GUANTANAMO BAY — The commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo has decided to remove a detainee live-action Christmas diorama from the base’s Seaside Galley after a massive outcry from human rights groups, Duffel Blog has learned.
Rear Admiral Richard Butler said that he decided to move the exhibit after concluding that it was “wholly inappropriate to the values we hold here aboard GTMO.”
He spoke with Duffel Blog as he ate breakfast less than three yards from four detainees who were trained to kill him.
The diorama was originally of a nativity scene and featured multiple detainees who were temporarily transferred to the chow hall under Borrowed Military Manpower from the camps of Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
It included 9/11 plotters Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh dressed up as Mary and Joseph, holding a sign that said "Merry Christmas," along with fellow detainees Abu Zubaydah and Hambali as two of the three wise men.
"Eating in the galley is a great way to build teamwork," said 1st Lt. Jon Kendrick, a spokesman for JTF-G who was also involved with the planning. "In the Christmas spirit, we thought that everyone aboard the base should enjoy a little festivity: even some of the grinches we're holding here."
Kendrick said that he thought the display would also fit in with the general holiday atmosphere around the base, such as Christmas lights and giant candy canes along the main roads and buildings, which created the feel of any typical American suburb hosting a large concentration camp.
While he added that participation in the diorama was completely voluntary, and was in fact a reward for good behavior, at least one detainee strongly disagreed.
"They made us dress up like Jews," sobbed a detainee, who guards referred to only as Abdul.
Base officials did admit that after Abdul's complaint they decided a Christmas tree would be less offensive, although Abdul then filed a complaint that the tree looked more like a Hanukkah bush due to its blue color and lack of ornaments.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International have alleged the display was torture. Although officials have denied this, several eyewitnesses have said that the detainees were reportedly asked by multiple children, "What am I getting for Christmas?" and "Where is Santa Claus?"
After the tenth child asked him, Abu Zubaydah apparently broke down screaming "Monday! Tuesday! Thursday! Friday! I don't know!" and had to be escorted out of the dining facility.
Some service members objected to the display on other grounds.
"It's just generally creepy, the way their eyes follow you everywhere you go," said Specialist Keisha Williams, a guard at Camp Delta.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation was circulating an anonymous e-mail from eighteen other guards that went even further, referring to "the blatantly unconstitutional activities we've seen aboard Guantanamo. Obviously we're referring to the nativity scene in the chow hall."
Rear Admiral Butler said he was puzzled over the controversy, saying no one had complained to him about it and that Guantanamo Bay has done similar displays for the past twelve years without any incidents.
However, he said that in response the entire exhibit had been moved outdoors to the courtyard of the base chapel, which should also allow the detainees to get some fresh air and plenty of sunshine.
"We thought this would be great for morale, but we have to keep in mind our public reputation," said Butler. "We're in the business of saving lives, and above all we want to avoid associating Guantanamo Bay with any form of religious intolerance."