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On March 4, 2009 Specialist Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr. approached The Guantánamo Testimonials Project wishing to tell about his experience in Guantánamo, where he served as a guard from June 2003 through July 2004. We are grateful to Spc. Holdbrooks for his testimony, which comes in the form of the interview below.
In the interview we learn about many instances of abuse. But also of cases in which abuse could have happened but in fact didn't. Spc. Holdbrooks informs us, for example, that he knows of no beatings outside IRFings, of no instances of sexual abuse, and of no form of medical abuse. In fact, he mentions the compassion of medical personnel. He also points out that minors were treated far better than the rest of the population, that food was adequate, both in quantity and quality, and that detainees were not harassed during their transport home.
As to the abuse he witnessed, we learn of the guards' lack of training in corrections or the Geneva Conventions, the instilling of hatred towards the detainees, the lack of useable standard operating procedures, the guards spitting into the food or drink served to detainees, the collective punishment of the detainees (to create peer pressure to comply), the abusive use of pepper spray on the detainees, the various forms of religious abuse, including intentionally tossing Korans into toilets (to retaliate against or rile up the detainees), details about the various forms of positional torture (stress positions), observations about the use of temperature and noise extremes (and the role this played in interrogation), the use of fake menstrual blood on a detainee in the course of his interrogation, the common use of sleep deprivation on the detainees, the threats to kill detainees' relatives, the practice of letting detainees soil themselves (and depriving them of a change of clothes), and the sensory deprivation on detainees as they were being returned to their home countries. He also described an all-out detainee riot that lasted 21 hours.We interviewed Spc. Holdbrooks from March 4 to May 8, 2009.
We were told that we should hate them… and that if you don't hate these people, then you are one of them. (Spc. Terry C. Holdbrooks, Jr)
Why don't you begin by telling us where you were born and grew up?
I was born here in Phoenix, and grew up mostly here. I lived for three years with my biological parents in Vegas, but was back in Phoenix just before I turned 7--I believe.
When and why did you enroll in the military?
I enlisted into the military on August 22, 2002. Why? Simply because I was tired of not doing anything important or specific with my life. I wanted to amount to more than my parents had (being that I am the only of the three to graduate from high school). I wanted to go on to trade school and College afterwards. The army seemed to be a great idea: travel, culture, training, guns, war, fun… It's what most non-worldly American youth would want to do: play GI Joe and get paid for it. If I had put forth the effort to attain more worldly knowledge and awareness, I probably would've went with the Peace Corps instead, and would've never been to GTMO or watched my life go further astray from where I wanted to take it. But Allah has a plan for us all, so this is the way it should be. You said "Allah has a plan for us all". Were you raised a Muslim in Phoenix? No. I was not raised in any type of religious family. In turn this provoked me to have a greater concern in faith and religion in my studies, so that I would know more and be able to relate to people about their faith and feelings (or their ridicule and put downs, as my mind frame was in my youth). Let's come back to this later. In the meantime, tell me a little about your training when you joined the military. My training was very standard Military Police training, no corrections training. We received a two-week crash course--emphasis on crash course--for corrections before going to GTMO.
Did you receive any training there on the Geneva Conventions or on the treatment of prisoners of war? Negative. To the best of my memory. I seem to recall a brief crash course in regards to POW status and how that is supposed to go. But, otherwise, no. Not really. Not that I can recall. Geneva Convention wasn't that big of an emphasis either. Was GTMO your first assignment? GTMO was my first assignment, Fort Leonard Wood was always my duty station, and GTMO was my first deployment. There was none that followed. Can you describe your arrival in GTMO? I arrived in Guantanamo in June 2003, and stayed through July 2004. When we got off the plane, I seem to remember being in civilian clothes. We spent a week in a shacky town of sorts, adjusting to the weather and OJT (or on the job training). After that, it was all in or nothing. There was an issue with finding us housing at first. Either way, it was sort of a shock at first. Things were hectic, and didn't seem to be working smoothly. We had a rough transition with in-processing and getting adjusted to the environment. What were you told about the detainees? That these are the worst of the worst. That they are evil. That we should hate them. That these people hate America. That this is why 9/11 happened, and that if you don't hate these people, then you are one of them.
Were you given any Standard Operating Procedures (or SOP) manual? Negative. There was really no such SOP, as it was constantly at work and being updated. With the administration we had at the time changing the policies, there was really no way to create one that would not be outdated by the time it was printed. There was general information and practices that we followed and knew and were aware of, but not a floating-around SOP as to how to handle everything. Can you describe the first time you saw a detainee? The first time that I saw a detainee, it was a sad and sorry sight. I don't recall who it was, but he looked so tired and worn out. Washed-up you might say. With nothing to do but read a book you have memorized, or pace in a 6 by 8 cell, there really isn't much to be hopeful for. Some detainees would work out in their cells, which was great to see (at least they were making some positive use of their time). The first time we entered the camp, we took a tour of the facility, and saw every block in the main camp. Some of the detainees would spit or throw urine; others would turn their head in disdain or sorrow; others would try to rile us up. The Tipton Trio, particularly Rahul, made some jokes as we entered. And warned us, in a funny way, that we were not in Kansas anymore.
How would you react when you were spat at or hurled urine at? For me, that was just part of the job. Usually we would be sent home to change our uniforms so that we would be at less of a risk of infection of disease (if any). Nonetheless, it would be a simple situation of us leaving the block to go home and change, and whomever happened to throw something or spit would be written up, so to say. It would be noted in the computer and that would be the end of it. Rarely was there ever a further action. Every detainee had a file on the computer so that we could track what they had done (and were likely to do again), as well as the good and bad actions they had taken. How would other guards react? Guards who had no morals, ethics, or self-control had their own
retaliations. Perhaps spitting in their food or drink. Or yelling or cussing
at them. Or spitting back or throwing something at the cages. There was
retaliation, but it wasn't something that would be physical. Unless an
IRF was deemed needed [an IRF is a forced cell extraction; it is named after the Immediate Reaction Force called on to perform it].
Water was also something that could create an issue. If a detainee would flood a cell, or stall his toilet, we would turn the water off for the whole block. If a detainee was rude or condescending, or perhaps not compliant, we could turn off the water for the whole block as well. There was a number of reasons we could turn off the water for the whole block. And that would happen often too. It was a rarity we would ever just turn off an individual detainee's water. Mass punishment was a tactic that the Army incorporated to create peer pressure among the detainees to prevent outbreaks and instill control. You said that sometimes there was further action. Even if only rarely. What was it? If it was needed, a platoon sergeant would be called on the block to de-escalate the situation. Or a translator. Or the chaplain. Or IRFing. Or OC spray (i.e. pepper spray) would be used. OC was a control tool used to stop a situation from getting worse. Or to calm a situation down. By SOP, an authorized guard was to open a cell and spray OC into a cell on a detainee as we had been taught in our Military Police training, which is very specifically to be an S-like motion that covers the face, particularly the eyes, mouth, and nose. But a simple S; no more. Yet, there would be many times that a guard would unleash an entire can of OC spray on a detainee, his belongings, his Quran--everything that was in the cell. And with no remorse. Almost as if they had a smile (and some did). A detainee could be OC-sprayed and then IRFed; a detainee could be OC-sprayed and left in his cell without water or anything else to comfort or clean with; a detainee could be OC sprayed, IRFed, taken to an isolation block, and then left for hours till his shower the following day to clean it off. If his shower privilege wasn't taken away. Can you describe, either from your training or from what you have seen, what it feels like being OC sprayed? The training that we would undergo was to have OC sprayed on us, and then maneuver an obstacle course. It wasn't too terrible for me, but that is simply due to me not having a reaction to it. Others were blinded nearly instantly. The pain from what I heard could be from mild to intolerable, and had a wear-off time of 2 or 3 hours. It was rather awful for the majority of the people. It really feels like burning in the the eyes, dryness, and an overwhelming sense of fear and desperation.
The most particularly crappy incident that I saw was when a
detainee, whose name escapes me, happened to have an IRF called on him.
During this spraying and IRFing, he was not entitled to clean off the
spray, or his cell. He was left hogtied for the night, and without
water. The following day he did not receive a shower either--nor was
water turned on in his cell. He, his possessions, and Quran were
covered in OC spray, that stuff can damage your eyes if not blind them
if left in for long periods. Did you witness or participate in an IRFing? Probably a good one or two hundred of them, to be honest. And no. I did not participate in them. There would usually be two teams on the ready for an IRF. If it was a day that I was on a team, I would take a long enough time getting ready that it would be done before I was in the area to do it. I didn't want to participate, so I just made sure to take my time putting on gear and such. Can you describe an IRFing? Five brutish, dumb men, running into a cell with a large shield and zip ties. They would slam a detainee into the wall or bed or anywhere else in the cell, and then proceed to beat and/or hog tie the detainee with the zip ties, ultimately removing him from the block till he calmed down. Or leaving him in his cell till he was calm enough to come out or be untied. This happened often as it was a common resort for aggressive guards who were still hurt over 9/11 and had no knowledge of why 9/11 happened, or what the history was behind this war. According to SOPs, IRFs must involve minimal force. Was this part of your training? That is what they were supposed to be, but certainly not what they were, as we have already discussed. IRFs were part of our training. A minimal part of it, but a part nonetheless. It was a single, four-hour block, I believe. Just practice on each other, over and over, as to how to enter the cell, take down the detainee, and make an exit without injury to the military police. Does any IRFing stand out in your mind?
That would probably be the IRFs on flu shot day. We had nearly 200 IRFs, it seemed, that day. The day began as any other day; ride the bus to work, get ready for work, start with chow and showers and rec. Nothing unusual or interesting occurred. It was just another day. But then an order came down, probably from the hospital or from a doctor, to administer flu shots to the entire detainee population. At that point the process spread throughout the camp, like a rapid fever, that there was something foul going on. Someone
created a scare that this was an execution of the detainees, and that
we were going to kill them all. This spread through the camp in
moments. It was amazing to see how they could all communicate with each
other so quickly, despite language and distance barriers. Everyone was rioting. The rioting probably started closest to Camp 4, as the hospital was closest to Camp 4. And then the riots started in Camp Delta and went across Camps 1, 2, 3. All probably started in the Camp 1 area, where we kept the "crazy" detainees. It would make sense that a rumor that lethal injection shots would be administered would come from "the crazy block."
Some of the detainees pulled out weapons they may have had for
moments or months, and used them on the guards. Some used the faucets
of the sinks as crude knives and stabbed guards as we entered the
cells. It was a hellish event that really was far more of a fiasco
than it needed to be.
The rioting called for IRF teams. There were two at the ready per camp. And three camps. So there were six teams available. If an IRF was called, the shot operations stopped. That is why it took about twenty one hours to administer the shots (to give 700 detainees the flu shot should not have taken that long, as it only takes a moment to administer a shot per detainee). How did the teams behave? They were riled up and angry, aggressive, belligerent like a drunk American. It was really a nightmare to be in. But I hate crowds and social situations, so the fiasco was more of a nightmare to me than it would be to the average person. How did you behave?
