GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - While the Obama administration sorts out which Guantanamo prisoners to hold as terrorism suspects and which to repatriate or resettle, the captives have sorted themselves out by entertainment preferences, camp officials said on Tuesday.
“TV is a defining mark,” said Army Lieutenant Colonel Andrew McManus, deputy commander of detention operations. “The camps have arranged themselves along TV watchers and non-TV watchers.”
Journalists visiting the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base for hearings in the war crimes tribunal of Canadian captive Omar Khadr were offered a tightly controlled visit to some of the detention camps on Tuesday, after Khadr’s hearing was delayed until Wednesday to give lawyers more time to prepare.
The U.S. military holds 183 foreign captives at Guantanamo, which has held about 780 prisoners since the detention operation began in 2002.
In the last few years, the military has tried to encourage good behavior by granting privileges to those who obey camp rules. About 80 percent now live in two communal camps where they can eat together, attend classes, socialize and watch television in small groups during daytime hours, McManus said.
Journalists have never been permitted to speak to prisoners but have been allowed to observe them.
In one prison where captives used to be seen through the one-way glass pacing back and forth in one-man cells, prisoners were gathered in open bays on Tuesday, absorbed in watching a soccer game on a big-screen television.
Two jumped up and cheered as someone scored.
“The TV in this block is on every single hour of the day,” McManus said.
Broadcasts are received via satellite at the prison camp in eastern Cuba and guards keep the remote controls to ensure captives watch only the channels approved by a security advisor. Those include a Qatari sports channel, al Jazeera in English and a prayer channel from Mecca, among others.
“The World Cup, we are doing our best to get that to them.” McManus said of the upcoming soccer playoffs in South Africa.
About half of those in the communal camps have segregated themselves into separate cellblocks to escape the ubiquitous television, said one of the guard supervisors, who declined to give his name.
The perks have helped encourage good behavior, as have recent announcements that some prisoners have been sent home or resettled in other nations, military officials said.
None could remember the last time a prisoner attacked the guards or threw urine and feces at them, something previous camp supervisors said happened often.
“It’s been a very quiet time for quite a long time,” McManus said.
One entertainment offering raised eyebrows. Journalists were shown a sampling of the games and art supplies offered for recreation in one of the communal camps.
Next to the checkers, chess board and puzzle books was a hand-held electronic version of “Battleship,” a naval combat game where players compete to blow up virtual ships.
Journalists were not allowed in the maximum-security camp that holds “high-value” prisoners such as Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi charged with masterminding the attack on the warship USS Cole, which killed 17 U.S. sailors.
The military won’t comment on conditions in that camp or what type of entertainment is offered.
Editing by Todd Eastham