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‘Good Riddance’: One Of Guantanamo’s Most Inhumane Camps Shuts Down

A maximum security facility at Guantanamo Bay, which was used to control “non-compliant prisoners,” including hunger strikers, was shut down by the Pentagon.

The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg reported Camp 5 and its 100 cells will be converted into “a clinic and psychiatric ward.”

Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has represented a number of Guantanamo prisoners, said, “Camp 5 was the original large-scale solitary confinement facility at Guantanamo, one of the most inhumane places to hold men there, and it won’t be missed.”

Wells Dixon, a senior staff attorney for CCR, reacted, “Good riddance to a place that caused so much pain and misery for our clients for so many years.”

Camp Five drove prisoners to madness. One prisoner in Camp Five told his attorney, “I’m fighting for my sanity.” A year later, that same man said, “The walls are really beginning to close in on me now.”

Camp Five was the site of the death of Abdul Rahman al Amri in May 2007. His death was ruled a suicide, but as covered in great detail by journalist Jeffrey Kaye in a new book, there are stark questions about his death, especially since prisoners were under constant video surveillance and guards were supposed to check on them every three to five minutes.

British prisoner Shaker Aamer was confined at Camp 5, especially since he was involved in protests and hunger strikes in the prison. According to Aamer, inmates there received “bland, tasteless meals in Styrofoam ‘clam shells’, with just an hour for a shower and outdoor recreation.”

As the Government Accountability Office described Camp 5, it consisted of “four housing units containing single-occupancy cells.” Most of the prisoners were there temporarily to “encourage compliance with facility rules,” and once they complied, prisoners were typically transferred to “one of the other camps [with] more shared living spaces.”

Yet, CCR disputes this characterization. It insists Camp 5 was not only for men who did not comply with rules. At one point, multiple prisoners were individuals “slated for release.” They languished in Camp 5 because arrangements for transfer were not finalized.

The use of solitary confinement in Camp 5 clearly amounted to torture. A “frosted window” provided prisoners with “minimal access to natural light.” They had no view outside. Fluorescent lights remained on for 24 hours and made it difficult to sleep.

When Bisher al Rawi was confined at Camp 5, his world was a 6-by-8-foot cell. His lawyer, Brent Mickum, wrote about his harsh confinement in January 2007 before he was released weeks later on March 31.

“Solitary confinement is but a single aspect of the torture that Bisher endures on a daily basis,” Mickum described. “While in isolation, Bisher has been constantly subjected to severe temperature extremes and other sensory torments, many of which are part of a sleep deprivation program that never abates.”

“Frequently, Bisher’s cell is unbearably cold because the air conditioning is turned up to the maximum. Sometimes, his captors take his orange jumpsuit and sheet, leaving him only in his shorts. For a week at a time, Bisher constantly shivers and is unable to sleep because of the extreme cold.”

The government claimed prisoners have access to “basic comfort supplies,” like “soap, toothpaste, clothing, and religious items.” However, al Rawi once tried to warm himself with his prayer rug, and the guards took it from him for “misusing” the rug.

The guards gave al Rawi “15 sheets of toilet paper per day, but because he used his sheets to cover his eyes to help him sleep,” according to Mickum, it was taken away for “misuse.” There were times when the heat was unbearable and made it hard for al Rawi to breathe. The temperature inside the facility sometimes was higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit because of the Cuban heat.

Camp Five was built by Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Halliburton.

On the grounds of Camp Five, Camp Five Echo was constructed. The cells were made “almost entirely of steel,” including the bed, floor, walls, ceiling, and door, according to a court filing from Mohammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani.

Rabbani sought a preliminary injunction in 2014 to halt the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners and violations of religious freedom in the facility. He was held in Camp Five Echo, where captives who engaged in hunger strikes were punished. In the camp, he was “forced to sleep on a steel slab despite doctors prescribing that he sleep with an isomat (a waterproof sheet). He endured “severe back pain from the metal slab,” which prevented him from “defecating normally.”

His attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, informed the court that the “hole in the floor,” where he was expected to go to the bathroom, “did not have sufficient room for him to place his feet and squat,” so he was “forced to defecate in his own food container, the only other repository in the steel cell.”