I just kept my head down and out of sight. I would try and sneak off and smoke as much as I could. That way I wouldn't be in sight of the guards. The trick in the Army is "out of sight, out of mind." Were translators involved? There were some translators involved, but there really wasn't an ability to utilize them to the best of possibilities. They were being called all over the camp, and when they would hit a block, it would become even more crazy since every detainee would want to talk to them. How did it all end? 21 hours later, tired, sweaty, and exhausted. Some guards were stabbed, bitten or scratched, some detainees sustained blows to the head, stomach, back, body, etc. Some had broken or spang limbs and bones, but nothing that really sticks out too well. It was really a nightmare, just went on for hours. You say that the flu shot riots were not started by religious reasons. Did any riots start because of them?
Yes. When a Quran was seriously disrespected. Or if a Quran was thrown
in the toilet. Or if a detainee was not allowed to pray. Or if his
praying was disrupted. Did you actually witness this? There has been some controversy about these issues. . .
I saw and heard all of these incidents. They happened many times. It wasn't that uncommon for a guard to mishandle a Quran. Or for one to be tossed in a toilet. Or for people to mock prayer. Or make fun of Islam before the detainees, this is all common practice in GTMO. Tossing a Quran in a toilet happened many times during cell inspections--or cleaning, rather. But this also happened during an IRF. Nonetheless, when it happened during a cleaning of the cell, it was really a matter of the guard not particularly paying attention to what he was doing, and accidentally tossing it near the toilet--from where it then slid into the toilet. There were other times when a guard would intentionally put the Quran in a toilet to start a problem or "stick it" to a detainee. This wasn't too uncommon a circumstance. When it would happen during an IRF--abuse to a Quran, that is--it would be common to see a CO (Camp Officer) spray the Quran with OC spray while spraying the detainee as well. And the entirety of the cell. There are many forms of mockery that took place during praying, prayer call, etc. That happened lots of times. Can you say more about the uncomfortable positions the prisoners were chained in? If you were to be standing and put your wrists in between your ankles, in kind of a squatting position, that would be one of them. Or having your ankles chained behind you. Or your hands chained behind you. And then chained to the ground or chained to a wall. The positions, I mean, they weren’t entirely too creative, but they were uncomfortable.
Here is a depiction of "short shackling". It is artwork based on descriptions provided by actual Guantánamo prisoners, and part of The Tipton Report. How accurate would you say this depiction is? That is a very accurate depiction of the position. Not sure where they got that picture, but it's pretty accurate. If you look in the picture you'll see that the wrists are behind the ankles. That's one of the positions. Another one is having the wrists in front of the ankles, which I actually think would be more grueling than the first one. In the first one you can kind of balance or roll off the balls of your feet; with the second one you are really left on your toes, which would cause a great deal of ache and muscle stress at the legs. For how long would they be in those positions? During interrogation they would be stuck in these positions for however long the interrogation was. That could be anywhere from two to twelve hours. Maybe longer. Where they interrogated while chained in those positions? Yes, when they were interrogated they were chained in these positions. How did the detainees react to this? This was, aside from bodily functions, not pleasant. They weren’t entirely too happy to urinate or defecate on themselves. And to be in pain, or what not. Some of them were crying. It was a horrible, crappy, situation. Did you see these chainings? Did you carry them out yourself? Yes, I did see them. And I did see these transport rooms. I did transport them to the rooms. But no, I would not chain them. Once we get them to wherever they were going for interrogation, that would generally be the end of it--of what we would do. It would be the interrogators from that point onward. Were the temperatures in the rooms manipulated when they were in those positions? The temperatures in the rooms could vary anywhere from maybe 40 degrees on up to 120. More often than not it would be cold, being that they were outside during the day and the night and they were used to about 90 degrees day-round. They would use extreme colds to make it awful. How about the noise levels while they were chained in these ways? Where they manipulated? The noise levels in the rooms would usually be loud. Very loud. And inescapable. Generally, in the position depicted in the picture above, if you put a strobe light two feet in front of the detainee, and turn the volume up to an extreme level, that would be the situation they would be left in for hours and hours until they defecated or urinated on themselves and at that point interrogation would begin. That would involve an agent yelling and using profanity and intimidation factors--basically just threats. Whatever else may happen I am not entirely sure; it was not something I was necessarily able to partake in or witness. So would the interrogations happen during or after the chaining in uncomfortable position? Both--to be honest with you. More often than not, though, the interrogation would be after. The uncomfortable position would be endured for how many hours it was going to be endured and then afterwards the interrogation would take place--obviously due to the weakened state and the weakened mental stability of the detainee at that point in time. However, because it also happened during, sometimes an interrogator would go in during this state, with the music, the strobe light, the air conditioning and everything else, and perhaps present a photo to the detainee and scream or yell and demand answers aggressively and perhaps strike the detainee or what not and demand an answer, and if the detainee did not comply, then perhaps he would stay in that position for more hours in that climate. You say interrogators could strike detainees during interrogations. Did you actually witness this? If so, how did this come about. I did witness this. It happened much like the new memos say. It would be a slap to a head. Or perhaps the detainee would be held against a wall. Something of a minor aggression. But intimidation nonetheless. Was this the only such incident you witnessed? Did you hear about others? It seemed that it was standard for this to happen. At least I heard about it from others all the time. Both from guards and from detainees. Do you know if detainees were beaten in contexts other than IRFs and interrogations? No. If we may return to the issue of religious abuse, translator Erik Saar says, in his book, that a female interrogator at GTMO led a detainee to believe that she was menstruating at the time she was interrogating him, and made him think that the red stuff in her hands was menstrual blood (it was in fact red ink). She then proceeded to smear it on the detainee's face. Subsequently, she had the water to the detainee's cell cut, so he could not wash. She did this, Saar tells us, so that the detainee would not be clean to pray--thus diminishing the strength the detainee was supposedly deriving from his religion. Did you witness anything like this? I was there for that day. We were not the two soldiers to take him to--or from--interrogation, but we were smoking near the building he was being interrogated in, and saw him when he came out. He came out in what look liked a frustrated or near-tears state, and
was being taken to his cell by the other two guards in the area. We
looked over at him (or I looked over at him), and saw that he had
something red on his face, but I was not able to make out if it was from
being hit to the head or something else (as it turned out to be). Shortly after he was out of view, two interrogators and a lady came
walking out; the lady was wearing black, and she seemed rather pleased and
accomplished. You could tell by the look on her face. The other two
interrogators were commenting and giving her praise for her success. So
supposedly she gained some intel. Or she broke the detainee down. They walked off and, as I was walking off, I watched
her make a hand gesture as if she was smearing something on someone's
face (she had smeared blood from a blood capsule on the detainee). And then she laughed. There were a good number of IRFs and angry detainees that followed that event. And the blonde interrogator who did that was mighty proud of herself that day! Blood from a blood capsule? In Saar's book it was red ink from a marker pen. . .
It could have been a red ink pen. I heard that it was a blood capsule. I am pretty sure I heard that from her own mouth. And from other interrogators, as well, as they were talking. I did not see the act itself. But I saw the detainee afterwards, and worked that day, so I had to deal with the drama that came of it.
Thanks for the clarification. Let's turn to psychological abuse. Did you witness cases in which prisoners were deprived of sleep? This practice may have been referred to as the "frequent flyer program". Frequent flying happened often. Everyone who was down there participated in that. We didn't have a choice. You would be moving detainees, every two or three hours, from one cell to another. Sometimes between cells in the same block and sometimes between cells of different blocks. They would be moved all day long, for upwards of a week. Everyone who worked would have to move detainees throughout the day, so that was a common practice and happened regularly. Were you given any explanation for these movements? Your orders must have sounded bizarre (if not downright cruel). No, we were not. We were just told to move detainees. But there were so many teams at a time that would be assigned to do this, you may not have known that you were participating in that program. It did seem odd when you would have a detainee moved three times in one shift, but it wasn't really something I noticed at the time of occurrence. Did you witness any threats to detainees or their families?
There were a few instances of threats of life or limb to detainees. As well as their relatives. During interrogation, tactics can be used in which the interrogator would yell obscenities and give threats of physical abuse or what not, [saying] "if you don't tell us this we are going to kill your whole damn family" or, "we have your family, we know who they are." That did happen. Not entirely too often (or maybe it did happen often and I didn't see it). I think I'd seen it twice. I walked in, I saw what was going on in interrogation, and about as soon as I walked in and saw it, an interrogator or somebody else told me to walk out. Did you witness acts of severe humiliation? Yes. There was severe humiliation. That, primarily, would've been instances of detainees defecating on themselves and there was nothing done; there was no change of clothes. That happened. There was lots of verbal humiliation, obviously. Detainees were put down and treated like animals (or less than animals) in their interrogation. And there were guards, as well, that were very disrespectful towards them. Was there abuse related to food? There's nothing that was an issue with the food. They received an adequate quality and quantity of food each day. Food was not something that was messed with. Did you witness any form of sexual abuse? No. This never occurred. At least to my knowledge. How about medical abuse? No. This was something I touched on in other interviews. The medics were far more compassionate than the guards. They had a different job altogether. They were working in a medical field, and as a result had a medical attitude, not a political or propaganda jaded view. And were smarter. Did they do anything to stop or report abuse they might have seen? They didn't do anything to report abuse or stop it, but that was because they never saw it; they saw only what came of it. Did you see any minors among the detainees? If so, how were they treated? I did. They were treated far better. They had privileges to the ocean for an hour a week. And a television and the ability to watch movies. Same question for elderly detainees. They were in the general population, and were treated like the rest of the detainees.
Did you see how the detainees were transported into or out of Guantánamo? I was involved in one transportation mission with detainees (as far as I know, this was the only one that occurred while I was there). We took detainees home to Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Russia, etc. It was a long flight. Basically it was a C-130. It was gutted out. There were approximately fifty detainees in this flight. They had goggles, earmuffs, and bags over their heads. And blue jumpsuits (as opposed to orange ones). The detainees were shackled into their chairs (the same benches we were sitting on). They had a three-piece shackle (hands, feet, and waist), which was then shackled to the floor. It was a long, nonstop flight. We just left, went there, dropped them off and that was the end of it. This is interesting. It may be the first time we get a first-hand, verbal accounting of transport operations out of Guantánamo from the military. A couple of questions. The first is whether the detainees were informed that they were being taken home or were they deliberately misinformed about this? Also, were they harassed or abused in any way during the flight? I am not aware if they were told anything true or not. There was no harrasment or abuse during the flight; it was really quite simple: they were shackled and sat quietly; we sat quietly guarding them. Off and on we would take turns sleeping, It was a long flight. You say it was a long flight. What if the detainees needed to go to the restroom? Were they allowed to? Was there even one? Yes, there was a restroom. And they were allowed to use it. Although they were not completely unshackled for this process, it seemed it would be a bit messy of a process, wiping with a shackle still on, so they were unshackled in part. That is comforting. Pictures have been made public of transfers into Guantánamo in which the detainees were made to travel sitting on the floor over diapers. In any event, would you care to comment on this interview? Were you satisfied with it? Would you recommend other guards to approach The Guantánamo Testimonials Project with their testimonies? Yes, I absolutely would. You showed a great deal of professionalism and have kept to it, which is tremendous in effort and honesty. You have also delved deeper into issues--more than anyone else has ever. It has been a pleasure to work with you, and I look forward to an ongoing friendship with you!
