GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba - These captives already get to order fast-food takeout from the base and have access to a phone booth for weekly calls. Now the 17 Uighur Muslims awaiting a nation to grant them asylum are about to go high-tech, with laptops and Web training.
While awaiting details of President Obama's order to close the prison camps by Jan. 22, commanders here have ordered 20 laptops for the captives of Camp Iguana.
"As you know, detainees are leaving this place," said Army Lt. Col. Miguel Mendez, who oversees detainee classes, a multilingual library, and a now-emerging virtual computer lab. "We're getting them computer classes to prepare for their return."
The Uighur detainees won't be sending electronic mail to their lawyers or family members back in communist China anytime soon. Instead, the military is setting up an internal Intranet at the half-acre compound "to teach them how to e-mail," Mendez said.
A federal judge last year ordered that the men be set free after reviewing the American military's reasons for holding them in habeas corpus petitions that reached the U.S. District Court in Washington, by order of the Supreme Court.
But the Chinese citizens in exile so far have no place to go.
As devout Muslims, they fear religious persecution in their homeland, in part because of the stigma of having been held at Guantanamo on accusations of receiving paramilitary training in Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 2001.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had said that some could come to the United States for resettlement, triggering protests from members of Congress around Virginia, where other Uighurs live and have offered to settle them. Late Friday, the administration filed papers with the Supreme Court opposing their release into the United States.
On Saturday, Australia's foreign minister said that country was considering a third request from the United States that it resettle 10 of the Uighurs.
Nury Turkel, a Washington-based Uighur-rights activist, hailed the computer training development. Internet access could allow the men to listen to Uighur broadcasts of Radio Free Asia, he said.
Moreover, laptops would help the men "be reintroduced into a modern society," said Turkel, who noted that after eight years in U.S. custody the computer training "also would give hope to the men that their freedom is nearing."
Some Uighurs sent from Guantanamo to asylum in Albania several years ago now e-mail with Turkel regularly, he said.
Attorneys for the men did not respond to requests for comment.
The computer training will offer DVD language training as well as a basic users skill-set to help in any future employment options, Mendez said. For example, detainees bound for Spain would get basic Spanish language classes.
The virtual computer lab is part of an emerging administration effort to convince both Americans and European allies that some detainees are safe enough to resettle in their communities.
On the one hand, the Pentagon released a report last month that said 5 percent of detainees released by the Bush administration later turned to terrorism - and that U.S. intelligence had their suspicions about an additional 9 percent who were freed.
On the other, a State Department diplomat is peddling detainee portfolios to Europe in a bid to find some asylum in new nations.
Rear Adm. David Thomas Jr., commander of the detention center, spent last week briefing the 2,000 sailor guards and other staff that operations would continue unchanged, with improvements until the prison camps are emptied.