GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - News4Jax began an investigation in 2015, when more than 100 terrorist suspects were detained in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Today, there are only 41 prisoners there. That reduction is part of a yearslong effort by former President Barack Obama to close the joint detention facility, but Congress is pushing back, not allowing that to happen.
President Donald Trump announced an order during his State of the Union address to keep the controversial facility open.
"In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield, including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi,” Trump said during his speech Tuesday. “So today, I am keeping another promise. I just signed an order directing Secretary Jim Mattis to reexamine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.”
The horrifying attacks against America on Sept. 11, 2001, led the United States into the War on Terror, which led to America's solution to prisoners of war.
The U.S. converted camps at Naval Station Guantanamo into detention facilities for terror suspects captured on the battlefield. The controversy over the treatment of those suspects erupted over images from the first camp used, and Camp X-Ray may always be the most recognizable site on the military installation.
The campus of Camp X-Ray is now overgrown and abandoned, never again, apparently, a site for refugees who are seeking asylum.
The Department of Defense opened the camp in January 2002, describing it as a temporary shelter for "the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth."
For years, critics claimed the U.S. was trying to turn the scene of shame into a public relations vista.
Some of the infamous enduring images of terror suspects come from Camp X-Ray, the place the Bush Administration forced detainees to endure harsh conditions.
Now, instead of kneeling, powerless prisoners, or interrogation rooms with waterboarding, the government focuses on more palatable images -- answers to what they provided suspects as necessities during the 90 days the camp was open in 2002.
"They were able to shave. They had two buckets: One for waste and one for water," one soldier said.
Joint Task Force rules prohibited News4Jax from identifying any of the soldiers who spoke with us, or showing us around Camp X-Ray. They said it's a safety precaution for Americans serving abroad. But one of our guides gave us detailed information on what he said really happened.
“These cells here were 8-by-8. The Geneva Convention says they have to be bigger than 6-by-6, so they are larger than what they need to be," the soldier said. "As far as the Geneva Convention is concerned, we have accommodated in that way."
Soldiers constructed "upgraded cells" as the first of the detainees arrived 16 years ago, with gravity tubes for the detainees to urinate in.
“People would say it is still inhumane,” the soldier told News4Jax. "But if you can ask a soldier who has who has been to Afghanistan, they would say that they had the exact same accommodations and the exact same conditions to urinate in over there."
But what wasn't the same were the weapons wielded by the soldiers guarding the camp.
In a silver-roofed sea hut near the rear of the camp, Army personnel made up the Internal Reaction Force.
When asked what examples of non-lethal weapons they would have, the public affairs officer said, “Batons, foam darts, rubber bullets, bean bag guns."
No firearms were allowed, but the soldiers wore riot gear, including Kevlar helmets with face and body shields, shin guards and chest protectors. They kept 24-hour watch over 299 detainees at its peak use.
While Haitian and Cuban refugees found help from America at Guantanamo, the refugees in Camp X-Ray back in the 1990s were "incorrigibles.” The military said they either demonstrated criminal behavior or had criminal histories.
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