CSHRA wishes to thank Terry Holdbrooks Jr. for this illuminating and courageous interview. And to invite anyone else with first-hand knowledge of Guantánamo to contribute testimony to the Guantánamo Testimonials Project. The project can be reached electronically at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, by Jason Leopold, was posted to the Public Record, March 27, 2009
While Congress has focused primarily on the country’s economic turmoil and the lavish bonuses paid to Wall Street executives, a Senate Armed Services Committee report currently in the process of being declassified will force lawmakers to shift gears.
The Armed Services Committee will release--possibly as early as next week—its voluminous report on the treatment of alleged terrorist detainees held in U.S. custody and the brutal interrogation techniques they were subjected to, according to Defense Department and intelligence sources who described the report as the most detailed account to date of the roles senior Bush administration and Defense Department officials played in implementing a policy of torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and other detention centers.
The full declassified version of the report is 200 pages, contains 2,000 footnotes, and will reveal a plethora of new information about the genesis of the Bush administration's interrogation policies. The investigation relied upon the testimony of 70 people, generated 38,000 pages of documents, and took 18 months to complete. The declassified version of his report will include a full account of the roles military psychologists played in assisting the Bush administration implement a policy of torture.
The committee released a 19-page summary of its investigation last year and voted last November to accept the full classified version of the report's findings. According to the executive summary, “efforts by administration officials to place responsibility for detainee abuses mostly on lower ranking military personnel as both inaccurate and misleading.”
The release of the full declassified version of the Armed Service's Committee report will also put additional pressure on the Obama administration to immediately launch a full-scale investigation into the Bush administration’s interrogation program. Last week, the ACLU called on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to probe Bush administration officials who signed off on and approved the torture of prisoners.
But at his first prime-time news conference in February, Obama said in response to questions about the Bush administration's interrogation practices that no one is above the law but that he favored looking forward, not backward.
“What I have said is that my administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture that we abide by the Geneva Conventions and that we observe our traditions of rule of law and due process as we are vigorously going after terrorists that can do us harm,” Obama said.
"My view is also that nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing then people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen. But generally speaking I am more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.”
Levin has asked Holder to appoint someone to further probe his report’s findings and make a recommendation to Holder on how to proceed. The attorney general hasn't yet responded. Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said Friday he was working on obtaining a response to Levin's recommendation to Holder but Miller was unable to provide The Public Record with a response by the time this story was published. We will, however, update this report with Miller's response when we receive it.
In January, at a progressive media summit, Levin said, “There needs to be, I believe, an accounting of torture in this country.”
“I suggested to Eric Holder, who will be the next Attorney General despite the delay that took place today, that he select some people or hire an outside person who's got real credibility, perhaps a retired federal judge, to take all the available information, and there’s reams of it,” Levin said Jan. 21. “Look, the Vice President, the former Vice President of the United States, acknowledged that they engaged in torture. He says that waterboarding’s not torture, he’s wrong. Waterboarding is torture, period.
“And this administration and Eric Holder has said so. It’s torture and there’s other forms that they engaged in, so what needs to be done, I believe, in addition to finishing the investigation, is for the Attorney General, the new Attorney General, to identify some people in his office to take the existing documentation. The acknowledgment, folks, this is not a very difficult — this is almost like a case in court with an agreed upon statement of facts, that the previous administration acknowledges that they engaged in waterboarding, period. . .”
The Armed Serivces Committee investigation has already concluded that “members of [Bush’s] Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA’s interrogation program during that period.”
But the declassified committee report contains detailed information about those secret meetings. John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, participated in several of these meetings prior to writing a legal opinion authorizing interrogators to subject detainees to waterboarding and other brutal techniques.
Last year, in response to questions by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Condoleezza Rice, who was National Security Adviser when interrogation methods were discussed, said that beginning as early as the summer of 2002 Yoo provided legal advice at “several” meetings that she attended and that the Department of Justice’s advice on the interrogation program “was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales.”
Yoo met with Gonzales and David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, to discuss the subjects he intended to address in the August 2002 torture memos, according to a declassified summary of the Armed Services Committee report.
Those meetings and the legal opinions that followed have also been scrutinized in a separate report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which spent four years reviewing the legal work of Yoo and other attorneys at the OLC. The OPR report, which is still classified, zeroed in on the meetings Yoo participated in and concluded that Yoo had breached “professional standards” by acting as an advocate for White House policy, according to Justice Department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report is still classified. SERE Techniques
The declassified report will include a full accounting of how the military’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program, which was meant to prepare U.S. soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime, was reverse engineered and used against detainees during interrogations. SERE training techniques include stress positions, forced nudity, use of fear, sleep deprivation and, until recently, the Navy SERE school used the waterboard.
Already, the committee has revealed that discussion surrounding the use of SERE techniques on detainees began in the spring of 2002 and inquiries about the use of SERE methods were made in December 2001, well before the issuance of a legal opinion authorizing the use of harsh interrogation methods.
“Resistance training (the “R” in SERE) was a subject of discussion,” Levin said in a statement last December accompanying an executive summary of his committee’s report. “We discovered that in July 2002, at the request of [Department of Defense] General Counsel Jim Haynes’s office, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) - the DoD agency that oversees SERE training - provided Haynes’s office a list of techniques used in SERE school and an assessment of the psychological effect of using those techniques on students.
“In December 2002, Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld authorized some of those same techniques for use against detainees at [Guantanamo]. We discovered that, in January 2003, SERE instructors traveled to [Guantanamo] and trained interrogators to hit detainees and put them in stress positions. And the investigation revealed that instructors from JPRA’s SERE school participated in at least one abusive interrogation and were present for others during a visit to Iraq in September 2003.
“Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there,” the Armed Services Committee report concluded.” Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Haynes’s recommendation that most of the techniques contained in [Guantanamo’s] October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
The investigation found that the CIA’s interrogation program “included at least one SERE training technique, waterboarding.”
“Senior Administration lawyers, including Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, were consulted on the development of legal analysis of CIA interrogation techniques,” a declassified summary of the report said. “Legal opinions subsequently issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) interpreted legal obligations under U.S. anti-torture laws and determined the legality of CIA interrogation techniques.
“Those OLC opinions distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws, rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody and influenced Department of Defense determinations as to what interrogation techniques were legal for use during interrogations conducted by U.S. military personnel.”
Last June, Levin said he sent Jay Bybee, the former assistant attorney general at OLC who signed the infamous Aug. 1, 2002 torture memo, a list of questions about the implementation of SERE methods.
“In his response to my questions, Jay Bybee said that, in July 2002 – just before those two OLC opinions were issued and about the same time Jim Haynes’s office requested a list of SERE training techniques and information on the psychological effects of SERE (including waterboarding), the CIA provided OLC with an assessment of the psychological effects of SERE resistance training,” Levin said last December. “Jay Bybee wrote me that the assessment provided by the CIA was used to “inform” the August 1, 2002 OLC legal opinion that has yet to be made public. (CIA officials, including George Tenet and acting General Counsel John Rizzo declined to answer questions relating to both that assessment and the CIA’s interrogation program.)
“Judge Bybee’s answers provide insight into how senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques used in SERE training, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
Bybee’s legal work in this area was also harshly criticized by OPR, according to sources familiar with the contents of the watchdog's report. Bybee is now a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The investigation Levin's committee conducted concluded that a Feb. 7, 2002, action memorandum signed by George W. Bush that excluded “war on terror” suspects from Geneva Convention protections was responsible for the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
“Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody,” the committee’s report concluded.
“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
Rumsfeld and Chertoff
Rice told Levin in written responses to his committee’s queries last September that the CIA’s interrogation program was reviewed by National Security Council principals and that Rumsfeld participated in that review.
Rice said that when the CIA sought approval of the interrogation program she asked Tenet to brief the principals and asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to “personally advise NSC Principals whether the program was lawful.”
John Bellinger, Rice’s Legal Advisor, told Levin that he asked CIA lawyers to seek legal advice not only from the OLC, but also from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, headed at the time by Michael Chertoff.
Chertoff reportedly advised the CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that the August 1, 2002, legal opinion protected CIA interrogators from prosecution if they used waterboarding or other harsh tactics.
In February 2005, during his Senate confirmation hearing to become Homeland Security secretary, Chertoff said he provided the CIA broad guidance in response to its questions about interrogation methods, but never addressed the legality of specific techniques.
Abu Zubaydah’s Torture
The declassified report will also for the first time include a full account about the fierce objections the FBI had toward the CIA’s interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value” al-Qaeda detainee, and an in-depth accounting of the meetings and discussions that led to his torture..
According to documents Levin’s committee obtained from the Department of Justice, Daniel Levin, the former head of the agency’s Office of Legal Counsel, indicated that in 2002 "in the context of the Zubaydah interrogation, he attended a meeting at the National Security Council (NSC) at which CIA techniques were discussed.
Daniel “Levin stated that a DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorney gave advice at the meeting about the legality of CIA interrogation techniques. Levin stated that in connection with this meeting, or immediately after it, FBI Director Mueller decided that FBI agents would not participate in interrogations involving techniques the FBI did not normally use in the United States, even though OLC had determined such techniques were legal," according to questions directed to Rice by Sen. Levin.
Daniel Levin was forced to resign in 2004 when Alberto Gonzales became Attorney General because he objected to waterboarding.
The CIA videotaped Zubaydah’s interrogations and the tapes were destroyed. Two weeks ago, author Mark Danner disclosed a report prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), concluding that the abuse of 14 “high-value” detainees, including Zubaydah, “constituted torture.”
“In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” according to the ICRC report. Since the ICRC’s responsibilities involve ensuring compliance with the Geneva Conventions and supervising the treatment of prisoners of war, the organization’s findings carry legal weight.
The ICRC report also found that there was a consistency in many details from the detainees who were interviewed separately and that the first “high-value” detainee to be captured, Abu Zubaydah, appeared to have been used as something of a test case by his interrogators. Zubaydah was one of the prisoners whose interrogations were videotaped by the CIA.
In her responses to Sen. Levin’s questions regarding Zubaydah’s interrogation, Rice said she had “general recollection that FBI had decided not to participate in the CIA interrogations but I do not recall any specific discussions about withdrawing FBI personnel from the Abu Zubaydah interrogation.”
In the book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind said Zubaydah was not the “high-value detainee” the CIA had claimed. Rather, Zubaydah was a minor player in the al-Qaeda organization, handling travel for associates and their families, Suskind wrote.
However, “Bush was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,” Suskind wrote. Bush asked one CIA briefer, “Do some of these harsh methods really work?”
Zubaydah was strapped to a waterboard and, fearing imminent death, he spoke about a wide range of plots against a number of U.S. targets, such as shopping malls, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Yet, Suskind wrote, the information Zubaydah provided under duress was not credible.
According to Suskind, Zubaydah’s captors soon discovered that their prisoner was mentally ill and knew nothing about terrorist operations or impending plots. That realization was “echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President,” Suskind wrote.
Still, in public statements, President Bush portrayed Zubaydah as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States” and added: “So, the CIA used an alternative set of procedures” to get Zubaydah to talk.
The President did not want to “lose face” because he had stated his importance publicly, Suskind wrote.
The final conclusion of Levin’s investigation was that the “abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.”
“Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at [Guantanamo],” a declassified summary of his report said. “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.”
