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Detainees in Cuba get appetizing incentives

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- American interrogators here have come up with a few new weapons as they try to pry loose the secrets of prisoners captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan. "It could be cupcakes, it could be Twinkies, it could even be a McDonald's hamburger," says Warrant Officer James Kluck, who, as the ranking food service officer, helps supply some of the unlikely ammunition.

"Sometimes, they go up on the base and get [the prisoner] a Happy Meal."

A McDonald's Happy Meal?

"Oh, yes, from what I'm told. It's got a toy and everything."

But somehow this doesn't seem surprising at the strange and surreal Camp Delta, the seaside prison complex built by the Pentagon nearly a year and a half ago in this fenced-off corner of Cuba. It is a penal colony unlike any ever created by the American government, nestled in cactus-spiked hills and visited by giant iguanas, but, by careful design, well beyond reach of defense lawyers and the US Constitution.

With a captor-to-captive ratio of greater than 4 to 1, it may be the world's most securely staffed prison, but not a single detainee has been charged with a crime or told how long he will be staying. The detainee population is 660 men and three teenage boys.

Although the detainees are said to be united in anti-American fanaticism, they are also a quarrelsome Babel, riven by religious schisms, 19 languages, the rivalries of 42 nations, and a high incidence of mental instability.

Camp Delta, as well as neighboring Camp America where the military guards live, faces the wide open blue-green of the Caribbean Sea, but captives and captors find the location claustrophobic, an isolated bunion on Cuba's rocky heel.

The camp's most important role is not as a prison but as an intelligence clearinghouse -- for names of operatives, details of attack plans, and insights on recruitment tactics and organizational strategies.

"We do approximately 300 interrogations a week, and we get better every week," says Major General Geoffrey D. Miller, commander of the task force of 2,800 soldiers and civilians who run the place. "Last month, we developed five times as much intelligence as we did in January. A lot of that is actionable intelligence."

The evidence to back up such claims is classified, meaning it is impossible to independently verify. Around Camp Delta, that is known by the watchword "op-sec," or operational security.

Miller says all of this secret information is increasingly being offered voluntarily, with prisoners asking for a chat in hopes of earning more exercise time, better living conditions, or more and better food. Which is where those Happy Meals and Twinkies come into play.

"The incentive program has been in place since February," says Kluck, the food service officer.

A month earlier, he had met with interrogation officials to discuss the sorts of foods that might elicit information. Inmates had expressed a particular desire for sweets, sometimes relaying their wishes through the military's Muslim chaplain.

About the same time, Camp Delta officials were planning another inducement -- a new medium-security wing that would offer communal living instead of solitary cells, larger portions of food, and a larger exercise area.

There were a few glitches. It took the food vendor two months to round up a supply of fresh dates, for example. But in April, the new medium-security Camp Four opened, and about 125 prisoners have earned their way inside, partly through good behavior, partly by virtually emptying themselves of useful information.

A quick tour of the place on a recent afternoon found five detainees lounging with their lunches in a shaded portion of the exercise yard. All five were bearded, and one had shaved his head. They watched with interest as their visitors passed a volleyball court toward an empty cellblock. One nodded in acknowledgment, although none called out. That would be behavior subject to punishment.

The predominant language of Camp Delta is Arabic, but most who have made it to medium-security status speak Pashto or Urdu, indicating that Afghans and Pakistanis have been more yielding than their counterparts from Arab states.

Prison officials say that in the maximum-security wings there are still plenty of inmates who clam up or act up. Some throw food, toothpaste, or urine at guards, according to Colonel Adolph McQueen, the joint detention group commander.

But for all the talk of sweets and exercise time as behavior modifiers, Camp Delta's most powerful incentive to detainees is the prospect of freedom.

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