GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (WSVN) — Amid the ongoing battle over trying to close the detention center for terror suspects known as Gitmo, the men and women who work there try to overcome the facility’s controversial history.
The prison is located near Guantanamo Bay picturesque cliffs and clear water. "It really is a terrific place to live," said a soldier.
It is also the site of what Amnesty International calls a toxic legacy for human rights. Now abandoned and overgrown, Camp X-Ray was the facility where the first post-9/11 detainees were sent, starting in 2002.
What remains of Camp X-Ray can only be reached by a gravel path. 7News cameras captured its decaying wooden guard towers and structures, which is now home to snakes and wasps.
Top leaders of the detention center said the deteriorating structure is part of a dark chapter that has since been closed. "It is the face of not such good things that may have happened in the past," said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Peter Clarke, commander of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo.
Since taking office, President Barack Obama has called for the closure of Gitmo. "Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values," he said in a news conference.
However, those running the detention center indicated they are doing nothing wrong. "My entire chain of command, all the way up to the president of the United States, knows we do business here in a very professional manner," said Clarke.
"I know what we’re doing here, and I know we are doing the right thing," said U.S. Army Col. David Heath, commander of the Joint Detention Group at Gitmo.
Only 80 terror suspects remain at the facility. Twenty-six are held under what’s called the law of war, but could be transferred out. Seven have been charged with war crimes, three have been convicted, and 44 are being held indefinitely under the law of war designation.
7News cameras captured some of the detainees through thick glass. Nine of them were sent to Saudi Arabia last week.
An obstacle slowing down the commander in chief’s ultimate goal is that Congress has prohibited the detainees from transferring to the U.S., and for some, there is nowhere else to go. "I’ve got to be able to run the place, no matter what happens," said Heath.
That means, those who follow the rules spend their days reading, watching TV and meeting with fellow prisoners and doctors.
The detention center’s hospital is equipped with a feeding chair. Detainees who go on a hunger strike, called by soldiers "non-religious fasters," could be fed liquid nutrition while restrained in the chair, but only with permission of the higher-ups.
"We try to convince them there is harm that can come from long-term, non-religious fasts, and we try to work with them on that," said U.S. Navy Capt. Rich Quattrone, head of the camp’s medical facilities.
Quattrone said, in his six months at Gitmo, no one has had to be forced.
Soldiers said, despite the uncertainty and the politics, they have a job to do. "My folks do a difficult job every day. They do it professionally, and they do it with honor," said Heath.
A 7News crew was not shown Camp 7, where what are called the "high-value" detainees are kept. Among them is 911 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
There is oversight. The International Red Cross inspects the camp and talks to detainees four times a year.
When — and if — it closes, Gitmo will revert back to its previous use as a holding spot for migrants and for victims of natural disasters.