Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: What It’s Really Like

I went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO) with no expectations, no preconceived notions and an open mind. Of course, I had heard all the criticisms, opinions, and negative media coverage but as always, I wanted to see it for myself and form my own opinion. So after five days on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, I feel like I have a pretty good feel for the place and an opinion that may surprise many people.

First, I want to state a few facts to dispel a few common misconceptions and misinformation that people have about Guantanamo Bay. The Naval Station has been around since the turn of the 20th century and was not formed as a result of Fidel Castro, The Cuban Missile Crisis or the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Also, the Bay of Pigs was not at Guantanamo Bay-it was in another part of Cuba.

When President Obama signed an order to close down Guantanamo Bay on his first day in office in 2009; he was attempting to shut down the detention center, not the Naval Station. Guantanamo Bay Naval Station will still be around regardless of whether the detention center is ever shut down or not.

Guantanamo Bay is divided into two parts; Naval Station and JTF or Joint Task Force; meaning all branches of the military working together. In order to get onto the JTF side of the island you need a special badge and clearance. I was able to tour the JTF side of the island and see the camps and detention centers from the outside-not inside-I saw no detainees.

Finally, and probably most important, is that according to multiple people I spoke with, nowadays the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are treated better than most soldiers on island. They receive excellent healthcare, food and are generally treated incredibly well: especially as some detainees are some of the world’s worst people. If they were to be held in federal prison, they would never receive the same treatment. Some detainees that have been transferred have begged to go back to GTMO.

Additionally, the detainees abuse the guards. Almost always unreported, detainees are known to go to the bathroom in their hands and throw it at the guards. They are also known to throw their own waste in other manners and spit at guards. They verbally abuse the guards and the guards are expected to basically take it.

Much of this special treatment is a result of the highly publicized and horrific prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib (Iraq) and GTMO in the past so they are now, seemingly, overcompensating to avoid bad public relations. However, the public doesn’t realize that it goes both ways and again, some of these detainees are accused of and committed the worst crimes ever against America including 9/11 and the USS Cole bombing.

Finally, before I start talking about my actual experience in Guantanamo Bay, I will also state that I worked in One World Trade Center and lost many friends and former colleagues in 9/11. I had hoped to be able to attend some of the 9/11 hearings but the dates didn’t work out.

While I try to be very fair and unbiased in what I am saying here in this article, I have a lot of anger toward the 9/11 terrorists held at GTMO. This is America and everyone is entitled to a fair trial but if they are guilty, I hope they get what they deserve and the families of my fallen friends can finally get some closure.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Welcome sign, Lee Abbamonte
When you fly into Guantanamo Bay, Cuba there is a feeling of excitement and anticipation that is unlike many places I’ve traveled to. Guantanamo Bay is one of those places that there is so much chatter about that you don’t know what’s what and I was very excited to find out for myself what it’s really like.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay ferry
You land at the airport on the leeward side of the bay. After clearance, you take a ferry to the windward side of the bay. This is where I met my sponsor, got my rental car and checked into my hotel; which is basically a townhouse called Caravella East located directly across from the elementary school.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Caravella East
I spent most of my first day driving around the island getting my bearings. Guantanamo Bay is not actually an island but everyone on base calls it the island. Obviously, Cuba is an island and GTMO is a bay that is pretty much completely cut off from Cuba and the border is clearly defined by a fortified and monitored fence line.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay map
My sponsor arranged a dinner for me to meet people on the base at O’Kelly’s; which dubs itself as the only Irish pub on communist soil. The food is actually pretty good bar food and the portions are massive. It also acts as a Pizza Hut.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, McDonalds, Subway
As far as restaurants in Guantanamo Bay, there are a few options. As I mentioned there is a Pizza Hut. There is also a McDonald’s, 2 Subway’s (one in town and one at the airport), a Taco Bell and an Asian place akin to a Panda Express that are both in the bowling alley. There is also a coffee/ice cream place called Caribbean Coffee and Cream or CCC where they serve Starbucks coffee. There are also a few galleys that serve food and a few other restaurants that I didn’t try.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Navy Exchange, bank
Most local people buy food at the Navy Exchange; which is essentially the downtown. It is also home to a Subway, the bank, credit union, barbershop, and a few stores for clothes, etc. It is the hub of the island and the main lifeline.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay hospital
Guantanamo Bay is made up of military personnel, civilians and third country nationals or foreign nationals. Foreign nationals, mainly Jamaicans and Filipinos from what I saw and met, do the majority of the menial jobs around the island. They work the stores, restaurants and other jobs equivalent to those. They are housed together and seem to live pretty well on base.

Different groups of the military live in different housing barracks as well. Some are nicer than others and in better locations. Many officers with families and civilian contractors live in pretty nice houses.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Captain Nettleton
I happened to be in Guantanamo Bay during something called the ‘Tour of Homes”. This was actually really cool. Many of the officers, including the base commander opened their homes up for those that bought tickets to come have a look and chat. I personally thought it was a great way to get to know the island and the actual, real people that live there. I really enjoyed it and let me tell you, some of the people on GTMO live very well!
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, rental car
I mentioned I rented a car. A car is pretty much necessary for anyone visiting Guantanamo Bay. While it is a small place at some 45 square miles, it is still big enough where you need to have a car. The speed limit is pretty much 25mph around the island and there are police patrolling the streets.

I felt very free to basically do what I wanted around GTMO. I really had no idea what to expect. I have been on military bases before but again, there is something about Guantanamo Bay. Of course I wasn’t allowed to photograph certain things and there are a few areas that are totally off limits but nothing too crazy.

