Next to the alternatives, Camp Four is paradise. Real, colored prayer rugs, thicker mattresses, pillows even, and soccer shoes. Pure-white clothes instead of glaring catch-me-you-if-you-can orange. A librarian comes around with books, and lunch is on picnic tables, family style. This is where the prisoners get to come if they are good, meaning well behaved and fruitful in their interrogations. "We try to sell this place," says Army Colonel Jerry Cannon, a National Guard member who in his other life is the sheriff of Kalkaska County, Mich. Military interrogators mention Camp Four to the prisoners, who get a glimpse of it as they pass it on their way to the hospital or elsewhere. It is one more step toward the day when some of the detainees might actually get out for good. That goal is reinforced by Arabic posters in the exercise yards, like the one full of children's faces. Loosely translated, it reads, DAD, HOW CAN I GROW UP WITHOUT YOU?
Of course, how to get out of the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is as great a mystery as the place itself. Escape is a long shot. The base is a prison, and a jewelry box. "You can't be too careful protecting this enormously valuable intelligence trove," says Army General Geoffrey Miller, commander of the joint task force that runs the detainee operation on the 45-sq.-mi. base. And so there are constant perimeter patrols by infantry squads in full battle gear, and visitors get turned inside out before they're allowed anywhere near the cellblocks. Getting out legally doesn't seem much easier. The detainees--660 suspects from 44 countries, scooped up in the war on terrorism--cannot challenge their arrests or plead their cases or even talk to a lawyer, because the U.S. government denies that they have those rights. They are not U.S. citizens, and the base, while under total U.S. control, is not on American soil; since 1903, it has been leased from Cuba for 2,000 gold coins a year, now valued at $4,085, in perpetuity.
That leaves one last exit strategy when desperation takes hold. According to military officials, there have been 32 suicide attempts in 18 months, at least one of which left a man in a coma. (Cannon calls the attempts "manipulative behavior.") Former detainees say in most cases the prisoner made a noose out of clothes or sheets and tried to hang himself from the cell bars; one, they say, tried to slit his throat with a knife he had made from metal. "Whenever we saw someone trying to kill themselves," says Ghazi Salahuddin, a detainee from Pakistan released in July, "we would all shout, attracting the attention of the guards." The new mental-health clinic on the base is usually close to full.
Though U.S. officials have released some inmates deemed harmless, new ones are still arriving, with about 20 coming and going last week. Amid a global argument about their rights, the Supreme Court recently agreed to decide whether the captives at Guantanamo can at least challenge their detention in federal court. But in the meantime, however great the outcry from allies and human-rights groups, the U.S. military, along with the White House and the Justice Department, has not retreated from an unprecedented approach to prisoners captured in an unprecedented war.