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Guantanamo detainees are given chance to garden

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A select group of detainees at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been allowed to garden there for the first time, a military spokesman said.

Prisoners in Camp 4, which holds the "most compliant" detainees, started growing tomatoes several weeks ago in concrete soil-filled planters, Navy Commander Robert Durand said.

The military allowed the plants -- and provided plastic gardening tools, watering cans, and seeds -- at the request of lawyers for detainees, Durand said .

Gardening is intended to provide intellectual stimulation to prisoners, Durand said, comparing it with the military's library for detainees and literacy programs in Arabic and Pashto, spoken in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Camp 4 holds about 35 detainees who are allowed to congregate, spend 12 to 14 hours a day outside, eat communally, and live in barracks-style housing.

Only those who have "demonstrated long-term compliance with camp rules," are permitted to live in Camp 4, Durand said.

Guantanamo holds about 385 prisoners on suspicion of links to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Most are held in one-person cells and have only limited outdoor recreation.

Lawyers said they appreciated the decision to allow Camp 4 detainees to garden.

"This is welcome news and one small but important step toward sanity," said Sabin Willett, who represents ethnic Uighurs from western China held at Guantanamo.

Willett said gardens have traditionally been allowed in prisoner-of-war camps and US Army regulations require that "men held in prolonged imprisonment must be given some useful and creative thing to do."