After my experience, I can say confidently that Guantanamo Bay is a nice place. The military, civilian and foreign nationals that make up the base are all very nice and they live well together in all that I could see. Everyone is exceptionally friendly and was very nice and accommodating to me.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay view, Ridgeline Trail
Each morning I woke up early and hiked around the island. There are several hikes or at least variations of the same hikes that you can do. The weather is very hot in GTMO so it’s best to do it early or late. I would always come across people on the trail and we would stop and chat and they’d recommend trails to take, etc.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay view, Ridgeline Trail
Guantanamo Bay reminds me of Arizona in a lot of ways. It is very desert-like in that it is surprisingly pretty dry (considering you’re in the tropics); there are a lot of cacti and other dry shrubs plus iguanas all over the place. It honestly looked like Tucson, Arizona in a lot of places. I don’t know what else to say about the weather except it was very pleasant and without a doubt, it was a nice temperature change from Antarctica!
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay view, Ridgeline Trail
The two highlights for me aside from simply being in Guantanamo Bay were spending a day sailing around the bay and giving a lecture to the high school.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, iguana
I went out on a small sailboat with my sponsor and some others who had been in GTMO for years and knew the place very well. I say it was a highlight, not for the great sailing because to be honest it wasn’t that great-but for the conversation. I was able to freely ask questions about Guantanamo Bay to honest people who had been there for more than a decade in one case. It was really eye opening and fun at the same time.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay sailing
It was funny because originally I was supposed to give a lecture to the base that was open to anyone to come and listen and ask questions. I still did that at the Windjammer; which is the events hall on island. However, at the tour of homes, I met a teacher from the high school who asked me to come speak to the high school kids the following day; which was Monday. I happily accepted.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, WT Sampson High School
I love talking to kids, both high school and college. I have made no secret that I never traveled as a kid and that study abroad my junior year of college changed the course of my life and opened up my eyes.

I feel like I can really relate to kids and talk their language in a way that makes it interesting to them. It is seriously the most rewarding thing that I do. WT Sampson High School is a unique school, obviously with where it is located in GTMO. The kids are very worldly already in many cases. However, I tried to stress to them how they can do whatever they want and to learn as much as they can and basically showed them that I was no different than them 15 years ago.

In all my wildest dreams, I never thought I would do today what I am doing or have done. It blows my mind to think about it and if I can do extraordinary things then anyone can.
Guantanamo Bay, Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, lecture
The best thing about it was after I finished talking, the kids had hundreds of questions-literally. I speak to a lot of kids but never have I had a group so engaged and interested. It made me really happy and I was thrilled to stay after and take pictures with several of them and answer personal questions they had but didn’t want to ask in front of the group. It was great and I am grateful for the opportunity.

For me, these will be the lasting memories of Guantanamo Bay: talking to the kids and dispelling a lot of myths and misinformation about GTMO in my own mind and hopefully informing others who read this to form their own informed opinion. People will always have their own opinions about what side of the fence they stand on regarding GTMO. But you must realize this-Guantanamo Bay houses some of the worst people on the planet and does so with the best care possible.

If they were to close the detention center, where else will the detainees go? Nobody wants to take them: nations, states or even their native countries in many cases. Look what happened when President Obama tried to close the detention center back in 2009-no countries would take the detainees. Many detainees don’t even want to leave GTMO for fear of what happens to them after they leave.

So while the idea of GTMO may be controversial or appalling to some people, who are often misinformed-it seems to me to be necessary albeit very expensive for taxpayers. That is part of the dichotomy of Guantanamo Bay.

Disclaimer and Acknowledgements: I have no affiliation with the US military or any US governmental organization. I was invited to Guantanamo Bay and entered legally after a background check. I was not paid and I paid all my own expenses including flights, housing, rental car and food. All statements in this article are my words and I was not coerced in any way by anyone. These are my views based on what I saw, experienced and was told from multiple independent sources I came into contact with in Guantanamo Bay.

This trip to Guantanamo Bay was not an easy thing to arrange and there are many people to thank for making it happen. First and foremost, I want to thank my sponsor. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate what you did getting me to GTMO, introducing me to everyone, arranging the lecture and everything else. GTMO will miss you and best of luck on your next endeavor!

I also want to thank the Commanding Officer of Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Captain JR Nettleton for having me at your house, for great conversation and for helping me out with a few contacts. I truly appreciate your kindness and help and I am happy to come back anytime.

Comments

  1. very interesting….is a diferent point of view.. im glad you had a great time..

  2. Every misconception you mention in this post, I had. Thanks for a really informative story. It must have been so eye opening for you.

  3. Wow, this is not what I was expecting to read. I had no idea the prisoners were treated so well. I can’t believe they throw their own feces at guards, that is disgusting.

  4. Now this is a blog post! Informative and opinionated based on real life experience that most people will never have and a little bit of controversy based on actual events, not biased opinion. Good for you and thanks for sharing. This is the best blog post I have read in a long time and I follow a lot of blogs.

  5. This is must read! Great stuff, Lee.

  6. Did you speak with any of the detainees?

    • I did not Sophie…I have no business talking to them nor would I want to

      • Thanks for the interesting post, I was looking for a first-hand account of what the larger base is like, and got just that. As for your reflections on the detention center, that is fairly irrelevant since you had no access, your opinions seem to be based on base staff, and as you’ve mentioned in the comments had no interest in, either.

      • Brian Stephens says:

        That says something doesn’t it? Al it does is show how many people can be fooled. But what about the immorality of incarcerating foreigners without trial? Then torturing them. These nice friendly guards don’t like to tell you their feelings, I know one and she won’t talk. The guards are lowered to the alleged level of the prisoners. Shame on the place and those who serve there.

  7. Hey! I really enjoyed this unusual destination post! Very informative.

  8. Lee, this is phenomenal. Thanks for sharing from a place that I never really gave much though to. You must envied by the other big travelers.

