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10 Things to Know About Guantanamo

By Al Kamen
Friday, September 15, 2006

The Pentagon successfully avoided being on David Letterman's Top Ten list for many years. So this week Secretary Donald Rumsfeld 's speechwriters tried to help, sending out "Ten Facts About Guantanamo" to highlight what a nice place it is.

The first fact notes that the inmates include some truly nasty terrorist trainers and bombmakers. The second says "More money is spent on meals for detainees than" on U.S. troops stationed there. "The average weight gain per detainee is 20 pounds."

"The Muslim call to prayer sounds five times a day," we are told, and arrows point "toward the holy city of Mecca."

The prisoners receive free medical, dental and psychiatric care, and in 2005 "there were 35 teeth cleanings." The other 400 or so housed there will have to wait awhile.

Fact No. 5 notes that the Red Cross visits "every few months" and that there's regular contact between the terrorism suspects and their families.

"Recreation activities include basketball, volleyball, soccer, ping-pong and board games," according to Fact No. 6. "High-top sneakers are provided."

We are told that upon release, everyone gets "a Koran, a jean jacket, a white T-shirt, a pair of blue jeans, high-top sneakers" -- a second pair -- "a gym bag of toiletries" (remember not to try to take the liquids onboard), and "a pillow and blanket for the flight home."

Fact No. 8, probably one of the most important, notes that, contrary to what you might have heard, the prisoners actually really want to be in Guantanamo. "The mother of a detainee stated: 'Of course they wanted to stay there. . . . They had human rights and good living standards there. They had dentists and good meals -- everything they wanted.' " Turns out, this quote from a March 2004 edition of the London Times was a Russian mother comparing Guantanamo with Russian jails.

There was "Arabic language TV," a large library with books in 13 languages. "The most requested book is 'Harry Potter,' " we're told.

And Fact No. 10. "In 2005, Amnesty International stated that 'the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times.' "

This last fact was intended as a shot at Amnesty for comparing a veritable five-star hotel with the infamous Soviet labor camps. After all, the commies never gave away high-tops.

We're told some Pentagon folks balked at putting the list up on the Pentagon Web site, but an updated version -- minus the Russian mother quote -- is up there now at http://www.defenselink.mil/home/dodupdate .

Matt Latimer , director of the Pentagon writers group, who put together the list, said, "We welcome the chance to let people know there's more than one side to the story in Guantanamo." Latimer said, "We've gotten a lot of kudos from people who are glad we are at last . . . defending the facility."

In the Scary Old Land of Oz

Most books on the Iraq war tend to be grim reads -- unrelenting, head-shaking, disastrous military decisions, one page after another.

But a new book by our colleague and former Post Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran offers tales of U.S. ineptitude in Iraq that are so wondrously mind-boggling that some sections are laugh-out-loud funny.

Of course it's gallows humor, since the book, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," chronicles life inside the heavily fortified U.S. enclave, the Green Zone, during the first year of the oft-chaotic U.S. reconstruction program.

It's an account of how clueless but politically connected munchkins end up in important positions in the Coalition Provisional Authority while knowledgeable veterans are frozen out. As a handwritten sign in a British housing compound bar admonished: "Yee-haw is not a foreign policy."

There are scenes of visiting U.S. officials who invariably find extraordinary progress amid obvious disaster.

Thus Tommy Thompson , former secretary of health and human services, pops in to visit a Green Zone hospital and says the military-run facility -- which served mostly Americans -- shows how the United States had begun to "reestablish Iraq as a center of excellence for medical protection and medical care."

But, Chandrasekaran notes, "none of that excellence was evident outside the Emerald City." It was only a five-minute drive from the make-believe land of Oz to the huge Yarmouk Hospital. "It was, quite simply, a disaster," he writes as he describes the horrific conditions there.

Oh, You Know, One of Those Middle States

Outgoing D.C. Mayor Tony Williams , at his weekly news briefing Wednesday, talked about meeting with House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner to talk about getting voting representation in Congress.

Williams went on about how Sensenbrenner is from Illinois, and how that's a great state, always supportive of civil rights, home of Abraham Lincoln , our greatest president and so on.

At the end, one reporter asked: But isn't Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin?

Well, whatever, Williams said, it's a "core American value" were talking about.

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