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The naval base at Guantanamo Bay secured a place in the annals of history when the first wave of detainees from America's War on Terror – men dubbed "the worst of the worst" – arrived in 2002. A symbol of freedom protected or freedom tragically betrayed, the controversies of Guantanamo embody the thorny issues of America's fight against an enemy that wears no uniform, has no address and will declare no armistice, and an administration's battle to keep prisoners beyond the reach of due process in American courts. The goings-on inside the wire encircling this highly classified camp have been a closely held government secret — until now. For the first time, National Geographic exclusively captures day-to-day life in the most famous prison in the world, exploring the ongoing daily struggle between the guard force of dedicated young military personnel and the equally dedicated detainees, many of whom are still in legal limbo after being held for years.
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base has alternatively served as a beacon of hope for those seeking freedom and a powerful symbol of some of the U.S.’ toughest diplomatic relationships. For over a century, this arid, cacti-dotted outpost nestled in Cuba’s southeastern corner has played a key, but often controversial, role in major world events, from the Spanish-American War, to the Cold War to the War on Terror.
However, Guantanamo’s role in world affairs has been somewhat circumstantial. The base, affectionately known by many of its inhabitants as “Gitmo,” also has the geographic advantages of a solid military station, although its strategic relevance has fluctuated over the years. Just 500 miles south of Miami, Guantanamo boasts key access to the Caribbean, almost chronically good weather thanks to nearby sheltering mountains, and anchorage for deep draft ships. The 45-square-mile base has provided the staging area for the Atlantic Fleet’s naval training exercises, supported U.S. anti-drug operations in the Caribbean, and served as a refueling and maintenance port for U.S. ships.
Today, Guantanamo is best known as a prison for some of the world’s most high-profile terror suspects. Outside the detention center walls, however, the self-contained base, complete with a golf course and chain restaurants, is an almost crime-free throwback to small-town America for its approximately 10,000 military and civilian inhabitants.