Monday, March 26, 2007

Iraq War: A visitors guide to Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo Bay unmasked
Stephanie Balogh March 27, 2007 12:00am
Article from: Herald-Sun

Guantanamo Bay has 4200 residents, 385 of them suspected terrorists. The Herald Sun's STEPHANIE BALOGH reports from behind the scenes at one of the most secretive places on Earth.

A CUBAN rock iguana lives underneath the US military commissions building on Guantanamo Bay. but don't ask its name. That's classified information.

The metre-long iguana is a protected species on the base and the penalty for maliciously running over the local wildlife is a maximum $US10,000 fine under the US military justice system.

The maximum sentence is life behind bars.

The makeshift light khaki and brown military commission building, which was once an air terminal, overlooks the rugged Cuban coastline.

The crystal-clear ocean is a warm 26C -- trouble is, it's patrolled by heavily armed, high-speed military patrol boats.

Guantanamo Bay is a joint military facility, a naval base on Cuban territory that the US controls under a perpetual lease.

The facility is a unique blend of Cuban cool and American kitsch co-existing amid high-level military security.

Most of the buildings are off limits and cannot be photographed for security reasons.

About 4200 people call the naval station home, including some of the world's most deadly terrorism suspects.

The main part of the base houses a well-stocked supermarket, uniform store, beauty and barber shop, as well as McDonald's and Subway restaurants.

Thanks to American taxpayers, the subsidised shops at the base offer cheap liquor. A six-pack of Budweiser costs $US3.80 ($A4.70) -- half the price on the US mainland.

There are at least five bars and clubs on the island, including the popular Tiki Club, the Goat Locker, the Windjammer, the Clipper Club and, for the diehards, Club Survivor.

But vying for the attention of all those visiting the tropical base is its supremely tacky souvenir store.

For about $US10 visitors can buy a Guantanamo Bay T-shirt emblazoned with a fierce-looking bulldog with the words "United States Marines Unleashed. Sinking our teeth into the Middle East".

And a souvenir shot glass will set you back $US6 ($A7.50).

There are also caps, fridge magnets, stuffed plush toy iguanas, teaspoons and drinking mugs depicting the barbed wire that encircles many of the base's classified buildings.

And for those who have approval to visit the base, there are the Leeward Quarters for $20 a night, which offer "combined bachelor quarters" accommodation.

There are about 385 detainees there, including September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and accused October 2002 Bali bombing planner Hambali.

Guantanamo Bay is also one of the settings for the Hollywood blockbuster A Few Good Men, which revolves around the bastardisation and murder of marine private William T. Santiago.

The movie, which depicts a military court martial, is remembered for the bellowing line from Jack Nicholson's character Col Nathan R. Jessep: "You can't handle the truth."

The movie was made in 1992, well before Guantanamo Bay morphed into a detention centre for the worst of the worst, accused terrorists rounded up after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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