Policy: National Security

Gitmo's notorious 'Camp X-Ray' slowly reclaimed by nature

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September 11 Terrorist Attacks,National Security,PennAve,Tim Mak,Guantanamo Bay

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — The sun rises uneasily over Camp X-Ray, a temporary detention facility that housed dozens of suspected terrorists in the months immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

That uneasiness is matched by the discomfort that even some of the most stringent supporters of the global war on terror share about whether detainees who have been at Gitmo for years should continue to be held there.

Today, Camp X-Ray is utterly overrun by grass and weeds that overtook the site over the past decade of disuse. Four-foot-long banana rats, not guards, now oversee the camps from above the metal cages that once held prisoners. Small deer roam free — and die on these grounds, too.

What once was a heavily guarded camp can now be accessed with just one set of keys that open gates on two fences that encircle the facility.

X-Ray was meant to be a temporary detention facility while more permanent detention facilities were being constructed elsewhere on the island. Though the Images of orange-suited men held in its fenced cages still define Gitmo for many Americans, the camp actually operated for just four months in 2002. It has been abandoned since then.

From 1980 to 1996, Camp X-Ray was used as a detention center for misbehaving refugees, largely Haitians and Cubans, who were passing through the naval base. But other than prominent mentions in the dramatic film "A Few Good Men," Guantanamo Bay gained a place in public consciousness only after suspected terrorists began arriving at Camp X-Ray in the years following the terrorist attacks in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Pennsylvania.

The first wave of detainees to arrive at the camp numbered just 20 — though their numbers would peak at 300. They were bussed through two sets of gates and processed into the 8-foot-by-8-foot chain-link cells. Each detainee got two mats, a Koran and a prayer cap. This would be in addition to basic hygiene products like a canteen, towel, toothbrush and toothpaste.

Upon arrival at the camp, detainees would be showered and deloused, their blindfolds and ear plugs removed. They would then be evaluated by medical staff. The medical facility at the camp now stands derelict, its stairs collapsed, its rooms unkempt after years of disuse.

The buildings that have weathered the years best are the ones that housed the interrogation rooms. Sometime after the camp was closed in 2002, those buildings were still being used for what the Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques” on a Saudi national, Mohammed Qahtani.

For now, though, X-Ray lies abandoned, its existence assured only because it could still be used as "evidence" in forthcoming trials of Guantanamo detainees.

Click here to see a gallery of Tim Mak's photos from Camp X-Ray.

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