36 Hours in Guantanamo

By C. Dixon Osburn, Law and Security Program Director
Crossposted from Huffington Post

Fidel Castro is within spitting distance of this American outpost on Cuba, but don’t come with any grand ideas of visiting Santiago or Havana. Guantanamo Bay is a self-contained destination with a secure perimeter. Yet, if you are coming to observe the trials of the century, trials of some of the detainees captured during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there may be no better place to be.


11:20 a.m.
You arrive at the Guantanamo Bay International Airport after a side-winding approach lands you on a small strip of tarmac. Have available five copies of your orders to process through the security. If you are with a non-governmental organization (NGO), an escort will greet you inside the terminal, join you on the ferry to the main base, and help you get settled in at Tent City. A fat iguana may grace you on your way to the latrines.


There is bargain shopping to be had on Guantanamo Bay. The Navy Annex is well-stocked with all necessities from chocolate to beach towels. Next door is the excellent Personal Services boutique where you can procure plush toy iguanas. Venture on to Radio GTMO for your Castro bobble-heads if they are in stock.

7:00 p.m.

The main hangout for the Joint Forces on GTMO is O’Kelley’s. You will feel young again as the bouncers card everyone regardless of age. O’Kelley’s is the Irish pub where you can get a Cuban sandwich, Smokehouse burger or fajitas. Dinner for two without wine will run you $25. Don’t ask for a mojito, though; they don’t know what that is.


8:00 a.m.
The main reason to come if you are a human rights observer is to watch the hearings of the detainees held at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The menu of who is being tried, what the issues are and who the witnesses will be change, but there is potentially breath-taking testimony at each turn. I attended the hearing of Omar Khadr, a fifteen year old Canadian picked up by American forces in Afghanistan, and accused of killing an American soldier. He says he didn’t do it. He says he was tortured. The government says he was not. One witness, known as “The Monster” testified that every day at the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan there was at least one prisoner who was handcuffed to a cage with his hands at forehead level and a hood on his head. Khadr was one according to another witness. Asked if one could hear screams of pain at the facility, The Monster said “continually.” There is a stern warning as you enter the court room, prohibiting stretching or sleeping. Hardly possible with testimony this riveting.

12:30 p.m.

Members from all services eat like sailors at the Galley. You can too. Get there at noon sharp to mix and mingle. The cafeteria style food is boiled to perfection. Or, you can opt for a burger, a make-your-own sandwich bar or the salad bar. The Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream bar is not to be missed. Lunch is a bargain at $4.75 and you can get seconds.

5:30 p.m.

After a long day of hearings, there is nothing better than a quick swim in the Caribbean. At Girl Scout Beach, coral forms the cliff walls descending to the sea, a reminder of how high the waters had once been. If an iguana greets you, remember the stern warning in the power point you will receive from the Department of Defense that it “is illegal to harm, kill or eat” an iguana. This follows the warning not to unplug computer lines.

8:00 p.m.

Catch the hey mon vibe at the outdoor café, Jerk House. The shack specializes in jerk chicken and ribs, served with rice and beans, cole slaw and corn. The homemade habanero sauce will put a kick in your step. Wash it all down with a cold cerveza while watching the sea and feeling the breezes dissipate the sweat on your brow. Dinner with beer for two runs $20.


11:00 a.m.
The hearings can begin early in the morning and last all day. You must be escorted at all times when you leave the tent city. The military has provided multiple levels of security as you approach the courtroom for the safety of all. The sign entering the courthouse is “Honor Bound To Defend Justice.” The military lawyers for both the prosecution and defense are outstanding. You will appreciate their precision and advocacy.

Today’s defense witness was someone named only as Interrogator #1. He was the lead interrogator of Omar Khadr. He came across as flip, disrespectful and bombastic. Those might be very good qualities for certain interrogators. He stunned the courtroom, though, when he described how he told the prisoner a story of how someone much like the prisoner had been raped by “four big black men” in an American prison and then may have died. Khadr, who had just been released from the hospital shortly before, after three life-saving surgeries, and was on a stretcher, at some point confessed to killing an American soldier. The question: was that confession voluntary? If not, the confession may not be admissible at trial, and the government may have no case.

5:00 p.m.

Getting banned by the U.S. government seems the latest rage, but you should mind the Navy Jack motto now being used in the war on terrorism and “Don’t Tread on Me.” Senator Lieberman has introduced legislation that would strip Americans of their citizenship if the State Department determines a person’s actions constituted an intent to renounce citizenship. Whoa, Joe! On island, the Department of Defense told four reporters they would be banned from Guantanamo Bay because they reported the name of a witness whose identity the court had ordered protected. Sounds reasonable. But, the name of the witness has been in the public domain for two years.

7:30 p.m.

For your last night, go to the Bayview Club for Mongolian stir fry. The Bayview Club is a colonial-style club with walls the color of seafoam, or dentist mint, or some green one cannot identify. Pick up two plates, one for vegetables (choose from cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, rice sticks?, and ten more), and one for protein (beef, turkey, pork, shrimp). Each is weighed and priced separately. A healthy portion will run no more than $10. After paying, you choose from a variety of sauces with which your meal will be prepared from the sizzling hot olive oil and refreshing ginger water to the standards of soy and teriyaki. Take your bounty to the grill and watch your tensions melt, banned or not, as the chefs chop, stir and grill.


Ryan Air and Delta Airlines fly non-stop from Andrews Air Force Base in 3 hours. Air Sunshine and Florida Coastal Airlines fly direct from Fort Lauderdale on a small aircraft in 4 hours. You must receive orders from the Department of Defense for all travel to the island.

Tent City has a twenty to thirty rooms for visitors on a mile square of pine board floors and walls with tenting draped over. Rooms share three to six single beds, and come stocked with industrial lights hanging from cords. Shower and latrine tents are within walking distance, except during hurricanes. Free wi-fi is spotty, as is wi-fi purchased for $100. Cell phones do not work. Very minimalist, rustic chic.


Published on May 10, 2010


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