  9. Nancy Liwanag says:

    Hello lee,WoW thanks for sharing to your expirence about Guantanamo Bay Naval.And i will read also there’s Filipinos in Guantanamo Bay ….?me too,I am Filipino but I’m in hong kong right now!!!take care and god bless you.:)

  10. Hello Lee,WoW thanks for sharing to your expirence about Guantanamo Bay Naval.And I will read also there’s Filipilipo in Guantanamo Bay…I am a Filipino also….But am in hong Kong right now!!!take care and god bless you.:)

  11. Best written blog this year, no doubt, I never thought anything bad about GTMO except they are keeping the terrorists to gentle there and trial them too slow, I had a friend who almost got killed in 9/11 attack so I have no compassion at all to anyone involved in it and I’d like them to get death penalty asap. Unfortunately misinforming is one of the main reasons why people throughout the world have bad opinions about this and that and basically no matter what some half educated journalist write, there are always 35-50% readers who will instantly take it for granted, like they read it as sheer fact in Britannica ….anyway, I am glad You had a quality time there with the young ones as well….very nice indeed….hopefully I will have some good news by end of this year regarding Diego…

  12. Definitely gives you a reminder that GTMO is not all about prisoners and International terrorists (i.e. the kids who live there because their parents are serving in the American Navy.) Very cool story!

    By chance, will this visit and some of the contacts you made there help you further along in your quest to get permission to visit Wake Island within the foreseeable future?

    • Thanks Ray! I am working that angle for Wake as well…Wake is the dept of the interior which complicates it a little bit…I am working on putting a group to go there together in 2014.

  13. Really interesting post and I enjoyed reading it. It’s fascinating to see a side of Guantanamo that you don’t hear much about – which is what life is like for people based there.
    Having said that, I still think the detention centre there represents one of the most cruel and unethical aspects of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
    I certainly think people who play a role in terrorism deserve to be punished and I am very sorry to hear you knew people who were killed in 2001. But if true justice is to be served, why does the US need to use a detention centre that is outside the boundaries of US law and not subject to the Geneva conventions? Hundreds of detainees were released without charge after years of awful treatment and many have still have not had a trial. If the US wants to show it is serious about justice, it should be applying the same procedures it uses in criminal cases against its own citizens – accused criminals in the US would not wait years for trials under these conditions.
    As of June this year, there are apparently 46 prisoners who are going to be detained indefinitely because they are deemed dangerous but there’s not enough evidence to try them. That’s not how a court should work. If we used this logic for every justice system there would be no presumption of innocence and no need for trials at all. No country’s military should be judge, jury and executioner.
    As I say, I appreciate you’re presenting your opinions and experiences from your time there and it is interesting. But there is more wrong with the Guantanamo Bay system than just the treatment of detainees that you’ve mentioned.

    • Thanks Turtle, I appreciate the detailed comment. I tried to present what I experienced as best I could so others can form their own opinion based on what I saw and was told.

    • Turtle i guess your right, no country’s military should be judge, jury and executioner. We should just be like the terrorists and torture people, chop heads off, and kill with no remorse all in the name off allah….

      • Andrew, I’ll assume you’re being flippant to make a point.
        This is a tricky issue, I’ll admit that. But by not giving detainees a fair trial and by holding them indefinitely without charge, the US is ignoring the very human rights it is trying to protect and spread around the world. The US justice system can’t let people like OJ Simpson or George Zimmermann go free (even though the majority think they were guilty) because of lack of evidence – and then apply different rules to these detainees. It’s hypocrisy and it devalues all the good work and ethics that happen elsewhere in the system.

  14. I still think it should be closed down

  15. I have to admit, I have some mixed feelings reading this. Sure, they tell you the detainees are treated quite well, but how do you really know that? How do you know they weren’t just saying what they want you to report back? Sorry, can’t help but be a little cynical on that point.

    Otherwise, interesting read on a place that most people will never have a chance to visit and great that you had a chance to talk to the high school kids there. I can’t even imagine being a kid growing up in a place like that.

    • Thanks Katie and I understand and yes it is a different experience but these kids were awesome and so full of curiosity…it was a real pleasure.

    • @Katie- I was a kid that grew up there! And honestly I wouldn’t have wante to grow up anywhere else :)

      It’s really awesome reading this blog- its very accurate in what it’s like there… Although Lee you didnt mention the Banana Rats! Can’t have GTMO’s iguanas without them! I was there 90-94 (i was in elementary school and my brothers were in highschool) and my parents moved back 02-06 so I visited as much as possible. A lot definitely changed in that time- like the food! We used to ONLY have McDonald’s- they even served as the pizza place for a long time.

      @Lee- thanks for being interested enough to make it happen and get down there! I’ve always said its my favorite place on Earth, so it thrills me that you enjoyed your time there :)

    • Katie I grew up there I know for fact the detainees are treated better than us

    • @Katie……I was in the Army for 6.5 years and I did 2 of those years at Guantanamo Bay working in the camps with the detainees as a guard. I honestly hate talking about it at times especially when it comes to those who feel the detainees are “mistreated” because I hate trying to defend myself and my fellow service members who have served there. I know you don’t know me and have no reason to believe my word but I can honestly tell you that the detainees ARE NOT mistreated. I’m a correctional officer still today but I am no longer in the service I work at a federal prison and I can tell you that the detainees are treated WAY better and have WAY more luxuries than the American inmates in our prison system stateside do. I wish more people could have the chance to visit Guantanmo Bay so they can see first hand what it’s like but unfortunately that just won’t happen for everyone. I have a video posted on my FB of a clip from 60 minutes where they actually allowed them to go inside the camp in Guantanamo Bay and it gives a true insight to what the camp is like I urge everyone to watch that video so you can have an inside look at what it’s really like!

    • @Katie- I can tell you from a first hand experience that the detainees do get treated quite well depsite the circumstances. I can’t imagine if the roles were reversed that any of us would still even be alive. Can you tell me of anyone who would want to get a cocktail mixture of feces, urine, semen, food and who knows whatever else they can come up with thrown at them and be able to not retaliate? Because the soldiers there are getting assaulted on a daily basis and they just drink water and drive on like it’s any other day. It is real easy to form an opinion about a place when you don’t have shit on your face. We cater to the detainees from ordering them special meals to pretty much shutting down the whole facility in order to not make one sound during their prayer times. Tell me again about cruel and unusual treatment?

      @Lee- Thanks for your blog, I am glad you got to experience the island unlike most people will. It is truely a unique place and would love to go back and visit.

