Greetings from Guantanamo Bay ... and the sickest souvenir shop in the worldBy ANGELA LEVIN
The Daily Mail
May. 07, 2008
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The sands are white, the sea laps gently and crowds of bronzed Americans laze in the Caribbean sunshine.
They have a cinema, a golf course and, naturally, a gift shop stocked with mugs, jaunty T-shirts and racks of postcards showing perfect sunsets and bright green iguanas.
Only the barbed wire decoration, a recurring motif, hints at anything wrong.
Welcome to "Taliban Towers" at Guantanamo Bay, the most ghoulishly distasteful tourist destination on the planet.
As these astonishing mementoes show, the US authorities are promoting the world's most notorious prison camp as a cheap hideaway for American sunseekers – a revelation that has drawn international anger and condemnation.
Just yards from the shelves of specially branded mugs and cuddly toys, nearly 300 "enemy combatants" lie sweltering in a waking nightmare.
It is six years since foreign prisoners, many captured in Afghanistan, were first taken to this US-occupied corner of Cuba. Yet even now, no charges have been brought against them.
While the detainees lie incarcerated, visitors can windsurf, take boat trips and go fishing for grouper, tuna, red snapper and swordfish.
The United States' 1.5million service personnel and Guantanamo's 3,000 construction workers are eligible to visit the "resort", which boasts a McDonald's, KFC and a bowling alley.
They even have a Wal-Mart supermarket.
The vacation comes at a knock-down price: just $42 (£20) per night for a suite of air-conditioned rooms, including a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedrooms.
But it is the souvenirs that have led to the greatest criticism. One T-shirt from the gift shop is decorated with a guard tower and barbed wire. It reads: "The Taliban Towers at Guantanamo Bay, the Caribbean's Newest 5-star Resort."
Another praises "the proud protectors of freedom". A third displays a garish picture of an iguana and states: "Greetings from paradise GTMO resort and spa fun in the Cuban sun."
A child-sized shirt says: "Someone who loves me got me this T-shirt in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."
There are mugs inscribed with "kisses from Guantanamo" and "Honor Bound To Defend Freedom".
The Guantanamo holiday trade was exposed by Zachary Katznelson, a British-based human rights lawyer and spokesman for Reprieve, the group leading the international campaign against the camp.
"When I see the conditions the prisoners have to cope with and then think of the T-shirt slogans, I am appalled," he said. "To say I am repulsed is an understatement. Unbelievable as it may seem, the US authorities are proud of the 'souvenirs' and what they are doing."
Mr Katznelson represents 28 of the detainees and makes regular visits to the prison.
"The military keeps a tight hold on everything that is available in Guantanamo Bay and someone senior has given their approval for this disgusting nonsense," he said.
"Pretending that Guantanamo Bay is essentially a resort in the Caribbean is grossly offensive and the idea of relaxing in the sun while close by many individuals are robbed of their rights, tortured and abused is both repugnant and ridiculous."
His anger is shared by other human rights campaigners. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said Guantanamo represents a shameful chapter in American history.
Amnesty International said: "These supposedly 'fun' souvenirs are in grotesquely bad taste and the fact that they are on sale at the camp quite frankly beggars belief."
There are currently 280 prisoners sweltering in cages in temperatures of up to 100F (38C). The camp, where 7,000 soldiers are stationed, was established in 2002 following the invasion of Afghanistan.
In 2004, photographs of cowed Guantanamo prisoners in orange jump suits shocked the world.
"The majority are kept in isolation in cells that are no bigger than a toilet," said Katznelson. "There is no sea view. Instead, if they have a window, it looks out on to a bleak corridor. The cells are lined with steel from floor to ceiling, including the toilet, sink and bed base.
"There is a popular misconception that these men have had trials and been found guilty. Nothing is further from the truth. Not one of them has.
"The tortures that the Americans use are wide-ranging and inhuman. One is to blast the cell with freezing cold air. Another is to pretend to take the prisoners to a country like Egypt where prisoners are tortured, even to the extent of taking them on a mock flight, so they can be treated in a barbaric fashion."
Katznelson continued: "Inmates are offered three meals a day, but there are eight prisoners who have been on hunger strike for over a year asking either for a trial or to be set free.
"These men are force-fed twice a day. First they are strapped down with 16 different restrictions, including one that jerks their head back. Then a tube is fed through their nose and down into their stomach.
"The guards don't always use lubrication and regularly use the same tube for several different prisoners without bothering to clean it."
Guantanamo Bay has been rented as a military base from Cuba since 1903 for an unchanged $4,499 a year.
"As it is outside American territory the US Constitution doesn't apply," said Katznelson.
This may soon change as the US Supreme Court is about to reach a verdict on whether the Guantanamo Bay area is de facto American soil.
If so, the US Constitution does apply and the men will have the right to a fair and speedy trial.