wire-topped perimeter surrounding the football pitch-sized camp.

Some people have even asked if the camp is actually a genuine prison.

You can't really know what it is like even for the volunteer prisoners here, let alone those held in Cuba
Audrey Mayor, local resident
"I think it's impressive and it is also very important," said 30-year-old Ricky Carrothers, who lives locally.

"It is a stark reminder to the public that there are British people held in the real camp, who don't have access to legal representation, or to even speak to their families."

Audrey Mayor, another local resident, said she found the camp "shocking".

"I think it is also brave and ambitious," she said.

"But you can't really know what it is like even for the volunteer prisoners here, let alone those held in Cuba."

Guard El Cockcroft
I'm really interested in power structures and the effect they have
Camp guard El Cockcroft
Suddenly there was a flurry of activity at the entrance gate as a battered Land Rover arrived to deliver a new "prisoner".

We all watched in silence as the prisoner, forced to walk in a bowed state with their head covered, was led out of the van and into captivity.

Despite the seeming harshness, this new inmate was a volunteer like everyone in the camp, free to go whenever they liked.

And as soon as I spoke to one of the guards - El Cockcroft - any perceived hostility I might have felt from the camp evaporated.

Ms Cockcoft, 25, said she was hoping to take the part of a prisoner.

"I'm a guard because not so many people wanted to take the part of a guard," she said.

'Emergency exits'

"But I'm really interested in power structures and the effect they have - so here I want to experience both sides."

If I needed any further indication this was first and foremost a political art installation, Mr Redman said guards had no real power over inmates.

"There are emergency exits that prisoners can use whenever they like, and most will not be here for more than 24 hours," he said, despite staying behind the camp's fence.

Local resident Ricky Carrothers
Ricky Carrothers said it is a "stark" reminder of the genuine camp
"But since we were fully set up, no-one apart from prisoners and guards has been allowed into the camp."

He said reaction from the public had been unpredictable, but in some cases very uncomplimentary.

"We had one bus pull up, and the driver opened the doors and said it was not realistic enough and we should have a big wall for the prisoners where we should shoot them," he said.

Internees at the genuine camp in Cuba are not put against a wall and shot meaning mock executions would be unrealistic.

But the reality of the detainees' situation was lost on the driver.

But Mr Redman said political art often attracted "irrational" criticisms.

He said it was difficult to define exactly what he wanted to achieve with the installation, but other comments had been much more positive.

"I'm an artist and I want to make a point about what is going on in Cuba," he said.

"Whether it has any wider effect is difficult to say, but political campaigning is a slow process anyway."

Camp X-Ray comes to Manchester
10 Oct 03  |  Manchester
Guantanamo detentions blasted
10 Oct 03  |  Americas
'Justice denied' at Guantanamo
09 Oct 03  |  Americas
Letters home from Guantanamo Bay
17 Jul 03  |  Magazine


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