President Obama has not fulfilled his pledge to close the detainee prison at Guantanamo Bay, but he has brought Skype, Playstation3 and "life skills" classes to the detainees at the island facility.
While the 181 men being held in the prison wait to learn their fates after the administration fell through on its January 2010 deadline to move them out, 90 percent now live in a communal environment that includes Skype, the online video chat service, and access to a 17,000-book library.
That's up from 40 percent of detainees a year ago.
The "Twilight" series, a hit among so-called "tweens," is also popular with detainees, the camp's "librarian" said.
Only "highly compliant" detainees can be a part of "communal living," which locks detainees in their cells for four hours a day and means they are "afforded more liberties" and "more freedom of movement," said Lt. Col. Andrew McManus, who oversees operations for the detention camps at Guantanamo Bay, as Fox News tagged along for a tour of the facilities there.
At Camp 6, a minimum security facility within sight of bright Caribbean waters, detainees can now watch flatscreen TVs suspended from above (and encased in protective plastic) or attend classes on personal finance -- all while their feet are chained to the floor.
At first, detainees were offered four channels via satellite television, but now detainees can choose from among 18 channels, including Al Jazeera English, a sports channel, and broadcasts focusing on Tunisia, Libya or Kuwait, according to McManus, who said "nature shows are very popular."
"Introduction of television is the number one thing we've changed [in the year] since I've been here," McManus said.
Detainees were very interested in watching the World Cup, but Guantanamo Bay is "in a bad satellite area" so "we had a little problem," he said. To resolve the issue, detention facility officials began recording World Games and playing them the next morning. As a result, detainees began playing soccer more frequently, and the hospital at the Guantanamo Bay camps increasingly saw more injuries related to the game, one hospital official said.
With a landscape dominated by concrete and steel, Camp 6 mirrors U.S. prisons featured in "prison life" documentaries on cable TV. Detainees are able to enroll in classes, including English classes and the new "life skills" class, which begins with "basic building blocks of personal finance" and then moves into "business finance" and other "vocational" subjects, said McManus, calling the skills class "probably the biggest recent change."
At Camp 4, another minimum security facility, detainees live among barbed-wire fences and can play games on a Playstation3 console or enjoy a game of foosball, just feet away from a copy of President Obama's executive order, signed two days after taking office, to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camps by the end of January 2010.
McManus said detainees get a "sense of hope" from the U.S. government press releases often posted on boards inside the camps, announcing the transfer of detainees to their home countries. .
"I think a lot of them are realizing they're going to get released," McManus said. "They know some of their brothers are leaving, so they see hope because of that."
It's unclear whether detainees such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other alleged Sept. 11 conspirators are allowed to use Skype, the most popular form of communication. Access to Skype began within the past year, but detainees can use it for only one hour every three months, according to McManus.
Detainees who do not wish to use Skype are allowed one phone call every three months.
"It allows them to see their family members," McManus said. "They can have their whole family -- they can have a dozen family members -- in that screen right now."
But, McManus said, the Skype sessions are monitored "so they won't give away force protection information."
"Obviously we don't want them to say, 'I'm here at this camp. There's this many people here, and this is where the guards are,'" he said.
President Obama is now six months past his self-imposed deadline, and Guantanamo Bay is not expected to close anytime soon, but detainees' moods are "a little bit better" thanks to the changes brought under the Obama administration, according to McManus, the deputy commander for the Joint Detention Group.
In fact, he said, the new changes have made the detention camps more "quiet." And with a better environment for detainees comes a better environment for the guards overseeing them.