On January 3, 2014, Rabbani shared, “The dreaded Camp V Echo block is back in use,” because Colonel John Bogdan, head of Joint Task Force Guantanamo’s Detention Group, would not allow any protests. Rabbani requested a toilet chair to ease his pain and suffering, but medical personnel would not give him a chair unless he allowed the prison to force feed him.

A report from Newsweek on Guantanamo prisoner Emad Hassan, one of the leaders of hunger strikes, contained details about a room in which prisoners held in Camp 5 were able to spend one hour of time outside of their cell.

“Detainees can spend one hour a day alone in a windowless room, shackled to the floor, sitting in an old arm chair, either reading or watching TV,” Lauren Walker reported. Reprieve attorney Alka Pradhan said the chair looked “like your grandfather smoked and coughed on it for 40 years.”

Prisoners could read Harry Potter or Twilight but not works by authors like Shakespeare or John Grisham, who are some of the authors with banned books at Guantanamo.

When Joseph Hickman was a staff sergeant at Guantanamo, it was his understanding that the military was using the facility for detainees with mental issues or physical disabilities. His book, Murder at Camp Delta, contains a story from Camp Five involving Adel Fattough Ali al Gazzar, who was released to Slovakia in 2010.

According to Reprieve, al Gazzar wanted to volunteer with the Red Crescent in Afghanistan and help refugees after the U.S. invaded. “Within two hours of crossing the border to a refugee camp, the area was hit by a U.S. airstrike.” He was injured, and his leg was amputated. While in a hospital bed, he was sold to U.S. forces for a bounty and later tortured in a Kandahar prison before transfer to Guantanamo.

Hickman witnessed a couple of Navy third class petty officers harassing al-Gazzar in Camp Five.

“They were trying to get him to slide his wrists out through the “bean hole” (the small opening in the cell door) so they could flex-cuff him, open the door, and extract him for a cell search,” Hickman wrote. “But the detainee inside was screaming, “Fuck you!” and throwing out bits of food or garbage or feces—you never knew which—through the mesh window.”

“As I walked closer, I could see that the detainee was of average height, in his late thirties, and balding. On the floor next to him was a prosthetic leg. The man was seated on his bed, crying, as he raged at the guards. When I came up beside the guards, he went silent for a moment and glared at me.”

Hickman additionally recalled:

“What’s going on?” I asked the two guards.

One of them said, “This detainee, he’s an asshole. He always gives us a hard time when we search his cell.” Then, he added, “Once we get him out, he’s a lot of fun. We make him put on his prosthetic leg and shackle him, and we make him try to walk. It’s fucking hilarious.”

The other guard said, “We’ll kick his leg out from under him, and he’ll flop all over on the ground. All you do is tap it.”

I looked at these guards, thinking, “No wonder the guy won’t come out of his cell. You’re the assholes, not him.”

Hickman later found out it was standard operating procedure to confine prisoners in Camp 5 to “enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process.” New prisoners would be held in isolation for indefinite periods, if the Joint Intelligence Group and interrogators authorized it as part of a “behavior management plan.”

In other words, Camp 5 was one facet of a U.S. military “battle laboratory” that flourished as a response to the September 11th attacks. Experimental interrogations were employed against captives. Prisoners were drugged with substances like mefloquine, an anti-malarial drug, that put them at risk of “severe psychological effects.” “Controlled chaos” was used to help officers discover how to find and manipulate phobias, such as ‘insects, snakes, [and] claustrophobia.'”

Cavity searches as part of strip searches were employed. Female officers sexually harassed Muslim men explicitly to emasculate and degrade them. That is what went on at the maximum security solitary confinement facility

“As to the military’s motivations in closing it,” Kadidal concluded, “It was decrepit, but there are more decrepit facilities still being used at Guantanamo.” He suggested the closure had something to do with appeasing voters by reducing the amount of money spent on each prisoner still confined at Guantanamo.

The military prison now has 61 prisoners. Twenty are cleared for transfer, and 31 are essentially “forever prisoners,” meaning they have not been charged with crimes but the U.S. government insists on keeping them indefinitely detained.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."