Behind the Wire: Life at Guantanamo Bay

ByABC News
September 23, 2003, 3:44 PM

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Sept. 23, 2003 — -- The strangest sensation upon entering Camp Delta is the voices voices speaking to one another in Arabic, from cell blocks that surround you, but whose inhabitants are hidden from view.

Camp Delta is the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. military is holding some 660 prisoners the government has rounded up in the war on terrorism.

Allowed into the camp as visiting journalists, we know the detainees are all around us. But as we walk past the buildings where they are held, we strain unsuccessfully to make out figures through the tightly meshed metal walls and shadowy hallways.

We are in Camp 1, one of three maximum-security camps within Camp Delta. Camp 4, the medium-security area where good behavior is rewarded with volleyballs and prayer rugs, will come later. Regardless of the degrees of security inside, razor wire twists menacingly for miles around every corner of Camp Delta, dubbed "The Wire" by the soldiers who guard it.

Walking by us as they exit Camp 1 are two officials from the International Committee for the Red Cross. The ICRC sends people here for weeks at a time to meet individually with detainees the only group other than the military allowed access. The Red Cross has met with every detainee, some more than once, and with no military personnel present.

We nod politely as they walk past, fighting the temptation to pepper them with questions: What's it like in there? What are the detainees saying? What do they think will happen to them? The Red Cross has a policy of not talking to the media in such situations for fear it could compromise their primary role, which is providing humanitarian assistance to the prisoners. The Red Cross officials nod back at us and walk silently through Delta's gates.

First stop on our military-guided tour: an empty cell block. Camp Delta is not filled to capacity (it can hold about 1,000 people), so there are empty cells available as a stop for visiting journalists. Air is pumped through the building, making it slightly less stifling than the unforgiving heat that bakes the rest of the camp outside.

Stepping into an individual detainee cell is a surreal experience. The spartan facilities consist of a metal bed with a thin mattress, a toilet contraption in the floor and a small wash basin. Lifelessly draped across the bed is the infamous orange jumpsuit, seen so many times in video of Camp X-Ray, the cage-like facility where the first Guantanamo detainees were held in outdoor cells and often filmed walking to and fro between soldier escorts.