GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — A prisoner with a long ponytail and dark glasses took seeds out of a small clear plastic bag and sprinkled them on a spit of land surrounded by gravel and razor wire.
It was not clear to the gaggle of journalists watching the man on the other side of a chain-link fence whether he was feeding birds or planting a garden. He can do either: The captive is one of the last remaining detainees at the Guantanamo Navy Base in Cuba, where 75 percent of the suspects captured in the war on terror have been sent home or to third countries. Four left in the last few days.
The majority of the 176 men left behind here spent the past months watching day-old recordings of World Cup matches, playing PlayStation 3, taking life-skills courses and occasionally seeing and chatting with their families via Skype. They enjoy Agatha Christie novels, but are awaiting the Twilight series in Arabic.
Four years after three men committed suicide here, prison camp bosses say nearly 90 percent of inmates — without counting the "high-value detainees" — have moved into communal living bunkers for cooperative captives, where good behavior is rewarded with things like 18 satellite TV channels and classes on personal finance. That's up from 40 percent just a year ago, when inmates protested in front of touring reporters and one killed himself.
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"The detainee mood is better. The guards' moods are better," said Army Reserve Lt. Col. Andrew McManus, deputy commander of joint detention operations. "Going from 40 percent compliancy a year ago to 90 percent obviously has value for them: It's 20 hours outside versus four hours.
President Barack Obama's executive order directing the place closed is posted on bulletin boards throughout the camp. So as spirits rose with the hope of imminent release, military brass in charge of the camp were eager to find small perks to ease a restless population that is keenly aware that Obama's deadline to close the prison here passed nearly six months ago.
So there's pita bread on the menu and women's faces and legs are blacked out of the prison library magazines. The 50-inch flat-screen TV offers far more channels than when the boob tube was first inaugurated here a year ago, and the military now orders soccer balls in bulk to replace those that pop when they get stuck in the razor wire.
And while human rights groups acknowledge that conditions have improved dramatically, particularly since Obama moved into the White House, they insist there's more at stake than the chance to watch television.
While the use of special forces is down and evidence gleaned from torture is outlawed, the Obama administration has also appealed habeas corpus rulings, leaving some detainees in confinement even after judges have ordered their release.
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