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Jack Rice - Blog

Jack Rice is a criminal defense trial lawyer who provides legal advice to those charged with crimes in Federal and Minnesota State courtrooms.

 

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Guantanamo Bay. For Better. For Worse.

I look out over the Caribbean from who knows how many feet up. It seems so tranquil from here. Not even a hint of the fight, both physically and psychologically that is going on below. I know that I can't be far away by now.

It's not really that far from the tip of Florida. And yet it is worlds away. Cuba. And not just Cuba. Rather, it is Guantanamo Bay. Camp Delta. The world of The War on Terror. Detainees. Terrorists. Simple farmers inadvertently swept up in this war. All arguments have been made. And then I see it for the first time from the aircraft. Land. Cuba.

As we approach the island, I learn that we have to fly over Cuban airspace to land on a small airstrip located on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station This is a small 45 square mile piece of land surrounded by 17 miles of fence that we have leased for some 100 years. Of course, as you can imagine, this very lease is in dispute. The U.S. says we have the right to continue with possession. The Cubans under Fidel Castro think otherwise. I think you can imagine who will win this fight!

So, as I fly over Fidel's Cuba, I look out and see the fence that separates the two parts, Cuba proper and Guantanamo Bay. What I will see in this place is the topic of conversation and debate across the world.

As my U.S. Navy Pilot lands this aircraft, I step to the tarmac. I am immediately hit directly in the face by the heat. By the humidity. Sweat drips down my back.

I am met by the Joint Task Force Commander, Admiral Harry Harris. With a broad smile and a handshake, he welcomes me to Guantanamo Bay. He is the guy in charge.

I smile in return. It feels strange to me however. I'm not too sure how I should feel about this place. So many are angry about it. The United Nations says it should be closed. The European Union says it should be closed. Even President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice say it should be closed.

And yet, it remains open. With some 460 guests. Not to mention the recent 14 that President Bush just publicly acknowledged were sent from Central Intelligence Agency black sites to this place. They may allegedly be some of the worst of the worst, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, one of the central planners of 9/11 who was picked up in Pakistan.

Rumors swirl around this man. What he has done. As well as the possibility that the CIA may have "waterboarded" him to get what he knows. Or, to some, to have him say what the CIA wants to hear.

I am immediately shuffled off to a small bus and am driven less than a mile to a small Navy craft floating in Guantanamo Bay. That's right! They call this place what they do because of the large bay that literally dominates this place.

After stepping aboard, my Navy crew takes me across the bay as Admiral Harris and his people, both Navy and Army, describe what I am about to see.

As I sit on this craft, I look around at the scenery. It is, well, beautiful. The water is a deep blue and the lush greenery surrounding the bay seems almost untouched. And yet, I look at the sailors and soldiers around me and know that they all mean business. This is no mere sight seeing visit.

At this point, however, I must admit that it is clear that the U.S. Government wants me to have a positive view of this place. So that upon my return to the states, I can say most clearly that things here are great. That things here are as they should be and that there is nothing to worry about.

I should probably say very clearly that this has never been my intention. Never my goal. My only purpose is to describe what I see. To try to put it into context and to lay out the arguments as I see them. And, as they say, "let the chips fall where they may."

We finally land on the other side of Guantanamo Bay and I am immediately picked up by another small shuttle bus, fully air conditioned of course, just off of a small dock.

The road is paved and this starts to look a lot more like Navy bases that I have been on around the world. There are small structures here and there and references to other Navy facilities. And, of course, acronyms abound. The government seems incapable of speaking in normal English. Therefore, everything is simply referenced by an alphabet soup type laundry list. It takes me back to my days in government. I simply shake my head.

As we drive further and further from the bay, it quickly becomes more isolated. More cactus. More rocks. More scrub brush. and then I see the sign.

Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Camp Delta.
No photography.

This is the place. The place where the U.S. government has shipped hundreds and hundreds of men from all over the world. Shipped here to explain what they have done. To be interrogated. Shipped here out of fear for what they might do. Again, depending upon whom you ask, shipped here rightly. Or, again, depending upon whom you ask, shipped here wrongly.

We travel inside the gate, toward Camp Delta. We travel up a small rise. As we reach the apex, I can't help but see the sapphire blue of the Caribbean before me. But also in the distance is something else. Something that causes another feeling. Fear. Trepidation. Anger. I'm not sure. Camp Delta lies before me.

The bus comes to a halt and I step back out into the heat.

I look up into the sun that beats down on this place. It is hot. It is humid. My escort, my tour guide, my overseer, points to the red flag to my left. He says the red flag represents high temperature. When it gets hot, and it is, this flag is raised. He then goes on to describe that when the humidity also increases dramatically, a black flag is raised. This is to warn the guards that it is dangerous to be outside.

I don't ask how hot it is. The sweat dripping off my back and sides makes me wonder whether they lost the black flag.

However, the red flag is not the only flag that I see. As I look up, standing outside of this fenced in prison, I see several rows of razor wire atop this very tall fence. Beyond the razor wire, inside the prison, I see guard towers. I see men with automatic weapons. Again, just like before, these men mean business. And then, I see something else. Waving in the breeze which is only starting to kick up, I see the American flag.

As I stare at this flag here on Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, surrounded by razor wire and armed guards, I wonder. Does all of this protect or isolate? Liberate or imprison? Defend or defile?

