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Gitmo will never close

January 6, 2010

“I’m beginning to think that Guantánamo is not ever going to be closed,” says John Bellinger, the top State Department lawyer under former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and a persistent advocate of shutting down the facility. Given the current political obstacles, “I would bet some money that it’s not going to get closed in the Obama presidency.”

“To some extent, I think the administration has blown it,” adds Marc Falkoff, a lawyer who represents some of the Yemeni detainees at Gitmo. “It has delayed, and they’ve gotten themselves into a reactive state and you can’t get anything done when you’re reacting to political winds . . . It looks like Guantánamo will be around for the foreseeable future.”

The inmates will probably be happy. I have read the new accommodations in Illinois are nowhere near as nice.

A letter to Illinois governor Pat Quinn announced the administration’s plan for the federal government to buy the prison in Thomson and rebuild one section of it to make the facility even more secure than America’s “supermax” prison in Colorado–where several convicted terrorists are currently housed. This assurance is intended to assuage any concerns over the government’s ability to safely detain the Gitmo detainees on U.S. soil.

Ironically, however, most of the roughly 210 detainees still held at Guantánamo are not in supermax-type facilities at all. At least 70 percent live in communal settings like Camp 4. They can play soccer, basketball, or foosball; exercise on elliptical equipment; and consort with their fellow detainees for up to 20 hours per day in the outdoor recreation area. They can take art classes or learn English. And while tensions flare every now and again, life in Camp 4 is generally calm. Camp officials prefer that the detainees live in this type of setting. It’s easier on the guards and everyone else involved. As the commander of Camp 4 explains, the detainees have to “do something really bad” to get locked up in one of the more secure facilities.

The detainees have access to several satellite television channels and, as one DoD handout notes, a library consisting of “more than 14,000 books, magazines, and DVDs in 18 languages.”

Supermax life

In SHU, prisoners are generally allowed out of their cells for only one hour a day; often they are kept in solitary confinement. They receive their meals through ports, also known as “chuck holes,” in the doors of their cells. When Supermax inmates are allowed to exercise, this may take place in a small, enclosed area where the prisoner will exercise alone.

Prisoners are under constant surveillance, usually with closed-circuit television cameras. Cell doors are usually opaque, while the cells may be windowless. Conditions are spartan, with poured concrete or metal furniture common. Often cell walls, and sometimes plumbing, are soundproofed to prevent communication between the inmates.

I have given up wondering if these people ever think about the promises they are making.

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