The Prisoner of Guantanamo

BOOK: The Prisoner of Guantanamo




Behavioral Science Consultation Team. Doctors who offered interrogators advice on the background and psychological makeup of detainees.

Camp Delta


Main U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, with four separate camps. Camps 1–3 are maximum security, with Camp 3 being the most stringent. Camp 4, the newest wing, is medium security, offering greater privileges and barracks-style cellblocks, a status that has earned it the nickname “the Haj.”

Camp Echo


A small CIA-run prison that is part of the Camp Delta complex.

Camp Iguana


A former officer's cottage on a seaside bluff that houses three juvenile detainees, located about a mile from Camp Delta.



The abandoned cage-like facility that housed the first several hundred detainees, who arrived at Guantánamo before Camp Delta was constructed.



The Directorate of Intelligence, Cuba's equivalent of the CIA.



The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.



The U.S. Department of Defense.

The Fenceline


The seventeen-mile boundary of the U.S. Navy Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.



A detainee, usually housed at Camp Echo, who has not been officially registered and whose identity is presumably unknown to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Gitmo, the Rock, GTMO


Nicknames and the military acronym for the U.S. Navy Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.



The Pentagon's acronym for the Global War on Terrorism.



The U.S. Navy Base and Naval Air Station at Jacksonville, Florida.



The Joint Detention Operations Group, which provides the management and military police who run Camp Delta.



The Joint Intelligence Group, which coordinates interrogation operations at Camp Delta.



Joint Task Force Guantánamo, the command structure for Camp Delta and all its security and interrogation operations.



Military Police.



Meals Ready to Eat, the standard military food ration.



Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, usually used to describe an MP shift commander inside Camp Delta.



Naval Exchange store, equivalent to an Army PX.



Other Government Agency, Gitmo shorthand for the Central Intelligence Agency.



Operational Security.



Office of the Secretary of Defense.



Rocket-propelled grenade, a handheld anti-armor weapon.



“Manipulative self-injurious behavior,” a military term for some suicide attempts by Camp Delta detainees.

The Wire


Slang for the razor-wire enclosure of Camp Delta; also the name of JTF-GTMO's weekly newspaper.


came ashore overnight, and for hours he lay on the darkened beach as still as a spy, an infiltrator behind enemy lines.

A three-foot iguana spotted him first, nosing into soggy pockets at the water's edge just as the eastern horizon was turning pink. The soldier didn't budge.

Sunlight found him next, and as the tide receded the sand grew warm. Still he held his ground, even as a Cuban
named Vargas approached along the hillside above the dunes, boots crunching on a coral path.

For Vargas, still groggy at this hour, the morning patrol had been as uneventful as always. Downhill and to his left lay the glittering turquoise of the Caribbean, close enough that he could hear waves hissing upon the sand, although his view was blocked by an underbrush of scrub oak and spidery cactus. Uphill and to the right was his daily objective: a wooden watchtower on stilts, perched in the dawn like a heron waiting to strike. It was what passed for his office. Years ago, two soldiers would have been watching his approach—the overnight shift, awaiting relief. Now, budgets being trimmer, there was no staffing after dark, and the tower was empty and silent. It meant that Vargas's partner, Rodriguez, hadn't yet arrived with either the radio or the coffee. The radio, a gift from an aunt in Hialeah, was a massive silver box forever blaring with congas and brass. Much too loud for the breakfast hour, but Vargas endured it as long as the supply of caffeine held steady. Rodriguez always brought a full thermos of a brew that was thick, black and sweet, served by the thimbleful in sips to last out the morning.

Just beyond the tower was the sight that made this place remarkable, and that kept Vargas and his comrades in the Brigada de la Frontera employed. It was an American naval base, its eastern boundary marked by a long line of chain-link fencing. In some sections the fence was insanely high—three times the height of a basketball goal—and crowned by coils of razor wire. Its seventeen-mile perimeter enclosed the lower bowl of Guantánamo Bay.

Vargas had grown up in Havana, a world removed from this rustic outpost, and when he first arrived on the job a year ago he had been affronted by the presence of the Americans, taking it personally. Every day he heaved stones across the fence in anger, albeit while maintaining a careful distance, lest he step on a mine. Whenever he spotted a foot patrol of U.S. Marines beetling through the brush on the other side he got even angrier and shouted slogans of the Revolution, thinking that might taunt them into trying something foolish.

Rodriguez, six years his senior, never joined in. He only laughed, or told stories of the old days, when the Cubans used to train a spotlight on the nearest Marine barracks, morning, noon, and night, to disrupt the enemy's sleep.

But as months passed the routine grew boring, and Vargas's zeal cooled. He came to regard the intruders as part of the scenery, and now watched their doings as a naturalist might observe the mating habits of an exotic but invasive species. With binoculars you could peer into their small bayside village, with its stores and schools, its ball fields and drive-in movie theater, its golf course and fast-food joints.

The newest attraction was a sprawling prison they'd built during the past year—fencelines within the fenceline, concentric circles of captivity. The inmates wore orange jumpsuits, and through the binoculars they stood out like radioactive particles moving across the slide of a microscope. Now it was the Americans who kept the lights on at all hours, and in the winter months when Vargas's patrol began before sunrise the prison's forest of tall vapor lamps smudged the sky like a false dawn.

