GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA — They may be inmates of the world’s most infamous prison — accused of being the world’s most notorious terrorists — but they’re still soccer fans.
The most popular television program among the 149 men the military refers to as detainees?
“Right now, it’s the World Cup,” Navy Cmdr. John Filostat, spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said Sunday.
Detainees watch the matches on television in their detention camp in a communal setting, the audio in their native language piped to them through earphones.
Beyond soccer, the biggest news here in recent weeks has been the release of five Taliban detainees in a swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The controversial trade, which some Republican members of Congress have criticized as endangering national security, occurred on May 31. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has defended the deal, saying it was necessary to secure Bergdahl’s safe return and the assurances of the emir of Qatar that the Taliban members will be essentially house prisoners for the next year.
About 29 percent of the 630 detainees who have been transferred from Gitmo to other countries have resumed their lives as terrorists, Filostat said.
The transfer of the detainees came off without a hitch, Filostat said. Detainees learned of the deal, for the most part, by watching television.
The five came from the lower-security Camp 6, a communal lockup, so their absence was noted by some of their fellow detainees.
The mood among those remaining in the camp after the trade “was surprisingly normal.”
That means what has evolved into “normal” life since the camps opened in 2002 has continued. Detainees read papers in Arabic, Pashtun and Russian, take classes in English and Spanish, pray, and work out on treadmills and elliptical machines.
They also continue to act out. About half of them are in the higher-security Camp 5, a single-cell facility for “non-compliant” detainees, Filostat said. A smaller number live in Camp 7, home to terror suspects deemed to be of “high value.”
There’s a range of non-compliant behavior. There are verbal assaults on guards, a daily occurrence, Filostat said. And some detainees who refuse to eat are intubated, or forced fed, to keep them alive. Filostat declined to say how many weren’t eating, saying that detainees have used the number of hunger strikes as propaganda.
Then there’s “splashing,” he said. Detainees fling a mixture of vomit, urine and feces at their guards about once or twice a week, Filostat said.
“A lot of these detainees are still in the fight,” he said.