Inside Guantanamo: Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith Regularly Visits Clients in the Prison Camp He Calls America's "Law-Free Zone". This Is His Chilling Report on Life Behind the Wire
Smith, Clive ord, New Statesman (1996)
The 12-seater Air Sunshine plane sets down at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base just as the sun descends behind the hangar. I am met by a military escort. We josh about the threat that the legal profession poses to national security: lawyers are required to stay the night on the leeward side, safe across the bay from the main base and the prison. He drops me off at the motel, the Combined Bachelors' Quarters or CBQ, where a sign boasts that it is "the pearl of the Antilles".
Here, for $12 a night, a bachelor can share a room with three other soldiers. Even in this age when "Don't ask, don't tell" is the official line on homosexuality in the US forces, the notion of combined bachelors strikes me as incongruous. They give me a room with four beds to myself. After eight visits I am an old hand here and I have my favourite room with a view of the placid Caribbean.
The motel sign also trumpets the base's motto, "Honour Bound to Defend Freedom", but freedom is a relative term here. Iguanas are free enough, and if my escort accidentally runs one over it's a $10,000 fine, as US environmental laws apply in Guantanamo. On the other hand, if you feel the need to hit one of the 500 prisoners who are now four years into their captivity it is called "mild non-injurious contact" and there are no consequences. Two years ago in the Supreme Court, we argued that it would be a huge step for mankind if the judges gave our clients the same rights as the animals.
At the motel, television is the only diversion. I am unsure whether the CIA organised this to spook me, but on each of my recent visits to the base I have had the option of watching Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray waking up over and over again to the same morning. As his clock radio clicks over to 6am, Sonny and Cher are inevitably moaning, "I got you, babe."
Guantanamo Bay is Groundhog Day. It's reveille at 5.30am for breakfast. The cook nonchalantly crushes a scorpion that has wandered into the chow hall and greets me with the same cheese omelette as yesterday. I am pinioned to my table by television monitors shouting the American Forces channel at me.
I walk a mile down the road to meet the 7am ferry. A bus always passes me at the same place and, as usual, I wave to the driver. The tarmac steams as the sun rises over the Cuban hills, stillness and beauty clashing with the rusted barbed wire. I wonder whether the ten-foot snake that was outside my motel door this morning lives in one of the wooden Second World War bunkers that adjoin the road.
Cresting the hill, I see the ferry coming across the bay. As it approaches the landing, tinny music can be heard above the drone of the engine. Each morning for a week it has been Jimmy Buffett belting out "Margaritaville". I have a fantasy that one day we will progress a track or two on that Buffett album to a song called "Why Don't We Get Drunk (and Screw)". But it never happens.
Most of the lawyers complain about staying on the leeward side, but I enjoy the morning cruise. High in the hills, as the pilot steers us in to the windward dock, four wind turbines slowly rotate. They are majestic, an unlikely sign of environmental sensitivity in such an otherwise harsh world.
The escort meets us at the dock and calls his code in to our unseen monitor. We stop off at Starbucks and then drive down to McDonald's. A soldier smartly salutes his superior, "Honour Bound, sir!" The officer salutes his reply, "To Defend Freedom, soldier!" The first time I saw this I chuckled, thinking they were joking. It's mandatory. It's the motto.
"Recreation Road" runs alongside Guantanamo Golf Course, grass sparse, leading to the prison camp. I cannot write about the layout of the camp, because that would violate the security rules.
The various camps have been given names steeped in irony. "Papa" is where the prisoners on hunger strike are …
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Publication information: Article title: Inside Guantanamo: Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith Regularly Visits Clients in the Prison Camp He Calls America's "Law-Free Zone". This Is His Chilling Report on Life Behind the Wire. Contributors: Smith, Clive ord - Author. Magazine title: New Statesman (1996). Volume: 134. Issue: 4767 Publication date: November 21, 2005. Page number: 14+. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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