    • After deploying to GTMO being a corrections military police officer in the US Army, They are treated better than most soldiers and most criminals in the states.

  16. Wow that is not what I expected to hear you say but I also want to thank you for giving fair information and clearing some facts up. I didn’t realize that they wanted to shut down only the jail and not the base. I had no idea it was separate.

  17. How do you know to believe the people who told you they were treated well?

    • Jessica, I don’t but I am simply presenting what I was told but it was by several people unrelated to each other and who didn’t know that I write.

      • Bruce Larsen says:

        Lee, great article. To back up your comments regarding detainee treatment, the ICRC monitors their treatment very closely. Thank you for making the trip to a terrific destination where I worked behind the wire with some fantastic people who were exceptionally professional. Well done. This is 2013 not 2003.

  18. This is probably the coolest blog post I’ve ever read of yours of anyones. Not just because it’s good, which it is, but because nobody else has ever written about it. Although, I suppose that’s why I love reading your site; because you write about and go places nobody else does.

  19. I think you have opened a door and certainly minds with this story. Honest and forthright. I only wish the Times or 60 minutes would pick up your story and let our fellow Americans know what really goes on and puts aside mis-conceptions and un-truths. Good reporting.
    Aside have you been to New Caledonia?

  20. Thank You, I was at the Windjammer and You are a truly amazing Young Man, I am happy to see Some one actually took the time to Define GTMO as it truly is…

  21. As someone who grew up there since the age of 7 (I’m 33 now, and yes my folks are there still!) I’d have to say this is probably the best thing written by an “outsider” that I’ve seen. Thanks for speaking so highly of where I consider home! And thanks for spelling GTMO right! :)

  22. Thanks for visiting my old home. There’s no place like HTML.

  23. Lee, thanks so much for visiting and writing this blog post! I live in Guantanamo Bay and I write a blog to try and help people who are being assigned here or thinking about taking a job here to get a better idea of life in GTMO. Your article is exactly how everyone who lives here feels! The life we get to enjoy here is like a hidden secret!

    Would you mind if I linked your article on my blog?
    http://www.gtmoadventure.blogspot.com
    ~Joy

  24. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit to our little Mayberry! Thank you for shedding light!

  25. Hey Lee! I am one of the many high school students that you talked to in the Library last week. It was great and i learned so many fascinating things about the world. Thank you for coming to the school and sharing with us!!!!

  26. Lee, as a current resident of GTMO, I thank you for your interpretation of how life goes on here at GTMO. I think you hit every nail on the head with your views. As an Active Duty Army member, I can tell you this is the best duty station in the Army. And you didn’t even cover MWR (Military Welfare and Recreation). Scuba diving lessons at 1/3 cost of stateside, boat rentals, fishing, snorkeling, golf course, just to name a few.

    Few those that doubt how the detainee’s are treated, I can assure you that you were told correctly about the detainee’s living better than the soldiers. Detainee’s get Playstations, Flat screen TV’s, top notch medical care. For example; If a military member gets injured and requires an MRI, that military member is flown off island to Jacksonville Naval Air Station (JAX) for the MRI after a few weeks of scheduling and paperwork. If a detainee requires an MRI, they get it done on island same or next day.

    Again, I thank you for your post. I hope you have opend the eyes to many that had no idea about the wonderful place I currently call home.

    • Thanks Scott…I did forget to mention the costs and how cheap it is, you are right. The sailboat rental was like $15 an hour or something minimal and costs of just about everything was very cheap..it was a pleasure to see!

  27. I miss gitmo. Was there from the age of 11 to almost 14. I loved the place and am fortunate to have been there. Great article.

  28. Great Article and nice to read a positive article. I think I spoke to you at NAS Jacksonville as you were jumping through hoops to get your ticket to get on the flight. I was dropping off my BF that works on base for the DOD. I am looking forward to going there soon for a visit :-) Thanks for sharing your experience.

  29. Wilhelm Burger says:

    I was stationed on Gitmo for a short time after I got back from Vietnam. I was serving in the Marine Corps at the time and short timers were sent there to finish out the enlistment before discharge.Our job was to man the lines between our base and Cuba.I found Guantanamo to be a very nice place. On our down time we loved going swimming in the clear waters etc. We used the Ferry boat to go to the PX and Hospital if need be. Looks to me that things have built up a lot. The one thing that seems to come to mind, was the lecture we got on arrival. We were told of the danger of being out in the sun to long and if we got sunburn to the point we were unable to perform our duty, we would be charged with destruction of government property. Some day I would love to go back and visit and if it ever happens also to see Cuba beyond the military base.

  30. I hope you enjoyed the beaches and the cooking. Those are the two things I miss the most from living there. Thank you for abbreviating GTMO correctly.

  31. Great post! As someone who recently lived in GTMO for 2.5 years, it’s a good feeling when others realize that it’s not a terrible place. I would go back in a heart beat!

  32. Having been assigned to GTMO twice, for a total of 5 years, I appreciate your accurate, and interesting post. Guantanamo was my favorite duty station during my 20 years in the US Navy. One minor point, you stated that the officers live pretty well. As a retired enlisted person, I can attest that accompanied enlisted personnel live almost as well. Of course, the unaccompanied enlisted live in barracks/dorms that are not as nice as living in a neighborhood home like the accompanied folks. Again, thank you for the great article.

  33. Thank you again mr. Lee for speaking to us at the high school and answering our thousand questions about your travels. You have inspired most of my fellow classmates and have helped me become more aware of our world. Thank you for also posting the most truthful and accurate blog of GTMO I have ever read; I am sad that most Americans and high school students are unaware of this area but you have helped the masses with your observations so again I say thank you! Enjoy your trips (and if you sell your rebel pins I want one lol).

  34. Dave Machata says:

    The author, Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, USMC (Ret.), was the first commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He feels the detention center should be closed. I agree.

    http://www.freep.com/article/20131212/OPINION05/312120025/Guantanamo-Bay-prison

  35. Very nice. I didn’t get to see you at the highschool for your lecture sadly because I was out at a class requiring me to work. I’d like to say that you hit the points right on for most everything on the base and with the detainees. Your facts are true, a multimillion piece of equipment was brought here for one detainee who had a rare disease. Us Americans can’t use it, but that one guy got to…. Also the military guys have what they call a “splash suit” which is used to block incoming “feces attacks” from
    Detainees.

