DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right, today, an inmate is expected to be transferred from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a prison in Saudi Arabia. Ahmed al-Darbi would be the first inmate to leave Guantanamo since President Trump took office. Forty others remain there. Now, no new inmates have been added under Trump, but Trump has rescinded President Obama's order to close the prison. And on a visit to Guantanamo, NPR's David Welna saw signs that there could be new prisoners on the way.
ANNE LEANOS: It's a beautiful day today for us, for the tour.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: On a bright Caribbean morning, Navy Commander Anne Leanos and eight journalists from the U.S., Australia and Colombia embark on the first media tour of Guantanamo's prisons in more than half a year. Leanos is the new spokeswoman for the joint task force that runs the prison operation. As we drive into what's called the detention zone, she greets troops at the guard posts.
LEANOS: Good morning. Defend freedom. Defend freedom.
WELNA: The whole place looks to be undergoing major renovation. The prison camp's asphalt access road's being replaced by a more permanent, concrete road. Leanos points out former lockups used when this place held hundreds of prisoners.
LEANOS: These facilities on our right-hand side, camps 1 through 4, have been replaced by the modern structures we're about to enter. The modern detention centers are known as camps 5 and 6.
WELNA: An officer in battle fatigues receives us at the prison gates. She starts to tell us her name, then stops.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: OK, good morning. I'm captain - I'm actually the JDG S5. I'm sorry.
WELNA: Prison officers are all under orders not to reveal their names to reporters.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: At this point, we're going to enter Camp 5. Camp 5 is currently in a warm status. What that means is we do not currently have a detainee population in Camp 5, but we do maintain it.
WELNA: Camp 5 really is not a camp. It's a state-of-the-art, maximum-security lockup with 70 empty prison cells. They have cement floors and walls, stainless steel toilets and thin, blue mattresses. S5, as she calls herself, invites us into one of them.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: This is what a typical cell would like, and the items in this cell are going to be your standard-issue items, meaning a detainee that arrives in Guantanamo Bay - this is what they're going to receive.
WELNA: Our next stop - a nearly completed $12 million prison health clinic, where another guide awaits us.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Good morning, everybody. I'm the deputy commander of the Joint Medical Group. And on behalf of the great staff of the JMG, I want to welcome you to the new detainee medical facility. The mission of the Joint Medical Group is the safe and humane treatment of the detainees, and the JMG does that mission flawlessly every day.
WELNA: Conspicuous in the clinic's exam rooms are doughnut-shaped metal rings attached to the floors. They're for shackling patients, and we're told not to photograph them. The officer's clearly uncomfortable when asked if this clinic will accommodate new prisoners.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I don't know (laughter). That's really not up to me.
WELNA: Spokeswoman Leanos steps in.
LEANOS: Readiness is a military value, so the joint task force is absolutely committed to being ready to execute whatever decisions that policymakers will put out.
WELNA: To which the deputy commander adds...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We could definitely surge if were needed to.
LEANOS: Right this way.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Watch your heads.
WELNA: We move on to Camp 6. It's a built-to-last, medium-to-maximum-security slammer. Camp 6 can hold 176 prisoners but currently has, at the most, 26. The rest of Guantanamo's captives are all so-called high-value detainees, previously held by the CIA. They're kept off-limits at top-secret Camp 7, which is to be replaced with a new prison costing $69 million. Even at Camp 6, it's forbidden to interact with the inmates. The officer in charge only lets us peek at them.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: As we walk around the rotunda, just want you to be aware the glass is mirrored, so the detainees who are in their blocks cannot see you or us as we walk around, OK? Even though we can see them, they cannot see us.
WELNA: For 12 minutes, we observe and photograph captives obliviously adding condiments to beef stroganoff and tuna burger lunches. Each one of these men is now costing more than $10 million a year to jail. And a $115 million barracks is to be built for the hundreds of guards watching over them.
LEANOS: OK, this is a perfect time for us to transition out of the facility. I'll go ahead and leave you.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Thank you very much.
WELNA: And with that, the tour is over, but not the questions about just what Guantanamo's up to. Admiral Kurt Tidd, who heads the U.S. Southern Command, oversees the island outpost. Last week at a Senate hearing, Tidd told lawmakers the prison there is ready for more inmates.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KURT TIDD: As of today, we have not been given a warning order that new detainees might be heading in our direction, but our responsibility will be to integrate them in effectively into that mission.
WELNA: Among those who might be sent to Guantanamo - hundreds of Islamic State fighters captured in Syria. Asked about that last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis demurred.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JAMES MATTIS: I'm not willing to say anything on that right now.
WELNA: But, Mattis added, doing nothing is not an option. David Welna, NPR News, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH'S "FOOD (INSTRUMENTAL)")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.