I have seen and done many horrible things, either at Guantánamo or in Iraq, and I know what it is like to try and move on with your life. It's hard. --Spc. Brandon Neely
On December 4, 2008, Specialist Brandon Neely approached CSHRA with testimony he wished to contribute to the Guantánamo Testimonials Project. He believed that insufficient attention had been paid to "the hell that went on at Camp X-Ray." He would be in a position to know, as he arrived in Guantánamo while the cages of Camp X-Ray were still being welded, and escorted the second detainee to hit the prison grounds. In this interview, Specialist Neely provides testimony of the arrival of the detainees in full sensory-deprivation garb, sexual abuse by medical personnel, torture by other medical personnel, brutal beatings out of frustration, fear, and retribution, the first hunger strike and its causes, torturous shackling, positional torture, interference with religious practices and beliefs, verbal abuse, restriction of recreation, the behavior of mentally ill detainees, possible isolation regime of the first six children in GTMO, utter lack of preparation for guarding individuals detained during the War on Terror, and his conversations with prisoners David Hicks and Rhuhel Ahmed.
Tell me a bit about your life before you joined the military. Where were you born and grew up? Why and when you enrolled, and so on?
I was born June 2, 1980 at Fort Benning, Georgia. My father was stationed there in the Army at that time. I lived at Fort Benning until I was 4; then we moved on to Fort Knox, Kentucky until I was around 10. From there we moved to Huntsville, TX. This is where my father retired as a master sergeant from the army.
Huntsville is a small town. The only thing in the town is the prison system and the college (Sam Houston State University). Growing up there was not a whole lot to do; we spent most of our time playing sports and trying to stay out of trouble. I can remember being 16 years old and telling my parents that I would never join the military. Even though I was raised in a military household, my father did not bring the army home with him. The military was not something our parents wanted us to do. We were always told "College first and, if you want the military after that, it will be there afterwards".
I graduated high school in 1998 with no plans whatsoever for my future. I was not ready for college. I was not mature enough and I knew that I could had went, but I for sure would had wasted my parents money. For almost 2 years I didn't do much other then hang out and work at a local grocery store stocking groceries 40 hours a week.
In June of 2000 I woke up one day and decided I was going to join the army as a military police officer. I knew that I needed to do something with my life. I was not sure what yet, but I knew the military would help me grow up and give me some options for my future. So I called my local recruiting station and made an appointment. When I arrived for my appointment that day I told my recruiter that I wanted to be a military police (MP) officer and that I understood I had to sign a 5 year contract to do so. And that was it; nothing else.
A couple days later I was on my way to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). There I enlisted for 5 years as a MP. That day was June 20, 2000. Then, on August 20, 2000, I left for Fort Leonard, Missouri, for 17 weeks for basic and advanced individual training.
It is striking how specific your decision to become an MP was…
Law enforcement was something I was always drawn to. It was a field I had hoped to get into ever since I was a child. At the age of 7 or 8, while we were in Fort Knox, Kentucky, I was out back down the hill with a couple other friends playing in the dirt. Suddenly, these 2 MPs came running our way chasing this guy for some reason. One of them stopped and asked us where we lived and took us home. I can remember then saying "One day I would like to be that guy."
What are some of the strongest memories you have of your training period?
There are a lot of memories I have from basic training. My first really strong memory is the very first day I arrived to my basic training company (Alpha Company 795 4th Platoon). We all were placed in this cattle truck at the in-processing center to go to our company. All we had was the uniform on our back and two duffel bags. Once the doors on the cattle truck were shut you quickly knew who was in charge. The drill sergeants were yelling "Get your face in your duffel bag", as to say "Don't look at me! Look down!" I looked over to my right and noticed a guy opening his duffel bag and literally putting his head inside the duffel bag. It was very hard not to laugh, but I restrained from doing so. Once we arrived to the company area the doors on the truck came swinging open and there stood more drill sergeants screaming to get off the truck. Having the two duffel bags we were instructed to put one duffel on the front of us and lay the second one horizontal on top of that duffel. Once I did this--me not being the tallest guy in the world--I could not see where I was going. I just knew I needed to move and move fast. I started to run as fast as I possible could with the duffel bags to my area still not able to see where I was going, then all of a sudden I came to a halt. I had ran into something or someone. My top duffel bag feel to the ground and that is when I noticed I had ran into the back of a drill sergeant who was in the middle of yelling at someone else. His attention quickly turned in my direction yelling "What the hell is wrong with you? What platoon are you going to, private?" I replied "1st platoon, Drill Sergeant." "Not anymore you are; you are coming to 4th platoon with me now," he said. This is when I totally realized I was no longer a civilian. I was property of the United States Army.
What were your first assignments?
Graduation day came in January of 2001. 17 weeks of training were finally over. It was now to time to move on to the real army. I had been assigned to go to Fort Hood, Texas. This day was a great time for me. It was a day in which I realized I had finally transformed myself from a hard headed civilian into an American solider--something my father had been and took so much pride in. I took great pride and honor putting that uniform on, and knowing that I had accomplished something on my own. Really for the first time in my life. The funniest thing on graduation day the drill sergeant I had ran into the first day of basic training approached me and said: "Neely don't think I forgot you ran into me the first day at the company. That's something I won't forget. Take care, and good luck." This was the first and only thing he ever said about it and until that day I had just thought he forgot all about it.
Where were you on September 11, 2001?
On September 11, 2001 I was in Fort Hood, Texas, assigned to the 410th military police company. I was getting dressed for the day after PT when someone came in my barracks room saying "Get over here and see the TV". When we got next door I saw the pictures of the planes crashing into the towers. We did not know what was going on, so we hurried and finished getting dressed and went downstairs to the platoon office. Once we arrived we were told to grab our Kevlar's and our gear and grab our M4 rifles and M9mm out of the armory, and that the United States was under attack by terrorists.
After gathering all my gear and weapons we were locked and load. I was placed along with many other MPs at the East side entrance of Fort Hood, where we searched every vehicle and person coming onto post. Once I found out that the United States had been attacked by terrorists I was ready for revenge. I was angry. I was ready to go to war. Someone or something had attacked my country, and I believed people needed to be held responsible for this.
Even before 9/11 had happened my company was all ready to go to Egypt in late September for a training exercise know as Operation Bright Star. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, rumors swirled around that we would be deployed somewhere else in the world. But that did not happen we went on to Egypt as scheduled, from the end of September until the end of November.
Anything memorable about Operation Bright Star? What was your next assignment?
Being in Egypt and being part of Operation Bright Star was actually very boring. We returned back to Fort Hood a couple days before Thanksgiving of 2001, and I went on leave for two short weeks. When I returned to my unit I was placed on gate duty. On January 5, 2002, around 0930 hrs or so, I was sleeping in my barracks room after having just got off work a couple hours before. Then I was woke up by someone pounding on my door. It was one of the squad leaders from my platoon. He was informing me of a couple deployments that were coming down throughout the battalion. He asked if I wanted to volunteer myself to go. Being the high-spirited, motivated, soldier I was at the time, I said "Sure. Why not?" And then I went back to my bed.
Later that night, since I was off, I went out with a couple buddies. We were all at a local club just having a good ol' time when my cell-phone rang. It was my platoon sergeant telling me to get back to the company ASAP. Once I arrived back to the platoon office I was told I had been selected to go to the 401st Military Police company and deploy. I was to report there at 0700 hrs the next morning for more details.
At 0700 hrs the next day I reported like I was told, and was placed in 1st platoon. Then I was told that we would be deploying to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within the next 24hrs. It was not until later that afternoon that we were told that we would be starting and running a detainee facility, not an EPW (or Enemy Prisoner of War) camp. We were told that a detainee camp had never been ran before, and that this would be the first time in history this had taken place since these people would not fall under the Geneva Convention.
Later that night we were finally finished packing and loading all our stuff to deploy. I called back home to tell my folks that I would be leaving in the morning and would not be back for at least 6 months. I went and showered and just laid there that Saturday night, nervous and very anxious, wondering what I was getting myself into. I just kept thinking about what we were told all day--that we were going to come face to face with some of the worst people the world had to offer, and that these were the people who had attacked and killed so many people in our country.
Early the next morning, January 7, 2002, we had a good-bye formation and loaded up on the buses to the airstrip and boarded the plane to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
It doesn't seem you received a lot of training for your Guantanamo assignment. Did you receive any training on the Geneva Conventions during your basic training?
We did not receive any kind of special training for working at Guantanamo. Nor did we receive any kind of real training on what would happen once we got there and the detainees starting arriving. No one from the top down in the company knew what was really going on or what to expect. At this time there was no standard operating procedure as we went out on a trial-and-error basis.
In basic we did receive training on EPWs, but it was more for setting up a hasty EPW camp. Something you would put together really fast to hold some prisoners in a combat situation for a short time until you could get them moved to a more permanent place. As far as the Geneva Conventions, we touched very shortly on that in training. Most of what people knew about them was from their own readings.
Can you describe your arrival in Guantanamo?
We arrived in Guantanamo early on the afternoon of January 7, 2002. Coming from Texas in January it was quite cold, so everyone had their field jackets and their cold weather BDUs on. Once we got off that plane I quickly realized I was not in Texas anymore. It was warm. Very warm from what I remember. Here we were dressed for cold weather carrying all these weapons like we were going to a fight a war somewhere. All the Navy guys who were stationed there and in charge on in-processing us just kind of chuckled. We quickly turned our weapons in to the local armory where they would stay for the next 6 months. Went through an in processing briefing filled out some paper work and boarded a ferry that would take us to the other side of Guantanamo.
Once on the other side we were boarded on a bunch of buses. During the bus ride we drove right through the naval base. I remember seeing all the post housing the BX (or Base Exchange), McDonald's, bowling alley, the gym. I remember thinking "Man! This is going to be a really nice deployment. We have all we need.
But we kept driving further and further, until there was nothing around us anymore, and in the distance you could see all these tents lined up in a row. We turned up going up the dirt road towards the tents. Off to the left you could see sparks coming from this area where it looked like people were welding. We got off the buses and formed a big line where we were issued one cot and one MRE (or Meal Ready to Eat) and told to find a tent. After we got everything situated we were told right down the hill was the detainee camp we would be operating out of. This was the same camp the Haitians were held out in the 90s. The Navy Sea Bees were down in the camp welding more cages and fixing the old ones that had already been there.
I laid down that first night not knowing at all what to expect. No one knew what really was going on.
How did you spend the rest of your time before the detainees arrived?
The next day [January 8, 2002] brought us nothing. We did not hear anything more. We just sat around in our tents and sleep most of the day. Later that night we were told the next morning we would be going down to Camp X-Ray for a walk-through and start some training with some Marines who were correctional officers for a couple days. No one was allowed to leave or go to the main part of post where everything was. Not even to shower or eat. For the first week or so, when we showered, it was behind a wall with a water hose.
On January 9 we all got together and marched down to Camp X-Ray and walked around for a quick tour. It was nothing like I had ever seen before. The cells--or cages as I call them--were small. "Something like you would put a dog in," I thought. And, on top of that, it was all outdoors. Except for a small metal roof. The whole camp was rocks. No matter where you stepped you were stepping on rocks. But, "Oh well," I thought, "I was not going to be staying in there."
We started our training with the Marine correctional officers. We were broken down into groups as to what you would be doing inside the camp. I was placed with the group that would be doing the guarding (walking around the different blocks).
Since we were all MPs we were pretty well trained in handcuffing. But we covered it anyways: how to properly handcuff (hand restraints) and leg shackles. Over and over.