Camp Delta is essentially seven different prisons. Camps 1 through 6 plus Camp Echo. All are maximum security prisons except Camp 4 which is a medium security prison. The guards describe this as the prison for the detainees who are more compliant. Camps 1 through 4 are all more temporary in nature while Camps 5 and 6 are more reminiscent of maximum security federal prisons around the country. They should, they are based upon such prisons.

Where the detainees are kept depends upon how compliant they are. My escorts emphasize that the detainees are not prisoners because they have not been found guilty of anything. They are just being held. Some, until the conflict is over. I ask, how long? They respond. Until the conflict is over. Is this one of the problems?

Today, we will see parts of four of these prisons. We will see some of Camps 1, 4, 5 and 6.

As I approach Camp 1, an army private, he looks about 18, unlocks the door and lets me through. I enter and am locked in. I go through another gate and enter the prison. Once inside, there are various cell blocks that are individually locked.

At this time, Camp 1 has been emptied all of detainees. Apparently, the detainees have found a way to dismantle the faucets, take out the springs and fashion the springs inside into weapons. As a result, the entire camp is going to be refitted with new faucets. Nevertheless, it is useful to see how the detainees were being housed here. They were housed in individual cells but can see each other through the bars.

A Lt. Col. shows me the items the detainees are given including toothbrushes, toothpaste and clothing as well as other items. An additional item is the Quran, which is provided to any detainee that wants one. In addition, painted on a bunk or on the floor in each cell is an arrow pointing toward Mecca so that the detainees always know which way to turn in order to pray. Some pray up to five times a day.

After Camp 1, I am then taken to Camp 4. This is the medium security camp. As I enter and the doors are locked behind me, I see a difference. There is a central courtyard and blocks surrounding it where detainees sleep, communal style. As I step into the courtyard, I see a group of detainees to my right, approximately 10 of them. I'm told these are all men from Afghanistan. The rest, mostly Saudis, were moved out of this Camp because of recent disturbances.

As I turn and look, I see men between about thirty to about sixty. All have dark skin, and long beards, some snow white. They wear white outfits as compared to tan and orange, worn by the less compliant. According to my escort, these detainees have been in U.S. custody since sometime in 2002 or 2003.

I look into their eyes and wonder. What did they do? Terrible things? Anything? How many interrogations? How many more? What benefit could there be to continue holding them? What I am told is that keeping them here insures that they are kept out of the fight. But how do we know that? How do we know whether any have or ever had any stomach to enter it in the first place, let alone go back?

Was the original interrogation reliable? Were they picked up on a battle field? By whom? Or are they being held because of a "better safe than sorry" mentality?

Trying not to stare at them, some look back at me, defiantly. Some turn away and walk back toward their bunk houses. I guess I can't blame either response.

My escorts rush me along.

I later see hospitals and mental facilities. All to convince me about the extensive medical care the detainees receive. About how it may very well be better than that which the soldiers around me receive. Of course, in my mind, I find the contrast interesting between this great care on one side and the arguments being made in Congress and by the President trying to allow the CIA to continue "rough interrogations" on the other side. This may actually include waterboarding or simulated drowning. Is this why the psychological care is available? I guess the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in again in the future, as it has a couple of times on these issues.

I move onto Camps 5 and 6 that too are incredible. The ability to control any detainees and to follow their every movement and hear their every whispers is clear. I see two interrogations through cameras as they are taking place. One is with a man from Sudan and the other is from Morocco. Interestingly enough, both men are sitting in very comfortable blue Barca-loungers as they talk to interrogators. I'm told that at minimum, they are shackled to the floor by their ankles. I suspect, it could get worse.

I later look at Camp X-Ray. This was the original camp that has since been closed. It is also the Camp in which most of the photos were taken that show men in orange jumpsuits, some still wear them by the way, and have hoods and blacked out goggles. This camp has been emptied and is overgrown with weeds.

As I look at the conditions, at the food, at the interrogations that I am shown, I must say that I see no signs of mistreatment. I see no signs of torture. I see conditions that are reasonably consistent with those that I have seen in federal correctional facilities in the states.

That being said, I did not see everything. I did not see the other camps. I did not see other detainees. I was not given the right to talk with any of the detainees. And of course, while I am told over and over that the Department of Defense has specific rules regarding detainee treatment, I don't know about the oversight. Because, after all, Abu Ghraib happened while prisoners were held in DoD custody. Sometimes it is not about the rules in place but the oversight to insure that the rules are followed. Of course, there is also one additional concern, as I write this. Congress looks to pass legislation that would provide the CIA the opportunity to treat detainees differently that DoD requirements. The term "rough interrogations" seems to be open to interpretation. My guess is that the interrogated will have little input in these standards.

After more briefings and more tours, I prepare to leave Camp Delta. Right before stepping onto the small shuttle, I look over my shoulder at this place. And I see the American flag again. Still surrounded by razor wire. And, I must say, it saddens me. It saddens me that some around the world hate us so much. Want to kill us so much. It saddens me that this is what we feel we must do to protect ourselves. It saddens me that these very actions that we take on this base in the Caribbean may convince others around the world that the reason for their hatred in the first place may well have been justified. That we may very well be playing into their hands.

And what about the ones who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Two or three years as our guests? Even former Guantanamo Bay Camp Delta commanders have acknowledged that this has happened. I guess if you say terrorist enough times, even this fact washes away.

With one last look back on Guantanamo Bay from the plane, I'm as confused as ever. What I do know is that some argue that the base is necessary to fight this war on terror while others seems to be using it as a public relations device to perpetuate that very same war. I'm not suggesting which side is right or which side is wrong. But either way, we will all feel the consequences, for good and bad, in our future. So will our children.