Guantanamo Bay interrogators focus on prison activity

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay are asking detainees primarily about activity inside the U.S. military prison, the mission commander said, revealing a shift in focus from the wider fight against terrorism.

The information from detainees is most important to preventing them from hurting themselves or attacking guards, said Navy Rear Adm. David Thomas, the top officer at the detention and interrogation center.

“The primary focus is the safety of the detainees as well as the detainee guard force, and that’s why we have this intelligence activity,” Thomas said Saturday.

The shift reflects the diminishing intelligence value of al-Qaida and Taliban suspects who have been held as long as six years at this isolated U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

Critics say the inward focus proves Guantanamo has outlived any purpose.

“Guantanamo has become little more than a holding center for hundreds of men, most of whom will never be charged with a crime and have nothing to offer the U.S. government in the way of actionable intelligence,” said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch.

The detention center opened shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and holds about 265 foreign men, many of them described as among America’s most dangerous enemies. Although most are held in individual, solid-wall cells, they can shout to one another through slots in their doors and pass messages between chain-link recreation pens.

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