  36. That’s my home!!! :) Thank you for enlightening people on the actuality of it all so much happier to read this then all the articles of people who only talk bad on it GTMO. THANK YOU!!!!

  37. Thanks for doing this. I lived there a total of 4 years and it was the best time of my life. My parents are still there and going onto 10 years on the base. GTMO really is a great place to be at and I miss it everyday! Thanks again!!!

  38. Thank you so much for this article! I am glad someone is finally showing the wonderful side of GTMO.

  39. it was nice reading this. I was stationed jn gtmo for almost three years and I can say I miss it. there is not a place like it that brings people from all around the world together. as for jtf people will think it is inhumane because of things I heard that happened there decades ago. but I am glad you got to go experience some of the island for your self. the water is beautiful on the outskirts, there is iguanas amd banana rats every where. the night life is def something different. thank you for goung with an open mind and taking gtmo in for all it is.

  40. Hey I lived in gtmo for 6 1/2 years and I’ve gotta say your description was damn near spot on I’m glad you enjoyed my home

  41. Sheila Bowe-Richardson says:

    I’ve lived down here for the past 2 years and have a year left here. A lot of people have the worst opinion of this place, I personally love it here. I work at the hospital so I don’t really come into contact with the detainees. Thanks for truly informing people of what our little community is really like!

  42. As a current resident of GTMO I can say that this is one of the most straight forward blogs I have seen about our daily life down here and the JTF side. For those questioning the treatment of the detainees, let me tell you they live better then a great portion of the US. Also the International Red Cross has been coming here at least 5 times a yr to ensure the fair and humane treatment of the detainees by their own interperators and medical staff. As for having to follow the Geneva convention they do, and until another country decides to talk on the responsibility of housing these criminals if is up to the men and women here to do the best job that they can in the circumstances. When the detention center opened there were over a 1000 detainees, now there are around 150 and believe me none are being held with out reason. It is very easy to judge this pla e unfairly especially with the severely biased new reports that Americans often take for their word.Thank you for your great article, we truely love it here and are very sad to be leaving soon.

  43. Great story Lee, you certainly have honored the GTMO community with your words. I spent almost 24 years living on the island off and on both as a kid and as an adult. People always ask me if I think the prison should be closed. I always tell them I can’t give them an answer because I am biased. People in the US have the “Not In My Back Yard” mentality when it comes to whether or not the detainees should be housed on US Soil. For myself (and many of the people who posted on here, I see some names I know ), the prison IS in our backyard. We never give it a second thought due to the amazing job the JTF does. I doubt it would be any different should they moved elsewhere. I’m sure you saw all the restrictions that are placed on people due to the prison, imagine how relaxed life on the base would be without them. I miss going to the beach after the clubs closed and waiting for the sunrise, hopefully people can do that there again someday.

  44. Thank you for finally showing the true picture of Gitmo. My daughter has been on two tours of duty there and has said the same thing. We went last year and spent Christmas with them. I love the base and the all the people that try so hard and work there. They have had so much bad press from biased reporters that it is good to see someone tell the truth for a change! Our men and women in the service there work hard and should be thanked by all of us. People say that the prisoners are being mistreated…well, what did they do to our people in Bengazzi…they sure did not treat them the same. There was no special treatment when they killed our own men…no special foodl..no anything…so thank you and God Bless You for helping people see and hear the truth about Gitmo… Merry Christmas..our soldier gets to come home on leave for Christmas!

  45. What makes you think you’re qualified to speak about the closing of the detention facilities? Did you witness any actual abuse, or are you relying on very biased anecdotal evidence? Your piece would have beernmuch better if you had left your personal politics out of it.

  46. Bob Nettleton says:

    Lee, your blog just made my day!
    I was able to visit GTMO last Christmas and your article is the best and most accurate account of that very important base that I have read. After getting all of the security clearances, my wife Jo and I paid our own way and flew on a commercial airline to spend 14 eye opening days with our son and his family. We also were free to roam the base and talk to anyone. Many of the civilian employees were former military that came back after serving there and retiring. All branches of the military have a presence there and the respect and cooperation between them is an amazing thing to see. It is in reality a modern small city providing its own infracture

  47. my son has recently began his navy career and this is his first tour after a school. thank you for the positive report. He speaks of how blessed he is to be at this command. He has no interaction with the jtf side. we look forward to a trip of a life time to visit him next summer.

  48. This was my husband’s duty station for nearly three years and a place I called home. Two of my children were born on the “island.” We found it to be a 1950′s Mayberry and living in a fishbowl all at the same time. We wouldn’t trade our time there for anything. Thank you for portraying GTMO as I and many military, spouses and families have experienced it.

  49. No Jerk Joint? What I miss most about GTMO is the jerked chicken from the Jerk Joint across from the Tiki Bar. The locals must have been hiding the fun stuff from the travel writer.

  50. Thank you! A lot of people don’t realize what GTMO is really like. I spent almost 4 years there with my family. One of my children was born in GTMO. Some of my best memories were made there, and I still miss it to this day. Thanks again!

  51. Bob Nettleton says:

    Sorry my previous comment got cut off.
    First let me correct “infrastructure ” . All water is from a desalinization plant and all electric power is generated on base. Supplies are brought from Jacksonville ,FL by barge once a week. The weather and the people that serve their country are amazing. We were able to observe the old prison, that a federal court will not let them remove, even though it has been empty for many years. And compare the new modern area where the remaining detainees are housed. It is a far cry from what is shown by the media. The 60 minute report came as close as I have seen to showing part of the detainee area, but only the maximum security part. It didn’t show the recreation areas, movie theater, snack bar or the other housing that non-violent detainees are allowed to live in. Much better living conditions than many of our homeless law abiding citizens have in the US. Hopefully, the issue can be resolved soon and GTMO can continue to serve the southern Caribbean as a major refueling and resupply port as it has for centuries. Love to go back soon!

