By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 21, 2008 - The commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo believes two very different Guantanamos exist today. "There is the Guantanamo that exists in what I would call pop culture and the media and most people's minds, and then there is the Guantanamo that exists here, the one that I see every day," Navy Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby said in a teleconference from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with online journalists and bloggers.
People who visit the detention facility for enemy combatants and see the conditions there come away with a much different impression from that formed by people who rely only on what they've heard.
Over the course of the year that Buzby has commanded at Guantanamo, the detainee population has decreased by about 100 to 270. Since Guantanamo opened, the admiral said, more than 520 detainees have either been transferred or released.
Buzby said the greatest compliment he has received from visitors is when they say, "I never realized it was so different. I was led to believe it was something totally different." He added that nearly all who visit are impressed by what they see.
Living conditions for the detainees are modeled after U.S. prison facilities, Buzby noted.
"Our Camp 5 and Camp 6, which is where about 75 percent of our detainee population lives ... are actually models of a prison in Indiana and a prison in Michigan that were brought down here and built," he said. "The very same conditions that U.S. Bureau of Prisons prisoners live in are what our detainees live in, in terms of incarceration."
He added that every detainee in Camp 5 and Camp 6 – regardless of how compliant he is -- receives at least two hours of outdoor recreation with other people daily. The detainees also receive a shower every day. "[This] is actually more than the Bureau of Prisons offers their high-security folks," the admiral pointed out.
The other 25 percent of the detainee population, who are deemed "highly compliant" in following the camp rules, live in Camp 4. "[It] is a very open-air, communal sort of facility, where they live in groups of six in a bunk room," Buzby said. "They have access to recreation about 22 hours a day, including group recreation and group prayer."
Buzby added that detainees can easily earn access to live in Camp 4.
"People are placed in the various camps based on their compliance with the camp rules," he said. "Any one of those detainees can earn their way into Camp 4 through compliance with camp rules and just behaving themselves."
But allowing detainees to live in Camp 4 does come with some risks that Buzby assumes. An uprising in Camp 4 – the only such event since the camp opened -- caused $500,000 in damage, he said.
The uprising occurred during a campwide search of living quarters, he explained. Several of the most compliant detainees banded together and refused to participate in the search. Since that incident, Buzby said, he has taken a closer look at who is allowed into Camp 4.
"I personally vet every detainee that goes into Camp 4 now, so that I see their background, what they did prior to [their] capture and how they've behaved since they've been here," he said.
Buzby said a typical day is very calm, but a detainee only has to do something a little bit wrong to get out of Camp 4. He added that many of the other detainees who like the conditions in Camp 4 have begun to police themselves and "they don't want to screw it up or have it screwed up for them."
In addition to taking care of the detainees' living conditions, another paramount service offered is medical attention.
"We have ... a psychologist, a psychiatrist, six psychiatric nurses and a whole host of trained corpsmen, who are specifically focused just on our detainee population," Buzby said. "I put eyes on every detainee every single week, and I get reports on a daily basis on the conditions. And, the detainees, quite frankly, are asked at least once a week how they're feeling and how they're doing."
Buzby is expected to leave Guantanamo Bay soon to become deputy chief of staff for global force management and joint force operations for U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. Navy Rear Adm. David M. Thomas is slated to succeed him at Guantanamo.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works for the New Media branch of Defense Media Activity.)