We went over escorting procedures. Since they would be wearing a belt with cuffs we were to grab the back of the belt with one hand and, with the other hand, grab their arm. Since escorting was a two-man job, one of the people escorting would force the detainees' head down while we walked so he could not see where he was going.
Some of use also went through the five man internal reaction force training. This team would be called upon supposedly when a detainee was out of control. The Number 1 Man would have the shield. Once the cage door was open he would go in and hit the detainee as hard as he could with the shield. Number 2 Man would go in and gain control of the detainee's left arm; Number 3 Man would gain control of the right arm; Number 4 Man would go for the left leg, and Number 5 Man would go for the right leg, take him down, and handcuff him. This training went on for the next 2 days and, on January 10, we were told that the first batch of detainees would be arriving sometime the next day, so we would be on standby the next day.
Again, not much in the way of training regarding the humane treatment of prisoners…
The training I mentioned was all we got. It was nothing, really, that we hadn't had before. Except for the leg shackling and the IRFing. As far as the Geneva Convention, we were told the reason we had to live in an old trash dump in tents was due to the fact we could only live one step above the detainees. I did not understand this, as we were told on numerous occasions they did not fall under the Geneva Convention.
Did you get any briefing on who the soon-to-arrive prisoners were?
The only thing I can recall being told about the detainees that would arrive was that they were captured fighting the Americans in Afghanistan. And that they were known terrorists. And that many of them helped in the planning of the 9/11 attacks. We would be coming face-to-face with the worst people the world had to offer. Our mission would be to guard these terrorists so the United States could get more info on attacks and, possibly, stop more terrorist attacks.
As to us, we talked a lot about the detainees before they arrived. About them and what they had probably been involved in. A lot of us, including myself, were pissed off, and many people were out to get revenge for the havoc the United States had been through in recent months by these people.
But, as the months went on, one or two of us would actually question what was going on here, the way the detainees were being treated and if they were actually terrorists or not, but being no-ones, and young, and dumb, we never questioned anything further; just did our time until we went home.
A number of sources, including Standard Operating Procedures which are now public, mention pepper-spraying as part of IRFings. Were you trained in the proper use of pepper-spray?
I have seen many of the Standard Operating Procedures (or SOPs) that are now out, and many of them that were written only in late 2002. There was no SOP when we got there, and there was not an official one when I left in June of 2002. We were trained on pepper-spraying, but only for working patrol back at Fort Hood. When I was at Camp X-Ray and for the couple months I was at Camp Delta, pepper-spray was never used. Or even thought of.
Camp Delta SOPs also require IRF teams to give repeated verbal warnings to the detainee before engaging him physically.
As far as IRFing, when I was there, it went somewhat in this order: (1) The block guards would have a problem with a detainee (not listening, maybe saying something, or not following rules). The guards would then contact the duty officer for that shift. We were told "If you were working a block and was having a problem with one of the detainees, and you couldn't handle it, or get it under control, you should call the duty officer," who was usually a E-7 (Sergeant First Class) or a 0-1 or 0-2 (First and Second LT). They would come to the block, assess the situation, and make the decision whether to take "comfort items" away or call the IRF team into play. If the latter, then (2) The duty officer would come to the block with an interpreter and tell the detainee to do whatever he was told to and, if not, the IRF team would be called upon. (3) Once the IRF team was called upon and arrived on the block there was no "I am sorry I will do it" from the detainee; the IRF team was going to enter that cage and hog tie that detainee.
And what about minimal force? SOPs say IRFings have to use the minimal amount of force necessary. And guards' reports that have been released say they were conducted in this way as well. On the other hand, you say that the Number 1 Man of the IRF team had to "hit the detainee as hard as he could with the shield". That does not seem consistent with minimal force…
All I can say to this question is I am sure a lot really has changed in the way the day-to-day activities take place. Especially with regards to IRFing. But at Camp X-Ray, especially before ICRC (or International Committee of the Red Cross) arrived, I heard many times the IRF team being told (and telling each other before they went to get a detainee) that it was their time to "get some," which is to say inflict pain, get revenge. But we were instructed that the Number 1 Man on the IRF team was to hit the detainees as hard as possible.
So January 11, 2002 finally arrives. This is the day the first batch of detainees would arrive. What was the atmosphere like that day?
On January 11, 2002 everyone, including myself, was very nervous. We did not know when or how many detainees would be arriving that day to Camp X-Ray. I was on standby the whole day when, early that afternoon, we were told the first detainees would be arriving in a couple hours. The people who were on this shift went ahead and went down to Camp X-Ray to wait and be told what our duties would be that day. The duty officer called off names for people working all the blocks. My name was not called. Then, when the names were read for the people who would be doing the escorting that day I was called and paired with a buddy that had come over to the 410th MP company with me from the 401st. We were glad to be paired with one another. At least we were familiar with each other; at this time most of the people in the company were all new faces.
After waiting a couple hours we got the call that the detainees were at the air strip and being loaded up to bring to the camp. I started getting really nervous; almost scared. I keep thinking "Here it comes; I am fixing to see what a terrorist looks like face-to-face." I remember my escort partner saying over and over "I got your back, man, if anything happens." I could tell he was as nervous as I was. Everyone in the camp that day was nervous and scared; you could literally hear a pin drop moments before that bus full of detainees arrived.
Describe the arrival of the bus transporting the detainees.
Marine humvees with .50 caliber guns mounted on them led the bus to the camp. The sally port gates were open, and the bus pulled in just feet within the main gate, right next to the temporary holding pen in which they would be until they were taken, first for in-processing, and then to their cages.
The bus doors opened, the escort teams were lined up right next to the bus to take the detainees off the bus and put them in the holding area. You could hear the Marines screaming at them "Shut the fuck up! You're property of the United States of America now." We were not allowed to step onto the bus. The Marines would push them towards us down the bus stairs and we would catch them. The first person who got off the bus, I will never forget. It was a man with one leg. He was later called Stumpy by everyone. I don't know his name, but he was around 5'7 and at least 250lbs. He was the biggest guy we had for a long time. Grabbed by the escorting MPs, Stumpy was jumping on one leg, MPs screaming at him to walk faster towards the holding area when, from inside the bus, someone threw his prosthetic leg out onto the ground. Myself and my partner were next. The second detainee came off the bus. We grabbed him like we were trained and took him into the holding area, yelling at him to get on his knees and to shut up.
Also in this bunch of detainees was an Australian. We were told he was a mercenary who was caught fighting against the Americans in Afghanistan. His name was David Hicks. Throughout the months I would talk to him plenty of times and hear his story, along with many others, including that of Feroz Ali Abbasi. He was British and was held on Bravo Block along with David Hicks.
This went on until all the detainees were taken off the bus and placed in the holding area.
What did the detainees have on as they came off the bus?
The prisoners arrived in orange suits. Some had orange ski caps. They had goggles on their eyes, earmuffs on their ears, surgical masks on their faces, and black gloves on their arms. They were handcuffed and leg-shackled. They had chains around their waists with a padlock on the back. The handcuffs were attached to the waist chain.
How did the in-processing take place?
After all the detainees were in the holding pen, half of the teams would take them out of the holding pen and bring them into the tent to be in-processed. One by one the detainees were taken from the holding area to the back side of the camp, where in-processing happened very quickly. Ear muffs, goggles and masks were taken off, their pictures were taken, and ID bracelets were made and placed on their wrists. Then the goggles and the surgical mask were placed back on until they got to their cages. Meanwhile, the other half of the escort teams, including my own, had gone to the back side of the camp and waited on the outside of the tent for the detainees to come out after being in-processed and be taken to their cages.
How were the detainees taken to their cages?
After being in-processed we escorted the detainees to the various blocks. We would take them to their assigned blocks, walking at a very fast pace. If they couldn't keep up with our pace or attempt to fall we would yell, scream, and carry them to their cages. We were told one would go to Alpha block, next one would go to Bravo block and so on. We were spreading them all out since there was very few of them.
Once in the cages they were placed on their knees. One MP would remove the goggles, throw them outside the cage, kneel down, remove the leg irons, and throw them outside. Then the person in charge of the block would unlock the padlock that was on the waist chains and then their handcuffs would be removed. After one hand was removed from the cuffs the detainee was told through an interpreter to place his hand on top of his head and not move. Once everything was removed, one MP would back out of the cage; the other one would still have control and then slowly back out, always keeping eyes on the detainee. Then the cage would be closed and locked.
The interpreters would then tell the detainees what items were in their cages. They were given 2 buckets (one for water and one to use as a toilet), a green army mat, a small tooth brush, and a sheet. From what I can remember, they were also told not to move and no talking was allowed.
Did any of the detainees arrive with serious injuries?
Later that day, after my shift was over, the detainees would be taken out of their cages and go through some sort of physical examination, as many of them arriving had injuries. I don't necessarily remember the injuries of the detainees of the first group, but many of them came with injuries such as gunshot wounds, broken arms, legs. One injury that sticks out in my mind was on a very slight, malnourished detainee, who had been grazed by a .50 caliber fighting the Americans in Afghanistan (supposedly). He arrived with the first or the second batch of detainees. When he arrived, his right arm was in a sling. I took him to medical a couple times throughout my time at Camp X-Ray. I will try to explain his injury as best as I can. Take your arm and fold it like it was in a sling against your chest. The hole was in his bicep area. Due to the fact his arm was in a sling, and in that position so long, the muscle had attached to his forearm somewhat, and he would go to medical so they could stretch it out. It was a very painful time every time he went.
How did your day end?
After we got off that day it was late. No one really spoke much. I went back to my tent and laid down to go to sleep. I was thinking "those were the worst people the world had to offer? Not what I expected." I guess I was expecting people who looked like monsters or what-not.
So much hap-pened on that very first day… A lot of it is a blur…
But more detainees would be coming the next day. We had to get up early and head to camp.
Here is a pic- ture of the holding area that I found on the net. This picture was taken the very first day. To your right of the detainees are the out- door cages of Alpha Block. If you look closely you will see a solider that is actually standing in one of the cages on Alpha block. To the left, past the soldiers standing there, are the cages of Bravo Block. In the back, to your left, with the people on the roof, is the makeshift hospital. Directly behind Bravo Block would stand the future Delta Block. At this time there were tents there to in-process the detainees.
[At this point in the interview, Mr. Neely volunteered the following, unprompted statement]
Even though I reached out to talk to you about Guantánamo and wanting to tell what it was really like inside the camp at the beginning when I was there, I am not a totally innocent person as far as what happened inside the wire. I am very ashamed to admit it and tell you that I was involved in the very first IRFing incident at Camp X-Ray. I left it out of what happened on Day 1, and I apologize for that. It's just something that I am very ashamed of. Here is what happened.
On the first day we had been taking detainees from the in-processing center to their cages for quite a while when myself and the guy that was my escorting partner grabbed the next detainee to be taken. He was an older man. Probably in his mid to late 50s--short and kind of a husky build. I remember grabbing him and then starting to walk first through the rocks and then through the sally port (a long walk way with gates on both sides) heading towards Alpha Block. Then I noticed he was really tense, shaking really bad, and not wanting to walk or move without being forced to do so. We made our way to Alpha Block to the cage he would be placed in. He was instructed to go to his knees, which he did. My partner then went down and took off his leg shackles. I still had control of his upper body, and I could still feel him tensing up. Once the shackles were off my partner started to take off the hand cuffs. The detainee got really tense and started to pull away. We yelled at him a couple times "Stop moving!" Over and over. Then he stopped moving, and when my partner went to put the key in that first handcuff, the detainee jerked hard to the left towards me. Before I knew it, I threw the detainee to the ground and was on top of him holding his face to the cement floor.