  52. I’m curious if you met Tim Baugh. He is a civilian working for he Navy and runs the marina. He and his family are long time friends of ours and enjoys his job there. He just signed up for not her two years. He talks highly of GTMO, too.

  53. Thanks Lee for sharing this. I am not American and not Cuban either….I am one of the Filipino’s working in the base and I would say GTMO is my second home. Been working in the base for almost 8 years. Many people is asking me why i keep coming back to GTMO after my 2 months vacation in every 2 years. I keep telling them that GTMO is the safest place in the world. Love the community we had.

    Thank you so much again for sharing this

  54. Dylan D'Andrea says:

    Thank you Lee for such an awesomeblog about a place that I was able to call home from 2006-2009. Everything you said was right on and I only wish that you could have stayed there longer. I was also wondering if by chance you happened to see the GTMO Mystery Machine. When I lived there, my family bought an old navy brig van that we used for diving and we painted it like the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo. Other than that, great blog and I hope that one day you can go back!

  55. *correction, 3 subways…1 at marine hill, 1 at the main NEX, 1 at airport ;) lol this was a good read!

  56. A former time-share holder says:

    I enjoyed reading about your time there; it brought back memories. With that being said, your last paragraph hit the nail right on the head, it seems appalling, is expensive to run and is 100% necessary. There is much you do not know and even more you will never know. Good luck in your travels, and thank you for your unbiased observations. It takes a great deal to go to a place such as GTMO and be open-minded about what you see and what you hear. Should you go back, avoid GTMO river on Thursdays. The chicken factory upstream dumps chicken bits and it attacks sharks. I found this out the hard way. Cheers!

  57. This is the best unbiased report of GTMO I have ever read. thank you for sharing. I was stationed here for 18 months and I can honestly say it was my favorite duty station. The people and atmosphere on the main base are the friendliest people. You hit the nail on head as far as the detainees go. These people are there for a reason. They are not innocent people
    . When I hear activists crying they are being treated inhumanly it makes nevertheless angry. These people were terriorists. No other country wants them for this reason. Thank you again.. for the great article

  58. Your article captured the spirit of GTMO. I was fortunate to have lived there for 2 years and let me tell you, it was a wonderful experience. I had no connection with the detainees so I can say that it was the most relaxing and calm tour I have ever had with the 20+ years I have been with the military. The most interesting fact for me was waking up every day to the complete silence, well aside from the birds chirping and hummingbirds flying around our shrubs. I enjoyed going to the beach and collecting the never ending seaglass. No matter how much everyone collected the beaches were completely covered the next morning. I will cherish my GTMO time forever. Thanks for sharing your experience with the world.

  59. Worked at GTMO for 18 mths as a govt contractor. Really enjoyed my time as the unit I supported was very tight knit mix of contractors, military, and govt civilians. The article paints a true picture of how I saw things too. Even though I worked on the JTF side, I never saw the detainees. Think about it — do you ever see prisoners when driving past a federal prison in the States? Didn’t think so. The story about the shit throwing is true. My housemate had that happen twice.

    You either engage in life at GTMO or isolate yourself until hour tour is over. There is so much to do during off time — fishing, swimming, boating, diving, snorkeling, gym, softball, soccer, flag football, volleyball, floor hockey, hiking, biking, golf, etc. Met great friends from all walks of life that gave me memories I look back upon fondly. Did we party — absolutely. But with most of us deployed away from home/family on a tropical island, doing work of the nature that the mission at GTMO is, the social aspect was a great stress relief.

    Regarding the detention center, I see valid points on both sides. I don’t see a way where the current status quo is going to change. So long as that is the case, I don’t have a problem with the detention center and the legal proceedings being held there.

  60. Kinda surprised you didn’t mention the international office of migration (IOM) or the USCG base here and presence, patrolling the Caribbean keeping the drugs of United States shores. Great article and kids are still talking about you.

  61. Alberto N Jones says:

    For someone who worked on GITMO for five years of my family 150 years of loyal service at this enclave during WW II, the Korean conflict and Viet Nam, it is repulsive, shameful and offensive to read, this blatant attempt to white-wash, dilute and re-write the 110 years of illegal occupation of 45 square miles of Cuban soil against the will of its people.

    During Mr. Abbamonte “5 Days expert Cubanologists Tour”, he intentionally failed to include in his extensive and childish article, how the United States Department of Defense expects Cuba to accept $4500.00 a year for these lands and pristine bay. Mr. Abbamonte may have not known or withheld some of GITMO lesser known history, which are as murky and despicable as his sanitized portrayal of hundreds of men in prison for over a decade, who have not been accused, indicted or brought to trial.

    For a realistic history on GITMO, please refer to:
    Guantanamo, An American History, Jonathan M. Hansen, 2011
    Guantanamo The Bay of Discord, Roger Ricardo, 1994

    In these books and tens of others, you may learn among other things:

    a) Lino Rodriguez, a construction worker on GITMO was murdered by his foreman, thrown into the sea and found by Cuban fishermen on December 7, 1940

    b) In September 1954, Victor Salomon, a Cuban employee, was accused of embezzling money. Fifteen days later, his tortured body was delivered to Caimanera, which enraged this community of 8000 inhabitants.

    c) Because of GITMO, Caimanera and Guantanamo were turned into the largest Red Light District in Cuba, with hundreds of prostitutes, pimps, sexually transmitted diseases, drug dealers, kick-back, blackmail, rape, violence and deaths.

    d) Manuel Prieto Gonzalez, another Cuban Naval Base employee, was arrested in January 1961, accused of being a Cuban government sympathizer, tortured and forced to swallow poison pills. On March 13, 1961, a pirate boat coming from GITMO, open fire with 57-mm cannon on Santiago de Cuba refinery, killing Cuban sailor Rene Rodriguez and seriously damaging the plant.

