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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 August, 2003, 05:26 GMT 06:26 UK
Guantanamo inmates languish

By Gordon Corera
BBC correspondent in Guantanamo Bay

The Joint Task Force annex building sits alone on a windy hilltop overlooking the sprawling Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

Sometime soon - no one knows exactly when - the now-empty building will become the focus of world attention as it hosts the first military tribunals for Guantanamo's detainees.

The Pentagon says no official decision has been made on location or timing. But the newly painted signs on the inside saying "Courtroom", "Prosecution" and "Defense" tell a different story.

The Joint Task Force annex building, Guantanamo Bay
Military tribunals may be held in this building
Six inmates at Camp Delta - two of them British - will be put on trial here, even though they have not yet had access to a lawyer.

As well as the detainees, American justice will also be on trial and the base is already preparing for the global media invasion that will come with the first hearings.

There have been reports that an execution chamber is being built.

The man in charge of the detainees, General Geoffrey Miller, said nothing was finalised yet.

"Guantanamo has no approved plans for an execution chamber. And so while we have plans, none have been approved," he told the BBC.

Child prisoners

Some people - deemed innocent after extensive interrogation - have been released from the camp. Some may stand trial soon. Others could just be left here to wait.

General Miller explained how the fate of each man was decided.

US Army soldier guards detainees at Guantanamo Bay, January 2002
There is no sign of what the future holds for most prisoners
"The commander's responsibility is to make an assessment of when we have gained the valuable intelligence that the detainee has and then make an assessment of the threat the detainee poses," he said.

"Should they be transferred back to their own country, released or further detained?"

Down the road from the main prison camp sits Camp Iguana. This is where the three child prisoners - aged between 13 and 15 - are held.

The children get very different treatment from the adults - games, recreation activities and even videos. They also get a view of the ocean - something which they had never seen before, since they came from landlocked Afghanistan.

The children - or Juvenile Enemy Combatants as the Pentagon prefers to call them - have also been seen by psychiatrists and social workers and received an intense education programme to try to aid their rehabilitation.

Extensive interviews have led the US to believe they were kidnapped and coerced into fighting in Afghanistan. And so now it looks like the children may be released.

"We are very close to making a recommendation of a transfer back to their home countries," General Miller said.

Food 'incentive'

The man in charge of the children, Staff Sergeant Doug Fitzpatrick, explained the children had not been subject to political education.

View of the sea from Camp Iguana
Prisoners at Camp Iguana have a tantalising view

"We are in no way trying to Americanise the juveniles here," he told the BBC.

"What we are trying to do instead is just allow them to go back to the age they are. The changes that have occurred in them are basically just reverting back to childhood."

But for the nearly 700 adults at the main camp, there is no sign yet of what the future holds for most of them. It is the lack of certainty that makes this so different to any other prison, where an inmate can look forward to a release or a parole date.

And this has taken its toll on the detainees. Psychiatrists are permanently on-site and there have been some 31 suicide attempts, including two in the past two weeks.

There is now a more gradated regime for the prisoners. If they are well behaved and co-operate with interrogations, they are taken to a lower security part of the camp where they get more free time and more interaction with other prisoners.

These prisoners mill around in white uniforms to distinguish them from those in orange - the prisoners from the maximum security section, who spend almost all of their time locked up.

And the potential of a future release is also held before them to encourage a full confession.

Food is also used as an incentive.

Chief Warrant Officer James Kluck is in charge of food for the detainees. He explained how sweets were used, and how interrogators had even been to the McDonalds on the main naval base and brought back happy meals to take to prisoners to try to get them to talk.

It is impossible to know just how much useful intelligence has been gleaned from the captives. Most seem too low-level to talk about anything like terrorist plots, and any information they had is now likely to be extremely dated.

But this still leaves the problem of what to do with them.

As soon as the diplomatic haggling is over, the military tribunals are likely to start up for a select few detainees. And some others who, like the children, are considered innocent and no longer a threat may be released.

But for the hundreds of others of legal castaways here on this remote beautiful corner of Cuba, the long wait to find out their fate will go on.

The BBC's Nick Bryant
"At Guantanamo Bay they are preparing for the first military tribunals"

Gen. Geoffrey Miller, Guantanamo Bay commander
"We are very close to making a recommendation on their transfer back to their home countries"

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