A Visual Tour of Detention at Guantanamo Photographer Louie Palu toured the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay to learn more about the daily lives of the detainees. His images capture a synthesis of soldiers, cement, steel — and some surprising attempts at cultural sensitivity.
NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18818442/18916053" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A Visual Tour of Detention at Guantanamo

A Visual Tour of Detention at Guantanamo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18818442/18916053" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A copy of the Quran is held by a surgical mask, suspended from a cell wall. Louie Palu hide caption

toggle caption
Louie Palu

A copy of the Quran is held by a surgical mask, suspended from a cell wall.

Louie Palu

Detainees are given some education in camp classrooms, provided they wear leg restraints at metal desks. Louie Palu hide caption

toggle caption
Louie Palu

Detainees are given some education in camp classrooms, provided they wear leg restraints at metal desks.

Louie Palu

This dirt road leads to the detention facility where about 340 people are being held. Louie Palu hide caption

toggle caption
Louie Palu

This dirt road leads to the detention facility where about 340 people are being held.

Louie Palu

The treatment of individuals held captive at Guantanamo Bay has been a point of extensive scrutiny. Photographer Louie Palu toured the detention center to learn more about daily life there. Palu's images capture a synthesis of soldiers, cement, steel — and some surprising attempts at cultural sensitivity.

After the razor-wired Camp X-Ray was closed in 2002, new, more-modern facilities were built. In new camps, the adhan, or Muslim call to prayer, is broadcast five times a day. During prayer times, yellow cones painted with the letter "P" are placed in corridors to indicate that detainees are praying. Throughout the facility, small black arrows point to Mecca; Muslims are obligated to face the holy city during prayer.

Detainees at Guantanamo are also provided with a copy of the Quran. The sacred book is treated with the utmost respect — it is never to touch the ground. Detainees use surgical masks as slings, suspending the books safely from their cell walls.

While Palu's images illustrate efforts to maintain dignity in captivity, they also capture the constant presence of U.S. soldiers enforcing strict security. When detainees go on hunger strikes, some are forcibly fed through feeding tubes inserted into the nose. Camp Four at Guantanamo includes classrooms — metal desks with leg restraints — for detainees who have been deemed cooperative. Camps Five and Six are modeled after U.S. maximum security facilities.

Palu says that "the whole world is curious to know" about the people being held at Guantanamo. Snapping photos through the thin rectangular windows on cell doors, Palu captures fleeting glimpses of partially visible detainees, providing hints at their lives behind bars.