At this time my partner had left the cage. The block NCOIC (or Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) was on the radio yelling code red which meant emergency on the block. Before I knew, I was being grabbed from behind and pulled out of the cage by the IRF team. They grabbed this man and hog-tied him. He laid there like that for hours that day before he was released from that position.
A couple days later I found out from a detainee who was on that block that the older detainee was just scared and that when we placed him on his knees he thought he was going to be executed. He then went on to tell me that this man had seen some of his friends and family members executed on their knees. I can remember guys coming up to me after it was over that night and said "Man, that was a good job; you got you some".
I did not feel good about what I did. It felt wrong. This man was old enough to be my father, and I had just beaten up on him. I still to this day don't know who was more scared before and during this incident me or the detainee.
I remember seeing him the next day when I walked into camp. His face was all bruised and scraped up. I was young and didn't question anything back then. As I do nowadays. But even then, when I was as pissed off as anyone there, I felt ashamed of what I did. As the years have went on and the more I learn the more guilt I feel. This is one of the incidents from my time at Guantanamo that haunts me.
I am in no position to judge you, and I will not dare to do so. All I can say is that it is well known that good people can do evil things in evil environments (what psychologists call the Lucifer Effect). Or when people in authority order them to do so (the Stanford Obedience Experiment). You were in both situations. In any event, if you are OK with it, I have a couple of questions about this incident.
I am fine with this being part of my testimony. I want it to be told no matter how it makes me look. I believe it's very important people know what happened there. I am sure there were (and are) a lot of detainees in Guantanamo that are guilty of something. But, on the other hand, there are a lot that are not guilty of nothing at all other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And no one, guilty or innocent, should be treated in the manner they have been.
I appreciate that very much. Would you say this was the first IRFing incident in Guantanamo?
I really don't see this as the first IRF incident as much. When my partner put out the Code Red on the radio, anyone and everyone would respond. It just so happened that most of the IRF team was right outside Alpha Block at this time.
Got it. It is still not clear to me, though, how the detainee got the scrapes and bruises on his face. You say you were holding his head against the cement floor, but this does not cause scrapes and bruises in and of itself.
I had a hold of the detainee's left arm, with my left hand grabbing around the bicep area and had my right hand grabbing the back on his shirt. When he pulled away I just pushed or slammed him forward, with his face hitting the cement and me going on top of him. I did not strike him with an open or closed fist. He was moving his head and this is why I was holding is head to the ground. When I was pulled out of the cage and the members of the IRF team were hog-tying him I could not see if any one of them were striking him, as they were all on top of him. I just know that his face was scraped and bruised, and I am sure the initial hit to the pavement caused some if not all those marks.
Any incidents of abuse soon after the arrival of detainees?
There are a couple things that I remember seeing first-hand that come to my mind and that I believe were totally unjust and just plain abuse. I am not sure of the dates or times when they occurred, but it wasn't too long into the beginning of Camp X-Ray.
One night I was assigned to Charlie Block as a block guard. The medic was handing medication out on the block. He made his way over to one detainee on the block and instructed him to drink a can of Ensure (a lot of detainees were given this since they were underweight and malnourished). The detainee refused to take the Ensure. The medic told him multiple times to take it and the detainee still refused. The medic then went and told the block NCOIC of the situation. The block NCOIC then went to the detainee and gave him the same instructions to take the can of Ensure. Once again the detainee refused to follow these orders. Next the on duty OIC (or Officer in Charge) was notified of the situation. The OIC then made his way to the block where a discussion went on about the situation and the conclusion was that the detainee could not refuse any medications at all. The camp OIC then went over to the detainee and gave him the same instruction to drink the Ensure or, if he refused, he would be forced to take it. Once again he refused to drink it.
The call was made on the radio for the IRF team. The IRF team entered the block where they were met by the OIC and the medic. They were told of the situation and advised once they entered the cell they were to restraint the detainee so the medic could give him the can of Ensure. The IRF team then started to approach the cage the detainee was in. Since I was on the block I walked on the other side of the cage so I could watch what was going on. Once the IRF team was lined up and got in position to enter the cell the OIC unlocked the lock and pulled it off and opened the cage door. The detainee just stood there, facing the IRF team. BOOM! the Number One Man hit the detainee with shield causing him to fall to the cement floor of the cage. Quickly the whole team was on top of the detainee. I could not see exactly what they were doing. They stood him up and hand-cuffed him to fence in the cage. The person who had the shield held the detainee's head so he could not move. The medic then entered the cage with the can of Ensure. Once he entered the cage he looked up and saw me. He then motioned for me to move over to my left (his right). So I moved over. I did not think anything about it. He then opened the Ensure can, grabbed the detainee by the neck, and started to pour it down his throat. The detainee was attempting to move his head, and he wouldn't swallow any of it. The Ensure just ran down his face all over him.
The medic looked up one quick time and punched the detainee twice on the left side of his face with his right fist. The medic then just turned around and walked out of the cage like nothing happened. The detainee was then un-handcuffed from the cage and laid down on the cement in the cage. He was then hog-tied. He laid in this position for a couple hours.
When the whole incident was over I turned around and noticed the guard tower where the Marines were stationed watching over and realized that the medic had placed me in front of the view of the tower and I had not even realized it.
I later learned through other detainees on the block the reason the man refused the Ensure was that he thought he was being poisoned.
That was a ghastly incident…
One day, while on duty at Camp X-Ray, I was assigned to escorting duties. I was at the very back of the camp. There was like a big shed there. This was also where the IRF team was stationed at until called upon. On this day the call came for the IRF team to come to Bravo Block. They made their way to the block and, at the time, I was not doing anything, so I made my way down to the block to watch from the outside of the block. The situation on the block was that a detainee had called a female MP "bitch" a couple times. For punishment, the IRF team was called upon to enter the cage and hog-tie the detainee. The female MP was very upset, yelling "Whip his ass!"
The IRF team, along with the camp OIC, approached the detainee's cage and told him to stop yelling and lay down so he could be restrained. The detainee just stood there, staring at them. The IRF team lined up in position to enter the cage. The OIC unlocked the lock on the cage door and, when this was done, the detainee turned around, went to his knees and placed his hands on the top of his head. The lock was taken off and the cage door was opened. The Number One Man on the IRF team tossed his shield to the side and, with a quick run towards the detainee, hopped in the air and came down on the back of the detainee with his knee (the Number One guy on the IRF team was no small guy). This caused the detainee to fall to the cement floor of the cage with the Number One Man on top of him. Then the whole IRF team was on top of him hitting, punching, and kicking him. It seemed like a long time, but in reality it lasted 15-20 seconds.
While the IRF team was still on top of the detainee someone yelled for the female MP that was called a bitch. She entered the cage and she punched the detainee a couple times in the head and then left the cage. Everyone in the cage stood up and the detainee laid there cuffed-up but motionless and unresponsive. Next thing I saw were medics coming from the medical house with a stretcher. They left the block with the detainee on the stretcher; they took him to a waiting military ambulance and was transported to the main hospital. The IRF team would ride along with the detainee. I went back to work not fully knowing what was wrong or what happened to the detainee.
Later that night, after we had been off for a while, the IRF team came back from the hospital. They would go on and talk about how they hit and punched the detainee and how they held him down so the female MP could hit him a couple times. They went on to talk about the ambulance ride saying no one spoke and it was a very silent ride. One of them even stated the detainee went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance. I do not know if this statement is true or not. I know the camp OIC of this incident would joke many times about how he never heard his name and "war crimes" in the same sentence so many times in his life.
Eventually the detainee would return back to the camp from the hospital. About a week or so later I was assigned to work Bravo Block, and the block NCOIC happened to be a member of the IRF team. He was the Number One Man of the day of this incident. When the NCOIC walked onto the block a detainee named Feroz Abbasi yelled "Sergeant, have you come back to finish him off?" 1
You say someone was using the camp OIC's name in the same sentence as the phrase war crimes. Who was that? Was the camp OIC being reprimanded?
I do not know for sure who was telling him that. I would figure it would have been the Colonel who was in charge. After this day you never heard anything more about it. No one was reprimanded for what happened.
Were these IRFings filmed?
When an IRFing took place a camera was supposed to be present to capture the IRFing. Every time I witnessed an IRFing a camera was present, but one of two things would happen: (1) the camera would never be turned on, or (2) the camera would be on, but pointed straight at the ground. In the incident on Bravo Block I spoke about I found out through talking to people and hearing them joke that the video of the incident was destroyed.
Do you remember other IRFing incidents?
When new detainees arrived to the camp, a detainee on Alpha Block began to yell so loudly that you could hear him all over camp. Every time we would take a new detainee to Alpha Block he would get even louder. Eventually, the IRF team was called in to restrain this detainee. You could always tell when someone got IRFed, as the detainees throughout the camp would start chanting and screaming. So I could tell when the detainee on Alpha Block was IRFed that day. By the time the IRF team was coming off the block and I was walking back towards Alpha Block I noticed a couple of the guys had blood on their arms, hands, and uniforms. They were washing their hands with water. The detainee was escorted off the block to medical, where he was given stitches for multiple lacerations to his head. Later that day I came back on the block and saw the cage this detainee was IRFed in. The cement floor was a dull red color from the blood. You could tell at one point before it was washed out that there was a lot of blood on the floor of that cage.
How often did IRFings take place?
From what I recall, IRFings didn't happen all that often. Especially once the ICRC came to the camp. There were other IRFings, but nothing like these I have mentioned. These are probably the most brutal that I can remember from when I was there. But I am only talking about the times I was on camp grounds. I am sure IRFings happened on other shifts.
You say things changed when the ICRC was around. Can you elaborate?
Everything in the Camp changed once the ICRC showed up. At first detainees were not allowed to talk or get up and walk around inside their cages. They were not even allowed to cover themselves up when they used the bathroom in their buckets. They were told to sit in the middle of the cage unless told otherwise or face punishment. They did not even know where they were at. They would ask and we would just lie to them and tell them they were in Russia or some other place. Many times they would ask about what happened to their country, and many of the soldiers including myself at times would tell them their country was destroyed by a nuclear bomb. Once the ICRC came they were told where they were at, allowed to talk, allowed to get up and walk around. The chain of command was really careful when the ICRC was around.
Anything you want to add about IRFings?
I don't believe the IRF team was used for the right reasons at all. At least the people on the team used it for the wrong reasons. It was their way to beat up on someone who was smaller and weaker than them. I have often wondered why you would need 5 healthy, grown men, in riot gear, to go take a down a detainee who was most likely underweight and very weak.
Continuing on the subject of physical abuse, there is a lot of testimony about shackles being placed needlessly tight. So much so that this might qualify as a form of binding torture. And shackling in such uncomfortable positions that this could count as positional torture…
I do know that shackles were put on very tight in some cases, really depending on who put them on. You are taught to leave enough room for a finger to go between the cuff and the part you cuff up. I know many detainees, when they arrived, were bleeding or had bruises from the handcuffs or leg shackles. And some could not even walk--the leg shackles were so tight. Yes: some soldiers did place the cuffs and leg shackles overly tight.
