Banana rats fill void left by Camp X-Ray prisoners




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, at Guantánamo Bay

Financial Times, 24 January 2005

A tag on a white plastic ring bears the words written in slightly smudged felt-tip pen: “X-Ray keys”.

Several triangular copper keys jangle on the finger of the army sergeant as we make our way across the parched hills surrounding the prison that even four years later remains the most powerful image of President George W. Bush’s “global war on terror”.

White picket fences surround the gracious villas lining Nob Hill Road. The houses could be anywhere in America several are emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes evoking the domesticity of the US heartland whose sense of security was shattered on September 11, 2001.

The road dips among the cacti and leafless grey trees to join the route that leads to the crossing point between the US naval base of Guantánamo Bay and the Republic of Cuba. A rough track goes off into a scraggy wilderness of parched grass, rubble and the infamous wire cages of Camp X-Ray.

The camp housed the first prisoners to be captured by US forces in the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. Although it was home to the blindfolded and shackled detainees for only three months, until April 2002, images of the brutal environment shattered confidence in the Bush administration’s readiness to safeguard individual rights.

Crouching in the empty cells or among the coils of razor wire that top the maze of fences, ugly banana rats as big as large cats have replaced the detainees. Weeds have engulfed the camp they have invaded since the prisoners and their guards moved to the better conditions of Camp Delta a few miles away.

The beating sun has weathered the wooden watchtowers along the perimeter. Heat cracks the ground and a warm breeze rustles the dead, grey grass lying on the gravel. Metal boxes on tall poles with floodlights have been left at odd angles by the wind, their glass fronts giving the appearance of dark, stony faces peering down at the dereliction.

White butterflies flutter among the glittering shards of coiled razor wire. One is taken by the breeze through the mesh and into the shade of a cage. It flits across the hollow space where the floor is littered with droppings left by the horde of rats.

Photographers with telephoto lenses on a hill on the Cuban side of the fence gained the first glimpse of what was taking place there. But even with the camp empty and the locks sawn from the gates, the US naval command at Guantánamo refuses permission for new photographs inside, despite allowing this rare visit. Empty and blighted by weeds, Camp X-Ray’s enduring image is one the jailers are intent on erasing.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.