    e) On September 30th 1961, Ruben Lopez Sabariego, another Cuban civil service employee on GITMO, was arrested by the Base Military Intelligence Service. Eighteen days later, US officials notified his wife, that his body had been found in a ditch. Lt. William A. Szili of the US Navy one of the accessory to the crime told a Philadelphia Bulletin reporter, that Capt. Arthur J. Jackson had finished off the Cuban worker with some shots.

    f) Rodolfo Rosell, a fisherman from Caimanera was kidnappted, tortured and savagely murdered on GITMO in 1962.

    g) US Marines shooting across the border fence, shot and killed in his foxhole, Cuban border guard Ramon Lopez Pena in 1964, Luis Ramirez Lopez in 1966 and wounded Luis Ramirez Reyes, Antonio Campos and Andres Noel Larduet in 1966. Cuba was forced to move its border guards, hundreds of feet away from the fence for safety reasons.

    h) In addition to becomin the most important beachhead the CIA had in Cuba, from GITMO, tens of Cubans who were trained in Guatemala, Honduras and Miami, were armed with Russian weapons, dressed in Cuban military fatigue, gathered outside GITMO at Arroyo Blanco, with instructions to unleash an a self-attack on GITMO, to provide the United States government with a similar excuse for intervention in Cuba, as they did after the Maine in 1898, 1906, 1912 and 1917.

    • Thanks Alberto for your comment and opinion but I certainly did not omit anything intentionally and I certainly did not claim to be a Cubanologist-whatever that means.

    • Kevin Denton says:

      Mr, Jones,
      The events you reference occurred between 1898-1964. The newest thing you bring up was 50 years ago. Lee is talking about his recent trip to Guantanamo Bay. It is not a historical piece. I lived on the base for 3 years myself, about 20 years ago, and my experience mirrors Lee’s. Also, you may feel $4,500 in annual rent is too little but the Cuban government doesn’t, proven by the fact that they never even cash the US checks.

  62. Hey, I was one of the kids that you spoke to at the school. I’d just like to say thank you. and that you did an excellent job. This really does describe the place spot on, i’ll be forwarding this article to my stateside friends to read.

  63. Mandy McCune says:

    I enjoyed this article! It was very truthful. I did three tours on the JTF side (Detainee Operations) and really enjoyed it. The work was challenging and the good memories will last forever. Made some wonderful friendships there! It really was a great experience.

  64. What memories you write up has brought back!

    I lived there from 1947 – 1949 & again 1953 – 1955… when I graduated from what was then called simply the U. S. Naval Base High School. This was before it got its present name.

    In those days the Fleet Training Group was stationed there and the bay was constantly full of every type of ship undergoing training… battleships, cruisers, etc. & etc. For us kids it was a fabulous time of our lives. My mother loved it there. When she passed away my dad arranged to fly to the base and spread her ashes out over the bay. Castro was in power by then but tough Rear Admiral John Bulkelew, the base commander (in those days it was a full base consisting of the naval air station, the naval station, marine barracks, fleet training group, etc.) kept things smooth and under control. It was he that severed the water line from the Yateres River and had the desalinization plant built (right beside the air station movie theater on the seaplane landing),

    All of this long before any hint of a detention facility. Thanks for your write up… Hurrah for GTMO!

  65. This is obviously why “GTMO” wasn’t closed.

  66. Dennis Frisbee says:

    I was there with the JTF from 2002 until 2008. My family was with me. I think you got it right. In fact you nailed it. I wish you had been able to see the inside of the detention camps and observe the professionalism of our troops. They are first rate pros. I also wished you had been able to eat at the Jerk House and enjoy a red stripe there! You have evoked fond memories! Thanks.

    ps….my boys have become very loyal to Belen HS here in Miami but attended Sampson elementary and still think of themselves as Sampson Sharks! They loyally keep in touch with friends from GTMO.

  67. This is a great article. I left just before you came to the island and I can recognize a lot of my friends in your pictures of the high school! I just moved from GTMO this summer and I miss it a great deal.

  68. Lee
    It was my pleasure to meet you at the LA TCC luncheon. I greatly enjoyed reading your blog on GTMO. Those of us that travel the world write about what we experience, we see, and the people we meet. Politics aside you described your experience, what you saw and the impression it made on you. I applaud that. I attempt to do the same in my blogs. World travel has certainly changed my outlook on life and the world. It is a shame that your critics have not been to all the places you have visited and experienced what you have experienced in your travels. Good luck on your next trip.

  69. RONALD & MARIE BENNETT says:

    thank you for sending as up date of gitmo, as we miss it dearly. hay they have a subway sandwich place , now all they need is a doughnut shop

  70. Erika Riordan says:

    Wow, i thought this was bland and written on an elementary school level. Can no one but myself see this article as the joke that it is? Where is there any description of personal thought or any kind of emotional narrative?…This is just a bare boned schedule of his itinerary..”i got off the plane..i got on a ferry….i got in a rental car..i drove around the base…What was he seeing and thinking and feeling is what i wanted to know?! I didn’t read at any point that this place got into his heart or his head. He mentions every cookie cutter restaurant on base, and then says…there are some others..but i didn’t try them…um..aren’t there Subways and Starbucks and McDonalds and Pizza Hut in the states? What makes those places so special and worth mentioning?…I personally think people who have never been to Gtmo would would rather hear about the galleys and the local cuisine than what is there to eat than the canned restaurants of everyday America.But what can you expect from a man who didn’t travel ANYWHERE til he reached adulthood??? Did he mention the beaches or the wildlife, taste the seafood, or eat it fresh off of his own fishing line? He did mention his rental car several time, was he paid to sponsor the base car rental company? I mean come on…he even took a picture of his rental car…are you kidding me? And as for transportation, isn’t there a bus? And nobody was offended by this statement? “Foreign nationals, mainly Jamaicans and Filipinos from what I saw and met, do the majority of the menial jobs around the island. ” How degrading to the Jamaicans and Filipinos who thrive there, and do not consider their jobs “menial”… ARIZONA?????Arizona isn’t anywhere near an ocean….and I have been to Arizona….again, where is the likeness? Sorry, I don’t see it except that both grow cactus..Arizona does not have trade winds…He went sailing…but it wasn’t the sailing that was the best part(he was probably bent over the side rail quite seasick for a good part of that time). Talking to kids about himself was the highlight of his trip to GTMO…hmm, why am I not surprised? Referring to the housing,…”and let me tell you, some of the people on GTMO live very well!” What does that mean and how is that a positive statement about GTMO? I can just hear it now to a liberal civilian without a clue thinking”and who’s tax dollars are being spent so some people can live well in GTMO?” I do not understand how this rudimentary article could at any rate even poetically describe GTMO outside of the detainee camp in the proper light. Generic, boring, i would never want to visit Gtmo after this article…everything that is good and wholesome about this island becomes processed and canned in this article..It is something like i said in the beginning of this article, a 3rd grader could have thought up and put to pen and paper…except, with more excitement and wonder! BTW, how did this anonymous blogger get an opportunity to masticate my island with his menial perceptions anyhow?

