Partial picture of Camp X-Ray
Guantanamo detention center is closed, but questions remain.
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - The plywood door to the interrogation room creaks open.
"Please watch your step," warns Donald Randall, a Navy petty officer second class. "There's barbed wire on my right, and the floor is falling through."
There are countless things in Guantanamo that the military strives to keep secret. The infamous Camp X-Ray is no longer one of them.
In fact, guided tours of the now-vacant, decaying prison camp are encouraged, presuming you're one of the few outsiders permitted to visit the remote naval base.
The military wants to drive home the point that Camp X-Ray - which provided what may be the iconic image of Guantanamo: bound and blindfolded, orange-clad detainees kneeling near wire cages - is empty, and that it has been since mid-2002, when permanent prisons were erected nearby.
But it's not that simple. Few things about Guantanamo are.
Camp X-Ray is also a kind of creepy museum - a slice of controversial history, a time capsule from the U.S. government's continuing global war on terrorism.
The plywood shack that Randall calls an interrogation hut? Human-rights advocates might label it a torture chamber.
Detainees brought here were removed from their cells, lashed to gurneys, rolled 75 yards to the huts, and shackled to a wooden bench connected to a desk.
"Here we are," Randall said as he entered the room on a muggy morning. "It's kind of self-explanatory."
He pointed to a flat wooden structure bolted to the center of the floor. "This is an interrogation table."
He motioned to the bench. "The detainee would sit here - it's solid. There would be a guard to either side. Maybe a translator was here. . . .
"When the interrogation would be finished, they would be gurneyed back to their room. Very simple."
What's the hole in the wall for?
"An air-conditioner. They made the interrogation rooms as comfortable as possible within Camp X-Ray."
Comfortable? What were the interrogations like?
"Sorry, I don't have any information on that."
Outside, as Randall continued his tour, he cautioned to keep an eye out for snakes and banana rats. His remarks were sometimes punctuated by automatic-weapons fire in the distance. The bursts seemed to come from over a nearby ridge. "Marines," he explained. "Live-fire exercises."
The sailor moved on, through ankle-high brush, boots crunching the sun-baked earth. He offered a little history, including a simple explanation for the camp's Orwellian name.
"Camp X-Ray is named for its coordinates on the grid map," he said. (Military maps are laid out in grids in a series of numbers and phonetic letters: 1, 2, 3 . . . 7, 8, 9 and Alpha, Bravo, Charlie . . . Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee, Zulu. This camp happens to be located along the X-Ray grid.)
In case the point was missed, Randall, who is a professional actor - literally a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild - repeated his theme: Camp X-Ray was open for just four months in 2002, until jails were erected at Camp Delta and two bigger and stronger buildings, structures modeled after a federal prison in Indiana, rose nearby.
Randall walked inside a Camp X-Ray cell. Creeping tropical weeds nearly covered the wire door. Each detainee got his own cell, Randall explained, plus his own Koran. Accommodations were spartan, he said.
"They had a bucket for the bathroom and a bucket for drinking water. A lot of these people were very upset. So what they would do is grab their bucket where they had defecated and urinated in, and throw it at you. . . . So this wasn't the best thing."
As a partial quick fix, U.S. soldiers fashioned a series of pipes into a long urinal. This urinal is the only piece of furniture that remains in the cells.
"The rooms are 8 by 8 by 8 - 64 square feet," Randall said.
He also quickly noted: "The Geneva Convention only calls for 35 square feet."
The Geneva Convention? Hadn't the military declined to apply it to Camp X-Ray detainees in 2002?
Randall didn't seem to have any information about that.
For interviews, photos and more, go to http://go.philly.com/gitmo EndText