On the blocks detainees would be hog-tied for punishment and left that way for hours. Sometimes 2 hours, sometimes 4 hours, all depending on when they felt like releasing them from that position, as the call to release them came from the OIC.
Did you witness waterboarding (allegedly known as "drown-proofing" in Guantánamo)?
I did not witness any waterboarding or drown-proofing. I did not even hear anyone speak about it during my time at Guantánamo. This could be due to the fact that we did not interact with the people doing the interrogations, and we did not even escort the detainees to interrogations. Another military police company from Fort Stewart would come and take the detainees to the interrogation rooms.
What about medical abuse?
I know that detainees could not refuse medication or it would be forced upon them as I stated in previous incidents. The detainees knew they would be IRFed if they refused, so many of them just took the medications so they would not be IRFed. And I know this since I was told tis many times from some of the detainees there.
I talked about the detainee who came to Camp X-Ray wounded from a .50 caliber. His bicep had attached to his forearm due to the fact his arm was in the sling for so long. I escorted this detainee to medical a couple times for physical therapy as he could not bend his arm down at all. On one occasion, when I escorted him there the medic began to massage the area that was attached and he keep rubbing harder and harder to the point the detainee started to cry and squirm all over the bed. The medic stopped massaging and started to stretch the detainee's arm down a little at a time. You could tell this was very painful and uncomfortable for him. The medic said "You really want to watch him scream." Then he stretched the arm all the way down until it was straight out on the bed. The detainee started screaming loud and crying. The medic finally put his arm back up and did it again. And then he said he was finished with the physical therapy. The whole time the medic just laughed at what he was doing. We then escorted the detainee back to his cage.
I witnessed the "physical therapy" sessions a couple of times, and never had it went the way I described it above. Usually they would just massage the area for a bit, then stretch the arm a little bit just to the point it got uncomfortable to him. But the medic that did this therapy was not the same one that I saw before.
Did you witness forced feedings?
I did not witness any forced feedings other than the one I described [see the Ensure incident]. But it was done especially during a hunger strike. After so many days they would be escorted to medical and fed through a tube or put on a IV. I know this from talking to people who would talk about it. And during a hunger strike the medics would always say if they don't [eat] after--30 days I believe it was--they would just force-feed them. I am not totally sure of the time frame for forced feedings, but I remember hearing 30 days somewhere in there.
Do you know of other forms of medical abuse? There is some testimony, for example, of abusive drugging of detainees.
I don't. At least that I witnessed. At Camp X-Ray we had a medical facility, but it was more a clinic than anything. If a detainee had anything serious, or surgery, they would be taken to the Hospital, and I never worked there as far as guarding detainees. I have no knowledge of any drugging that may had happened at the camp.
You have described now four incidents of abuse by medical personnel (two "rectal exams," one session of "physical therapy," and one incident of punching a detainee after a failed attempt at forced feeding). Was the same individual involved in all four?
The physical therapy exam and the punching were done by completely different male medics. The two "rectal exams" were done by the same Navy doctor (all the rectal exams were done by Navy doctors stationed there). So there were three different individuals involved; two medics and one doctor.
I am surprised there were hunger strikes that early.
Yes, there were hunger strikes in the early days. Some detainees started out on hunger strike. I believe it was early February when, on Charlie Block, a Koran was thrown to the floor during a cell search. This caused the whole camp to go in a massive uproar, screaming and yelling to the point all MPs came out of the blocks. Due to this incident most of the detainees went on hunger strike. I remember some of the detainees being so weak they could not move and every hour or so if I was on assigned to a block I would try and get a response out of them as some of them were so weak that they looked as if they were dead.
Was this the first hunger strike at Guantánamo?
This was the first hunger strike that happened at Camp X-Ray. There were maybe one or two detainees who would not eat, but that wouldn't last very long. When the incident with the Koran happened, the whole camp pretty much went on a hunger strike that lasted a week or so. What ended the hungry strike was the Marine General who was over the camp at a time brought all the detainee block leaders to meet with him. I am not sure what was said either way as I was not present for this discussion. All I know is later that day the detainees began to eat once again.
The detainees were fed 3 times a day. For the first week or so detainees were given MREs (or meals ready to eat). We would strip the MREs of everything other then the main meal. Stuff we would take out was like matches, coffee, gum and anything else that was considered extra. After a week or so of MREs 3 times a day, hot chow started to come twice a day from the Navy chow hall. Also pork MREs were not to be given out for obvious reasons, but I do know that some guards handed them out and laughed if a detainee was to eat it.
When a detainee or detainees were on hunger strike, nothing really changed. We would still make an attempt to feed the detainees. If they refused, we just left them alone and noted it in the block log. Each block and the command post had a green notebook that was used to document all activities on the block and camp. This was to hold information like who was working the block and when and who relieved you on duty, when the detainees were fed or showered, who left the block and to where, and when the buckets of human waste were emptied.
You say the Koran was thrown to the floor. That suggests it was done intentionally…
When the incident happened with the Koran I was on Alpha Block working that day. All of a sudden detainees started to yell and chant, and it spread around the camp in a second. Next thing I know, detainees were throwing their mats out of the cage. Some were throwing their water out of their bucket out of the cage. Everyone was going off. Then we heard that on Charlie Block, during cell search, a guard had thrown the Koran to the ground, and that was the cause of this.
Well, the guard that threw the Koran to the ground was a really good friend of mine, and the same MP I escorted with on the first day the detainees arrived. I talked to him that night about what happened. He swears he didn't throw the Koran to the ground being hateful. He told me he was just doing a cell search--as was to be done every time a detainee left the cage. We were told to search the Korans and that's what he did. And he said that, before thinking about it, he tossed it to the side, hitting the ground. And that's when all hell broke loose in the camp. He was very upset about the whole thing. He was really worried something would happen to him as far as disciplinary [action] through the chain of command, mainly due to the fact the Colonel had stated he wanted that soldier who was responsible for this to be punished. But he never was and, after a while, it was all forgotten about.
You say that pork was given to a detainee--without warning him and knowing that this violated religious rules. Did you witness other forms of religious abuse? Disrespecting the call to prayer or the prayer proper? The Koran being kicked or thrown into the waste bucket?
Yes there was loud rock music that was played throughout the camp. Especially in the early days of X-Ray. Over time this seemed to stop, but the National Anthem was played every morning at 0630. Muslim calls to prayer were broadcast after the first week of Camp X-Ray. During call to prayer many times soldiers would mock and laugh at the detainees. Many would also try to sing along to the call for prayer trying to be funny. I also know that sometimes, during call for prayer, water would be given out to the detainees in their bucket, and some would spray the detainees with water during prayer, then stating it was an accident.
I did not hear (or know) of any dropping Korans in the waste bucket. Or kicking it.
I do not recall any more religion abuse other then what I have already stated. I remember just talking to some detainees and them telling me that, since they had nothing else to do, that they were studying their religion more and reading the Koran to better understand their religion. I remember thinking I couldn't believe how dedicated these people were to their religion; always reading the Koran, always praying. I actually admired them for this, as you don't see a lot of people take religion so seriously.
Did you witness sexual abuse?
The in-processing changed a bit, especially once Delta block was finished. The detainees were still taken off the bus and placed in the holding pin, but instead of walking way to the back of the camp, directly across the holding area was an open spot of the camp where a big tent was put up. And this became the new in-processing area. Now, when they were taken out of the holding area, the escort team would take them to this tent where they would go through the same in-processing, except now there was a doctor who would check their rectum area (we were told the rectal exam was to check for any kind of weapons that could be hidden there; we were told that, in Afghanistan, a grenade had been found in the rectum of a detainee).
So an escorting MP would pull the detainee's pants down and the doctor would instruct the detainee to lean over the table. Then, with a surgical glove on his hand, the doctor shoved his finger in the rectum of the detainee. Both times I witnessed this I never once saw any kind of lubrication used; they did not use the lube that was on the table to perform this. This exam was not done in any gentle manner whatsoever. It seemed to me that the doctor just reached back and shoved his finger as hard as he could in the rectum of the detainee. I witnessed this twice with my own eyes (at this time I was working blocks more). But I heard it talked about many times from other soldiers.
Even when I was not witness to these exams, but was still within earshot of the tent they were performed in, I could hear the detainees scream and cry out during the exam. I even remember one detainee coming out of the tent after this looking like he was in tears. I know through talking with other people who witnessed this that the doctor would make little smart comments before he did the exam like "this won't hurt; it will only take a minute," in a very sarcastic manner. And that sometimes the doctor would even be laughing.
Also, each detainee was searched when he left his cage and when he returned to his cage. In the process of searching or patting-down the detainee we were taught a technique which we called the "credit card swipe". You would take your hand put all your fingers straight together and go straight up the backside of a person. If this was done the correct way just a quick swipe it really was no big deal, but some people took it to the extreme, and would do it so hard--in effect just hitting the detainee in the private area to cause pain.
Did you take detainees to shower or to recreation?
Yes, I did take detainees to shower. Usually, if you were assigned to escorting duties for a block for a day, you would do all the escorting for it. And if it was that block's day to shower, you would run all the showers. At X-Ray there would be one escorting team that would go to every cage and ask the detainees if they wanted to shower. If they did, you would place handcuffs and leg restraints on them and take them to the shower that was located on the block. The showers were outside. They were just a smaller version of the cage they lived in, and had a shower head. We as soldiers controlled when the water was turned on and off, as there was a valve that was located outside of the shower. Detainees were supposed to be given 5 minutes to shower but, depending on who was doing the escorting and their moods, that would change. I had seen many times--and worked with--people who would turn off the water while the detainees were still all soaped up and tell them it was time to get out. At X-Ray detainees probably showered at the most 3 times a week but usually twice a week.
As far as recreation, I know that, for a long time (2 or 3 months), there was no recreation whatsoever. After a while we used to get a detainee to volunteer to empty the waste buckets and give them candy and this was considered some form of recreation for a while. I know there was a little recreation given when I was there but I can't remember how it was run or when it really happened.
You got detainees to volunteer to empty the waste buckets?
The waste buckets were to be emptied at the end of every shift--so around every 8 hours. Us guards would empty the buckets, but eventually we started to refuse to do so, due to health reasons and it was just plain nasty. A whole bucket full of human waste we would pick up just wearing gloves and carry to a port potty and empty. Eventually detainees were bribed with candy from the MREs to empty them, and many of them did this, many stating they did so just to get out of their cage and move around.
Did female guards escort prisoners to shower?
Female guards escorted the detainees to shower as well. And with the shower being somewhat open, especially at X-Ray, the females were always within eyeview of the shower. Also, when I talked about detainees being searched before entering their cages, females would perform these searches as well. The detainees were very upset when a female guard came to escort them to the shower or to the port potty. Some of them would not even go to shower due to this. They explained many times why they did not want female guards to escort them, but no one really cared what they said, so it was go shower with a female guard or don't shower at all.
Do you know anything about the "frequent flier program"? Or prisoners moved at night for shower or cell transfers?
I do not know anything about the "frequent flier program". As far as detainees being moved around, yes. Even at Camp X-Ray detainees were moved to different cages. But I could not tell you who or how often. Honestly, at the time I didn't think about that kind of stuff to realize the big picture.
I only worked the night hours a handful of times, but showers were usually done during the day shift. I do remember on occasion, sometimes moving a detainee to a different cage at night. Also, the detainees were not allowed to cover their hands or face with their sheets, so at night we were constantly waking them up to tell them to show their hands and face.
