La Dolce Vita for Guantanamo detainees in Italy?

Wed Dec 30, 2009 2:18pm EST
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By Tiziana Barghini and Danilo Masoni

OPERA, Italy (Reuters Life!) - After eight years in the Guantanamo Bay prison without trial, detainees Riad Nasri and Adel Ben Mabrouk now have a chance at a comparative dolce vita behind bars in Italy's largest detention facility.

Prisoners at the Opera jail on the outskirts of Milan where Nasri and Mabrouk are currently held must work as part of their rehabilitation, and a lucky few devote their days to cultivating red spicy peppers, creating gelato or making bread and jams.

Nasri and Mabrouk, a pair of Tunisians who arrived in November at the prison which also houses some 84 mobsters, could one day hold down jobs like these, if they are convicted of crimes and given prison sentences by an Italian court.

The two are part of a wave of detainees moved out of the American military prison that U.S. president Barack Obama has pledged to close before January 22. And their care -- being unique in its kind -- is likely to prove a challenge even for a jail accustomed to dealing with all manner of criminals.

"From my point of view all inmates are equal and we will have to deal with them depending on the crimes they will be considered responsible for," said Opera Director Giacinto Siciliano told Reuters on a visit to the prison.

But even behind high concrete walls with gun turrets on each corner, it is possible to enjoy your work.

Ivan Saimir, 23, who has already spent a year of his 22-year sentence for murder, nods with smiling eyes when asked whether he likes his job -- caring for quail and collecting their small spotted eggs, a delicacy in high street shops and restaurants.

Each day, Ivan and other inmates tend the prison's greenhouses and quail, under the eyes of less-lucky companions watching from the bars of nearby prison cells.   Continued...

<p>Ivan and Saimir (R) show the quails they breed in the maximum security jail at Opera near Milan December 30, 2009. REUTERS/Paolo Bona</p>