  71. My wife and I just returned from visiting our daughter at GTMO over Thanksgiving. She is a Public Affairs Officer there (probably you met her). I share your EXACT feelings about GTMO. It was the most unique trip we’ve taken and GTMO wasn’t what I expected either. Very nice people, unique surroundings, and some relaxing opportunities to boot (went snorkeling three times!). GTMO is grossly misrepresented by the media who want to sensationalize everything. We too saw JTF area and it’s just what it is: A detention facility. Nothing more. Nothing less. The base on the other hand, is just a base….with the exception that you go “off-base” like you can just about anywhere else. GTMO is NOT what it’s portrayed to be.

  72. Lee, I enjoyed hearing about your visit. I am glad you helped dispel myths. My family is Cuban so I am aware of the truths you helped clarify. But what I did not know was how life is at GTMO. I had never read any account of what it is to be there, live there, etc. Thanks for sharing.

  73. @Erika Riordan,

    What a rude comment.

    YOUR island? Pftttt.

    This article was written to explain his vast experience here in a nutshell; not to provide us with a descriptive essay about “glistening waters”, “breathtaking sunsets”, and non essential extended detail that we don’t need to read.

    Also, about the restaurants. Those ARE the only restaurants here. The others are also regularly seen in America with the exception of 1 or 2.

  74. “According to multiple people I spoke with, nowadays the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are treated better than most soldiers on island.”
    The government has long held that prisoners were being treated well, when human rights organizations were proving otherwise. The current “assurances” aren’t reassuring at all, considering the history of this place and the people running it.

    “Especially as some detainees are some of the world’s worst people.”
    That is a strong statement, considering these people are being held without charges. Calling them “the world’s worst people” is hardly accurate if the government can’t summon up enough evidence to charge them with crimes. Not to mention hundreds of these prisoners have been released due to this very reason, after being wrongly imprisoned. The world’s worst people are those who arrest others without cause, refuse to charge them with crimes, deny them their rights to a trial, and ship them abroad to be tortured.

    “If they were to be held in federal prison, they would never receive the same treatment. Some detainees that have been transferred have begged to go back to GTMO.”
    If they were held in federal prison, they would have received the right to a fair trial and they would have already been sentenced for a crime. This isn’t the case with GITMO. I also doubt all those suicide attempts and continuous hunger strikes occurred because nobody wanted to leave the place.

  75. Lee,

    Thank you for your article, did you have a chance to go off base? i so are the people friendly towards Americans?

    Mike

  76. Luis Simpson says:

    A good read but frighteningly unbalanced. A bit like Fox News. These people have been held without a right to trial. If they have behaved badly I’m not surprised. Wouldn’t you if you were held without having a fair trial?
    It’s heartening I live in Britain, by no means perfect. But the people here would not stand for that. It’s a shame a lot of Americans don’t have a balanced view and just lap up what the government/army says. I still live in hope though…

  77. James Schall says:

    I served in GTMO Naval suppy depot 1966 to 1968. I enjoyed my youth there and I am looking for my friend and basketball coach Doc. Ridley a Navy Dentist on the base.

  78. Mileidy Roque says:

    Hello. I can read comments from different persons and they own experience in Guantanamo Bay. But what about a view from one cuban emigrant who was living there for almost 7 months? Well that is me. And because my english is really bad I can’t express really how I feeling about this military base. But something is sure. GUANTANAMO BAY IS THE BEST PLACE TO LIVE IN THE WORLD. And Lee your description is very good and I agree with everything that you said. But is difficult and impossible write all the amazing to be there in just an article. And for that ones who think the prisoners there are abused. I told you something. I was one for almost two months before the USA give me the protection. And you can be sure anyone in Cuba and in many others country want to be there even as a prisoners better than in they own house. Guantanamo for me are the bigger and grateful remembers of my life. Is a place full of wonderful peoples, it is the only piece of land in my Cuba where you can breathe freedom. My son, my husband and I we are proud for can be there, and we all have good remembers from ours fishing, pool time, baseball games and the great school and teachers where my son studied for 6 months and instead of removing the base. Should be extend into the rest of the Island. The bigger dream of my family and I is get the citizen in the country where we are living now (two years and a half since we leave Guantanamo) to apply and try to get a job there. Will be amazing can be in the Base again. This time to work, get a good life in my own country and remember amazing times spender there before. Thanks Lee for this grate write of my beautiful Guantanamo Bay. And sorry for my english.

  79. My dad was in the Navy and served as XO of Fleet Training Group. We lived there from 1970 – 1973. As a young kid, it was a pretty cool place to live though we did feel like we were missing out on somethings going on back stateside. I have longed to return to Gitmo and have hopes that one day I will be able to go. I would love to take my wife and kids and show them where I lived. Looking at Gitmo on Google Earth, I was able to recognize and remember an awful lot. I brought up some really good memories. Thanks for the article.

  80. Thank you so much for writing this!! My son…who is in the army reserves and just graduated from basic training last week has already received orders to go here. I really appreciated your informative article!

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