Guantanamo detainees allowed to garden

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A select group of detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been allowed to garden 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 soil-filled concrete planters, Navy Cmdr. 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 Friday in an e-mail response to questions about the activity.

Gardening is intended to “provide intellectual stimulation” to prisoners, Durand said, comparing it to the military’s detainee library and literacy programs in Arabic and Pashto, a language spoken mainly in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Camp 4 holds about 35 detainees, who are allowed to spend time together, 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.

In all, Guantanamo holds about 385 prisoners on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. Most are held in one-person cells, eat alone 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, an attorney who represents ethnic Uighurs from western China held at Guantanamo.

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

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