GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- The U.S. military is shifting its approach toward Guantanamo detainees, offering more rewards for cooperative behavior, the task force commander overseeing the detention mission at this U.S. base says.
Benefits include the opportunity to sleep, eat and pray together in a new medium-security detention wing under construction. Currently prisoners are held in maximum-security individual cells, where communal activities are limited.
"I believe that having more incentives will make our interrogation much more successful," Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller said in an interview late Thursday.
"Medium-security is a recognition of cooperation and adherence to the rules," Miller said. "It gives them hope. Hope is of enormous importance."
Whether the United States plans to bring more detainees to Guantanamo, Miller would not say. But as the 52-year-old general begins his two-year tour here, work continues to expand the detention compound.
Seized by the United States in the Spanish-American War and held under a 1903 lease from Cuba, Guantanamo is a 45-square-mile area near Cuba's eastern tip. The first detainees arrived in January. Not quite a year later, more than 600 detainees from 43 countries are being held here.
They have not been formally charged and have no access to lawyers or courts. The U.S. government argues it has the right to hold the men as enemy combatants while officials interrogate them and consider the next step.
None has been allowed to see his family. But a handful of Afghan and Pakistani detainees have been sent home after being cleared of terrorist suspicions.
Miller would not qualify how well the interrogations have gone so far, but he said interrogators are getting better at their job and the information they gather is still important.
"It takes patience to be able to gain information of an intelligence value," Miller said in his first interview with journalists since assuming the command Nov. 4.
He takes over responsibility for a camp with 816 individual cells and plenty of free space. The military has not specified why it needs the extra cells, though U.S. troops could take more captives as they continue anti-terrorism efforts and the government considers war with Iraq.
On Wednesday, the military gave journalists a first glimpse inside Camp Delta, though they were not allowed to see detainees or take photographs.
During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which was ending Friday, all but a handful of detainees have been fasting during the daylight hours, so the military fed them once before sunup, and immediately when the sun sets. For the end of the fast, the detainees were to be given imported baklava.
Guantanamo is Miller's 24th deployment and follows an assignment in Seoul, South Korea. He has focused his career in artillery and infantry, though even after a few hundred parachute jumps, he could always do one more.
"I go through Camp Delta every day. I walk through each cell block, to ensure that with a leader's presence there things go better," he said. "(The detainees) know who I am. I'm probably the only guy with two stars who walks through the camp."