A Day Exploring Guantanamo Bay

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The view of the bay in front of the Jerk House, coffee shop and the Tiki Bar.

Today the court in the 9/11 case was in closed session all day to discuss confidential information. We were not allowed to attend the hearing and instead were left  spend the day at our own leisure (with our awesome coast guard escorts to take us around the island). I took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in until a little past 8am and then joined several of my fellow observers to grab a coffee at the shop known as the “Starbucks” (the shop has another name, but everyone seems to call it Starbucks) right by the Jerk House. A few nights ago I had the best jerk chicken I have ever had outside of Jamaica at the Jerk House.

 

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Relaxing on Windmill Beach near the now closed Camp Iguana

It was time for my first visit to the beach for the week and so off we went to Windmill Beach, what I was told was the most popular beach on the base. It’s a rocky shore and there’s a bit of coral to dodge when entering the ocean, but the swimming was refreshing with small waves breaking near the shore and lounge chairs for free use. We also saw a few groups of scuba divers coming in and we were told the base offers scuba certification. I relaxed by the water below the former detention camp and read a bit (my book club is reading Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”; his theories seem a bit speculative to me).

 

Nearby Windmill Beach was Camp Iguana. The camp’s small size was made up by it’s prominent location overlooking the Caribbean and Windmill Beach. If it wasn’t a detainment facility, it would be a lovely spot for a hotel or spa. The camp formerly held three child soldiers and later some detainees who were classified as no longer enemy combatants.   It felt a little odd swimming and relaxing below a detainment facility (even a closed one), but such is the way of Guantanamo Bay: one night you pick up a Big Mac at McDonald’s and listen for a minute to the school’s band playing marches in the McDonald’s playground before you go to see “The Big Short” at the huge outdoor theater. While a few hours earlier you heard testimony from a detainee who alleges he is regularly and professionally tortured by some of the same men and women who are likely eating next to you at that same McDonald’s and sitting next to you at the movie. I’m not making any judgement as to the veracity of Bin al Shibh’s claims, but the contrast between the very friendly, pleasant and safe feeling that one has on the base perhaps belies the great seriousness in that there are numerous claims in the media and from NGOs that torture did take place here not terribly long ago and also that America’s most vilified and allegedly most dangerous enemies are detained here.

On a lighter note, I apparently did a poor job of applying sun screen as my splotchy sun burns are so bad, my roommates asked me if I have a skin disease. We made our way from the beach to three spots for souvenirs on the island: Radio GTMO, the post office and “Personalized Services,” a little gift shop by the Navy Exchange store.

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Holding a copy of “The Doors: Setting the Record Straight” from Radio GTMO’s vinyl collection with part of the collection visible in the background

We made our way to Radio GTMO first. A friendly radio engineer service member took us on a tour of the small station. There is a green room, broadcasting room, CD room, server/broadcasting room and a storage room where, tucked away in a corner, is the third largest vinyl collection at any US military base in the world. The vinyls are hidden away for a reason; the radio station employees, who recognize their value and play them regularly (including for throwback Thursdays), try to keep the vinyl’s in a place that is less prominent in the station so they don’t get picked for disposal to free up space. Carol Rosenburg wrote an interesting story about the attempted destruction of the 20,000 or so records. I picked up a few souvenirs including a Fidel Castro Bobblehead with the Radio GTMO logo on the base: “Rockin’ in Fidel’s Backyard.” The visit to the small post office and the Personalized Services store were less exciting, but I was able to pick up a couple souvenirs for friends and family. We had lunch at Subway and

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I am very happy with my Fidel bobblehead.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in the NGO lounge catching up with the outside world, preparing posts for this blog and killing time until our meeting with the Hawasawi defense team after the closed hearing in the 9/11 case let out.

By Matt Kubal, JD, Indiana University McKinney School of Law

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