At Guantanamo, fewer assaults on guards after conditions eased

President Obama is expected to sign an executive order that would close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within the next year. Yet his administration faces a slew of legal and diplomatic hurdles, and if the effort stumbles, it could bring steep political costs.
Saturday, July 3, 2010

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO -- More prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are sharing meals and recreation time with fellow inmates -- an easing of conditions that has led to fewer assaults against guards at the U.S. base in Cuba, the new commander said Friday.

Nearly 160 prisoners have been shifted into a communal living setting instead of spending most of the day confined alone in solid-wall cells, Navy Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harbeson said.

There have been about 60 cases of prisoners assaulting guards in the first seven months of the year, compared with more than 1,000 for 2009, he added.

Harbeson said 88 percent of the 181 prisoners are living in two camps that allow detainees to eat together and congregate. In January, about 75 percent were in communal living, while in previous years a majority of detainees were held in single-person cells because of security fears.

The military defines assaults broadly, including such things as spitting or hurling bodily fluids. Lawyers for the men and human rights groups complained that troops used excessive force and said the harsh isolation was driving them insane.

Harbeson said there hasn't been a confirmed case of a guard mistreating a detainee since February 2004. The military nonetheless took steps to improve conditions at the prison that President Obama has vowed to close.

-- Associated Press

© 2010 The Washington Post Company