In recent months there had been more construction, as they built barracks for the troops guarding the prisoners. If Vargas hadn't known what they were up to, it might have made him nervous seeing so many new arrivals. They now outnumbered his own garrison in Boquerón—a town that had been renamed Mártires de la Frontera, even though everyone still used the old name—by more than two to one. In the old days, Rodriguez told him, it would have been a provocation.

When Vargas thought about it long enough, his earlier resentment rekindled. Sure, the Yankee base had been there for more than a hundred years. But it was sheer effrontery the way the Americans still wore out their welcome more than four decades after the Revolution. For the Cubans, it was sort of like divorcing a flamboyant wife only to have her stern and forbidding mother refuse to leave the house, immovable from her perch at the end of the couch. Doing as she pleased even though you never chatted, and never exchanged pleasantries, even if sometimes you couldn't help but recall how much you had once loved her daughter, especially when the two of you had gambled and danced in Havana like there was no tomorrow.

But these little flare-ups of Vargas's temper always faded quickly. In fact, there was only one aspect of Guantánamo that he had yet to grow accustomed to, and that was the alarming presence of the iguanas. Big, green, and deceptively fast, they gave him the creeps, especially the way they brazenly approached to practically beg for handouts. Rodriguez only made it worse by feeding them, stooping low to offer bites of bread or banana. They ran toward him like pets, tongues flicking and tails swishing in an awkward gait. Vargas had watched Americans feed them, too—candy bars, potato chips, and other prepackaged junk. The lizards got so accustomed to freeloading that he couldn't hold out a hand without worrying that one of them would take a quick nip, mistaking his finger for something from a vending machine. Rodriguez always said not to worry, that they were herbivores. Vargas had his doubts.

The sun was creeping higher now, and Vargas was nearing the end of his patrol. Soon he would turn uphill, angling toward the fenceline that led to his tower. But first he had to make a brief reconnaissance of the shoreline, from the point where the trail skirted the back side of the dunes. When the weather was pleasant he sometimes detoured onto the beach. If it was hot enough he might even take off his boots to wade briefly in the shallows, watching for flashing schools of baitfish that rode in on the breakers. Today felt like just such a day, especially since no music was yet issuing from the tower.

His boots sank in the sand as he climbed the dune. Then the strand came into view, and Vargas froze. There was a man down there, a soldier in camouflage. Vargas knew right away from the uniform that it was an American, and he instinctively dropped into a crouch with his gun at the ready, fingering the trigger as tall grass brushed his cheek. He chambered a round of ammunition and was alarmed by the loud noise. His grogginess was gone. He was as alert as if he had gulped three cups of Rodriguez's coffee, and his palms sweated onto the gun's stock.

Was the enemy coming ashore? Was this only the first of many? Or had others already arrived and gone into hiding? He glanced behind him, heart beating rapidly. Perhaps someone was about to rise up and slit his throat. But all was quiet, and as he looked back toward the beach he realized that the soldier wasn't moving a muscle. He saw as well that the man's uniform was soaked, darkened by the sea from head to toe.

Vargas rose slowly to his feet. Then a sudden movement nearly made him cry out in astonishment. It was an iguana, a huge one, raising its head next to the soldier's waist. It had been poking around down there, probing the man's pockets, and its reptilian eyes swiveled like turrets toward Vargas. He wasn't sure what was more disturbing, the body or the way that the lizard had laid claim to it, but he was now certain he was viewing either a corpse or a drunk. Nothing else could explain letting that beast put its snout down your pockets.

He stepped toward the beach, and for a moment the iguana lingered, staring back. A ridge of toothlike scales stiffened along its arching spine, and it slowly opened its mouth to unfurl a long tongue in a yawning pink tunnel that, for all Vargas knew, led all the way back to the Age of Reptiles. In this pose it was the very portrait of B-grade menace from some horror matinee, and Vargas fought down a shudder.

Deciding that enough was enough, he shouted—an animal cry of rage and disgust. Then he raced down the dunes, a soldier on the attack, gun outstretched as his boots tossed sand in his wake.

The iguana fled in an instant, covering twenty yards before pausing to check its flanks. By then Vargas had reached the soldier and was no longer in pursuit. Now it was his turn to poke around the body.

Things didn't look promising. Seaweed was plastered darkly to the soldier's pale, bristly cheek, and his skin looked waterlogged, puffy, like sodden bread. Worst of all, the man's eye sockets were empty, hollowed out by creatures far hungrier than the iguana.

Vargas turned away, doubling over, then retching violently. His empty stomach creased, and he coughed up a glistening string of mucus. Wiping a sleeve across his mouth, he collected himself for another glance, then gazed uphill toward the tower. Somehow it seemed wrong to leave the soldier behind, untended. The scavenging iguana would doubtless return, and soon enough seagulls and turkey vultures would join in.

But for now his duty was to reach the tower and call in his discovery. Rodriguez would scarcely believe it, much less their officers in Boquerón. This was news, a real sensation. It would create a stir with repercussions all the way to Havana.

Dead or alive, the enemy had come ashore at Guantánamo, and that was cause for alarm.

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