GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- The imposing steel and concrete building known here as Camp 6 once was the bane of Guantánamo detainees and human rights groups alike.
Built in 2005 for $38 million, it was a grim collection of darkened cellblocks where detainees were locked into their cells most days for 22 hours. Food was passed to the captives through a slot in the steel door, and guards peered inside every three minutes, to make sure none had hanged themselves. Lawyers said the rugged regime amounted to solitary confinement and drove the detainees mad.
Now, however, Camp 6 has become the lockup of choice for captives. Inmates can lounge in the cellblock, watching big screen televisions or chatting with each other. Meals, delivered in bulk, are parceled out by the detainees themselves and leftovers are stashed in a pantry in case a detainee feels the urge.
Perhaps most important, say military officers, when a detainee tires, he can retreat to his private cell and close the door.
It's the guards now who are confined to cages, small enclosures at the edge of each cellblock where they watch detainees, but rarely have the need to be in close physical proximity.
"It's the privacy factor,'' said Army Lt. Col. Andrew McManus, a senior commander, explaining why Camp 6 now houses half of Guantánamo's 174 detainees.
Life in the camp began changing, incrementally, across the first year of the Obama presidency even before the White House ordered the Pentagon to make sure the controversial prison camps were in compliance with the Geneva Conventions that govern how war prisoners are held and treated.
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