Christmas at Guantánamo: Proof That Anything Can Be Normalized

The Naval base at Guantánamo Bay celebrates the holiday season.The Naval base at Guantánamo Bay celebrates the holiday season. (Photo: John Knefel)

Holidays at Guantánamo Bay are exercises in strained normalcy. The festivities are uncanny, like a society trying to rebuild after an apocalyptic event. Holiday movies that are otherwise forgettable become reminders that the country is in a war without end. And the election of Donald Trump makes Christmas at Guantánamo Bay even more surreal, if such a thing were possible.

I watched Bad Santa 2 on a Monday night under a starry sky here in early December, as the Naval base geared up for Christmas. The opening scene shows Billy Bob Thornton’s character, Willie Soke, trying to commit suicide by sticking his head in the oven, only to realize that method is going to be too painful. He then attempts to hang himself but is saved when a faulty crossbeam collapses. It’s a tasteless joke in a loathsome movie, and in this setting it only serves as a reminder of the nine detainees who have died here. Seven of those deaths were suspected suicides.

In January, the prison will celebrate its 15th anniversary. The brutal history of this place, and the torture that happened in prisons the US ran in Iraq, Afghanistan and at CIA black sites, is in danger of being forgotten — or worse, justified. Do the guards here know that in 2006, three detainees successfully hanged themselves? The detention camp commander at the time, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., said the suicides were “not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Six years later, Adnan Latif, a Yemeni man detained without charge or trial, who had been ordered to be released by a federal judge (later overturned on an appeal brought by the Obama Department of Justice), had killed himself by overdosing on pills he’d hoarded.

My first reporting trip here, in October 2012 was just weeks after Latif had died, and the base was gearing up for another holiday: Halloween. A military-produced, base-wide newsletter called The Wire…

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