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Guantánamo detention: How harsh is it?

President Obama must decide whether to embrace or change Bush's detention policies.

Camp 5: Guards at this part of the US prison camp in Cuba wear face shields to protect themselves from attack by detainees.

Mandel Ngan/reuters/Files

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Military officials are vigorously defending their treatment of detainees at the controversial terror prison camp here, rejecting charges by the prisoners and their lawyers that conditions are harsh, illegal, and inhumane.

"There isn't anything we do here that I wouldn't be proud to show my mom or my kids," said Rear Adm. David Thomas, commander of the task force that runs the detention camp.

"The conditions of detention are safe and humane," he said in an interview.

His comments come amid an ongoing assessment of detainee conditions at Guantánamo recently ordered by President Obama.

Guantánamo officials and their critics are both waiting to see whether the Obama administration decides to embrace existing detainee policies enacted by the Bush administration or, instead, decides to adopt a more permissive approach favored by human rights groups.

Lawyers for detainees charge that their clients are being held in severe isolation with little opportunity for meaningful socialization.

They say some detainees live in constant fear of aggressive guards organized as quick strike teams. And they charge that the 40 detainees currently engaged in a hunger strike are being strapped – feet, legs, and head – to restraint chairs and left for excessive periods of time as part of military-ordered forced feedings.

"You could take any single complaint and make it seem trivial, but when you add all these things up and that becomes your existence day in and day out, that is what makes it unbearable," says David Remes, a Washington-based human rights lawyer who represents 11 detainees. He says one of his clients likened life as a detainee to "death by a thousand cuts."

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