GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - Top officials at the Guantanamo Bay detention center on Tuesday defended a raid that resulted in a violent clash with detainees, saying the operation was critical and the handful of injuries on both sides were minor.
Soldiers with riot helmets and shields swept into recreation yards and met with resistance from several dozen prisoners, the leadership of the detention center said in interviews with journalists visiting the U.S. base for the first time since Saturday's clash.
The confrontation ended within minutes, but not before two guards were struck in the head by prisoners and five prisoners were injured, including one hit by rubber pellets from what the military calls a "less-than-lethal" round fired from a modified shotgun.
"The appropriate amount of force was used for the situation," said Navy Rear Adm. John W. Smith, the detention center commander.
The guard force raided Camp 6 because the prisoners had for several weeks covered up 147 of the 160 security cameras, making it impossible to monitor them amid a weekslong hunger strike. Smith and members of his leadership team said they were concerned a prisoner might try to commit suicide. Officials said there were two attempted suicides since the protest began around Feb. 6.
To restore control, prison officials decided to move the prisoners in Camp 6 out of a communal area, where they were allowed to eat together and freely associate most of the day, into individual cells from which they are released for two hours a day .
The camp shown to journalists appeared to be well under the military's control. Prisoners could be seen pacing restlessly inside cells on closed-circuit TV monitors from the cameras inside their cells. In a section of the prison that had been cleared, one prisoner had written in broken and misspelled English a message that appeared to read: "Stop torturing us. Stop desecrating our religion."
Troops trained for three weeks to carry out the raid and were "prepared for any level of potential resistance," said Army Col. John Bogdan, who is in charge of the guard force.