Trying to find out about how the troops stationed at GTMO live, I put myself in the shoes of a newcomer and searched military websites about the housing situation there. I quickly found that the troops are divided cleanly between the 1600 Naval Station service members and the 1500 Joint Task Force service members. I also found that my impression of GTMO would be very different if I were in the Joint Task Force than if I were in the Navy.
Comparing conditions of the lowest rank “Unoccupied Housing” from the Navy and the lowest rank “Lodging” from the Joint Task Force, the first thing I noticed was location. The Navy’s Building 1678 is “conveniently located near the center of the base on Sherman Avenue (basically Main Street at GTMO) allowing immediate access to the main dining facilities, chapel, gym, and fitness center.” The Joint Task Force’s Camp America is conveniently located near Camp Delta, allowing immediate access to the infamous detention center.
The second thing I noticed was the design of the living quarters. Building 1678 has rooms for 2, reminding me of my college dorm with its shared television lounges. Camp America has rooms for 6 with a television, a toilet and a sink. At first glance, these accommodations seem pretty equal, though six guys sharing a toilet could get dicey. However, then I was reminded that time alone means a service member can refresh and forget about the military for a while. Assuming that each of the roommates is in the room 50% of the time, there’s a 50% (0.5(2-1) = .5) chance that the Navy service member will come home to an empty room, but there’s a 4% (0.5(6-1) = 0.04) chance that the Joint Task Force member will get to be alone in the room.
Both of these environmental factors lead to worse work-life balance for the Joint Task Force prison guards, who have more emotionally demanding work in the first place than the Navy sailors. The Joint Task Force’s task is to “conduct safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detained enemy combatants; intelligence collection and support for military commissions.” The Navy’s tasks mainly involve operations and logistic support for vessels in the port and the base as a whole, including the detention center.
From a sociological standpoint, the community influences individuals, and individuals influence their community. When there is no other stimulus to an individual than the community, the individual takes on more and more characteristics of the community, in turn solidifying these characteristics in the community. In the case of a Joint Task Force member constantly around the naturally hostile community of a prison, the hostility of both the individual and the community will grow. Thanks to the legal predicament created by the Platt Amendment, the prison guards have almost lawless power over the prisoners. Hostility with a lack of law means that scary things happen.
I’d be interested to see how conditions at the detention center would have changed if the Joint Task Force was housed with the Navy at Building 1678.
By Kyle Buschkoetter, Tulane University