ABCNEWS Goes Inside Guantanamo

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Sept. 14, 2003 — -- The people who guard it call it simply "The Wire."

At the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, miles of razored coils wrap the Delta Prison Camp, binding 660 men U.S. officials deemed "enemy combatants," mostly during the Afghanistan phase of the war on terror.

But "The Wire," and the facility's magnetically locked doors, are perhaps more significant for what they're keeping out — lawyers, family members, and the protections of U.S. and international law.

"I think it's maybe the most lawless set of actions the United States government has taken in my lifetime," said Stuart Taylor, a legal columnist for the National Journal.

The military prefers to keep the focus on the physical conditions of the facility, which it has worked hard to improve.

"The treatment of the detainees here at Camp Delta reflects the very best traditions of how our nation treats our enemies," said Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

Spartan Living

Cameras are kept out, though military-approved photos have been released. ABCNEWS got a partial glimpse inside the facility, and produced some sketches.

The cells are spartan, but fairly cool.

There are three teenagers among the detainees, who hail from 42 countries.

The prisoners, mostly Muslims, are allowed to observe their religion. They have daily calls to prayer, among other things.

Good behavior wins special privileges, a place at Camp Four, where they have group meals outside.

Three juvenile prisoners have views of the sea. For some, it's the first time they have ever seen it, and it appears to fascinate them.

But the three juveniles apparently love to watch videos on their television, too.

Staff Sgt. Molly Jaffe, a guard, said some prisoners are curious about their captors, saying, "They want to know just as much about you as you may want to know about them."

‘I Cannot Stand This Place’

Still, many argue that humane treatment is no substitute for basic legal rights. Taylor and others say the Geneva Conventions require hearings to determine why the men are being held.

There have been 32 suicide attempts, by 21 individuals, to date.

Letters home obtained by ABCNEWS show despair. One Kuwaiti prisoner wrote that he wants "to die, as I cannot stand this place."

In fact, even as the military at Guantanamo Bay tried to show ABCNEWS that life behind the prison's fences is more than humane, some top Bush administration officials are said to like the idea that Guantanamo frightens its inmates. They are said to be investigating whether it would be possible to send some Iraqi prisoners there.

A top administration official estimated it could take the better part of 10 years before many of those held at Guantanamo get out. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said most probably will be held until the war against terrorism ends.

‘Always Professional’

Camp officials told ABCNEWS that it's the uncertainty of their fate that is the worst punishment for the prisoners.

The guards should know, because they probably spend more time with Guantanamo's inmates than anyone else.

"When you're inside The Wire, it's always professional," said Staff Sgt. Troy Jansen, one of the guards, "because otherwise, that might affect some sort of decision you might have to make."

Most of the soldiers don't want to get too close. But some hope, at least, that their unusual relationship might have a purpose.

"Eventually, when they get released back to their country," said Sgt. Joseph Ademuwagun, a guard, "they'll tell people Americans are generous and good people."

ABCNEWS' Claire Shipman, Cindy Smith and Kendra Gahagan contributed to this report.