Were there any old timers or children in Guantanamo during your tour of duty? Were they afforded any special treatment on account of their ages?
I did see a couple older people, probably in late 50s or 60s. They were not given any special treatment at all. They were treated just like the rest of the detainees there. As for children, I never saw any, but there was talk that some had come to Guantanamo during our time there, and that they were being kept at the Navy Brig on the base, where it was all isolation cells. There was a lot of talk about that. We used to have to send a couple MPs to the Navy brig to watch the detainees there, but I never had the chance to go there myself; I was never assigned to the Navy Brig; I do know from talking to some people who worked at the brig that the detainees there were kept in isolation cells, though. We were told by an E-7 (Sergeant First Class) that detainees were coming off the plane straight to the brig, and that they were being kept at the Brig and not at the camp due to their status, and that they didn't want them around the other detainees. No one actually ever said there were children being held there. There was just a lot of talk from the people who worked at the Brig that some of the detainees looked really young…
Were detainees verbally abused?
Upon arrival, detainees were screamed at throughout the whole process. They were told to shut up, walk faster, and what not. Some guards would call them "Sand Niggers." I never heard that phrase until I was at Guantanamo. Detainees would be told that their country had been nuked and nothing was left, and that their families were dead. I know of some guards even telling detainees they could be executed at any time. This all was being said on the blocks by fellow MPs.
You said that you talked plenty of times with Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks. What did you two talk about?
I remember David Hicks very clearly as, to me, he is one of the two most memorable detainees I came across. Due to him being able to communicate so clearly with us. And because he just reminded me of a guy I would have just gone out and have a beer with.
Over time I would talk to him a couple times while at Camp X-Ray. He would talk about how he was from Australia. He would say sometimes how he couldn't wait to receive news from back home from his parents. I can remember him mentioning a couple times that he was divorced and I believe he had one or two kids from what I recall.
Even to me he never denied being in Afghanistan, but he would make it a point to emphasize that he was not fighting the Americans, and said on many occasions he would not fight the Americans. He said he was there fighting in the country before the United States started to attack. He then went on to say he was attempting to leave the Afghanistan when, one night, he was on board a taxi and the taxi was stopped by the Northern Alliance. He was captured from there. He then stated that the Northern Alliance didn't treat him too badly and that, the next thing he knew, he was told he was being sold to the Americans for $1500 (there were many detainees during my time at Guantanamo who stated that they had been sold as well to the Americans; they said that the more valuable the Americans thought you were, the more they payed for them).
One time David Hicks asked me and another guard I was walking around with if we knew he was once on the cover of Soldier of Fortune. He said an interrogator had told him he was. In the picture on the cover he was holding an RPG, and he stated the interrogators said it was him shooting at Americans. He told us yes, that was him in the picture with the RPG, but that was not even Afghanistan; the picture had been taken in Kosovo--I believe he said.
Hicks did not come across as the cold-blooded killer we were told all these guys were. He was a normal guy like me. And not much older. He would sit there, crack a joke, and make small talk. Just like any other normal person would. During these times is when I really started to look at the detainees as real people and not just monsters, as I had been told they were. This man had a family and people that loved him as I had. And we both missed them greatly and we both wanted to return back to our families as soon as we could.
What other prisoners did you talk to?
I remember Feroz Abbasi. I can picture him at X-Ray. He was on Bravo Block, but I cannot recall any conversations that I had with him that stick out. Most of the conversations I had with him were small talk. Nothing that really sticks out.
I talked probably the most to Rhuhel Ahmed, one of the Tipton Three, as he was on Alpha block, a block I worked quite often. He said that he, Asif Iqbal, and Shafiq Rasul had gone to Pakistan for a wedding, and then went on over to Afghanistan to help with humanitarian aid for villages. Then all three were captured by the Northern Alliance. He told me during their time with the Northern Alliance that they were placed into a big container with so many people that they could not move and it was very hard to breath. While in one of this containers he told me they started to shoot into the container, killing most of the people inside. He stated that not very many people survived this. Rhuhel said they were treated very badly by the Northern Alliance, and that they were sold to the Americans for money as well.
On a personal side Rhuhel and I spoke of music quite often, as he was very aware of American music and would often try to rap or sing on the block. It was quite funny. We talked about Eminem and many other artists. I remember him always talking about the James Bond movies and how he liked them. Rhuhel was a very funny guy. Even locked up behind that cage, and angry as I am sure he was, he always seemed to keep upbeat--at least when I was around. One day I had left the rank on my collar by mistake (we didn't wear rank at Guantanamo for the most part). I was assigned to Alpha block that day, and I remember Rhuhel saying "Hey, look! Neely's a general now!" laughing. It was a funny joke that went on the rest of the day.
You talked a lot about music with Rhuhel. Are you a musician now?
I am by no way a musician at all I think being around the same age as him--and since I listened to a lot of music--we could connect on that level. We also talked about normal stuff guys our age did. Everything from girls, to what we did when we went out on the town.
Many times, while working Alpha block, if I didn't understand someone, or wanted to know what was going on, I would ask him for help. I was actually older than he was by a year. And I was only 21 at the time. I could not imagine at that age suffering what he went through. The Rhuhel Ahmed I saw and spoke with was just a normal, every day young guy like I was. If I had seen him walking down the street or at a bar I would not think twice, and I definitely would not have thought he was a terrorist.
I know that being in the position I was in as an active duty military police officer guarding the MOST dangerous men in the world that I was not supposed to really interact with the detainees. But it's hard. Especially when you realize that some of these guys are no different than yourself. The military trains you not to think and just to react and not feel any compassion for anyone or anybody. And do what you are told. No questions asked.
Did any of these prisoners tell you they were abused?
Hicks never mentioned any abuse to me. Or to anyone else I knew he spoke with. I never asked about the interrogations he endured as, honestly, I did not want to know. Rhuhel never mentioned any abuse he endured while at Camp X-Ray to me. He did state that while he was in Afghanistan, held by the Americans, a lot of the Military Police officers there were very abusive to the detainees.
Any forms of prisoner abuse you have not mentioned so far?
Many of the detainees said that they were kicked, punched, and hit on the plane trip to Guantánamo. What I do know about the plane ride to Guantanamo was that all the detainees were tied to the floor of the plane and were told if they had to go the bathroom, they were to do it on themselves. The Military Police Company that did the transporting the first 45 days or so was also from Fort Hood, in the same battalion as I was. It was the 64th Military Police Company.
Were you ever on those plane rides?
I never was on the plane ride. A different MP company did that. I know the detainees that say what happened on the plane ride. All said they were kicked, and punched and told just to go to the bathroom on themselves. Over time, back at Fort Hood, people moved company to company, and you would get people in your company who had actually been a part of escorting the detainees on the plane, and they would state the same thing, that some of the MPs on the plane kicked and punched the detainees.
Any other form of abuse?
There is one other thing I would like to mention. There was a mentally ill detainee who arrived to Guantanamo somewhat earlier on in the process. I did not recall his name or detainee number. He arrived during the day, and during this period I had been assigned to nights for a week or so. I was working Charlie Block; just walking around, talking to the other guard on the block. Most of the detainees were laying down or reading their Koran. As we were walking around we noticed this one detainee who was squatted down talking to his self. We walked around and came back again and noticed he was drinking his shampoo out of the bottle. We tried to talk to him, but all he did was jibber-jabber. We notified the block NCOIC and he notified medical, which said it was "just shampoo", and that "it's nothing to worry about." He stayed up all night just walking around talking to himself.
Over time this detainee was to be nicknamed "Number 1," because he used to always scream "I am Number 1!" He never slept but maybe an hour or two a day. It seemed he was loud, always talking to himself. No one understood him--including the detainees. On many occasions we would ask other detainees "What's he saying?" and they would say "I have no clue; something's wrong with him". It was very obvious this man was mentally ill. Other times guards would find him drinking is own urine.
Later on, on Charlie Block, this detainee stripped down naked (which he did on many occasions). When we went to try and tell him to get his clothes on we noticed he had tied a string around his penis very tight; to the point where his penis was turning colors. We tried to tell him to take it off, but he just laughed yelling "Number 1!" Finally, about 20 to 30 minutes later, he took it off, got dressed, and went to sleep. Eventually he would have to be placed in a cage with no one on any sides of him due to the fact he would just stand up and urinate on the person next to him. And it seemed like he didn't even realize he was doing this. When he was taken to showers, he was like a little kid. The water would turn on and he would jump into the middle of the water and start yelling "I am number 1!" It really seemed like he had the mind of a child. It seemed like he was always on an emotional roller-coaster, one minute he's laughing, next he's asleep, 5 minutes later he would be awake, curled up in a ball, in the corner of his cage, crying like a little child.
During the time I spent there, many of the other detainees tried to help him out by telling him when it was time to pray and reading the Koran to him.
Many guards questioned why he was there if he was so mentally ill that it was obvious. We were just told that he was putting on an act, that he wasn't really mentally ill. If he was acting, he sure did fool me and a lot of other people. Including most of the detainees.2
Did you witness any acts of kindness there, either by the guards or the prisoners?
Just because many of us were guards at Guantanamo does not make us automatically bad people. I know for a fact one or two people, including myself, felt sorry for these people--and very ashamed of what we were taking part in. But what could we say? If we questioned anything or talked out against what we thought was wrong, we would have been ridiculed. And who knows what else we would have had to face. So we kept our mouths shut and went work every day, counting down the days until we could return home to our families and just could forget about this time we spent in Guantanamo.
Some of the guards would do little stuff in acts of kindness. Like handing out extra food. Candy from the MREs would be handed out. I remember for their meals there would be a big container with tea in it and they loved it. Every person would only be allowed one cup of tea and that's it. And the container would still be half full, so it would go to waste. Many times we would just refill their cups until the tea was gone. And if there was extra food, we would hand that out as well.
How were your last days at Guantanamo?
My last month and half or so was spent at Camp Delta. Here I spent my time mostly working in the sally ports (turning keys) and very little time on the blocks. I couldn't even tell who was where on the blocks at Camp Delta, as everyone had been spread out to different blocks than Camp X-Ray. Most of the last days were training the reserve company of MPs who were relieving us of our duties so we could go back to Fort Hood.
At Delta Block on Camp X-Ray there was a detainee whose name I never could remember due to the fact it was long and I couldn't pronounce it. He would always yell "Oh Neeeeeeeely!" every time he saw me--whether I was walking where he could see me or working the block. And when I left the block he would always yell "Oh Neely!" again. And everyone, including the detainee, would laugh. The best way to physically describe him would be as a tall, middle-aged, heavy set, bald guy. I could never understand him due to the language barrier, but we always would joke with each other, and if he needed something, if I was around, he would ask me.
Well, at Camp Delta he was put into an isolation cage. I only worked one time in there when I was there. You had to open the little door to see inside and, when I did open it, he would say "Oh Neely!" and just laugh. My last day working on Camp Delta I was assigned to a sally port turning keys. The last day I was ready to get out of there and head home the next day or so. So I got relieved for the last time and instead of leaving I walked onto the isolation block and opened the little window to his cage, and he said "Oh Neely!" to me for the last time. I then closed the little window and left. I guess that was my way of saying good-bye. Still to this day, if I talk to people who I was with in Guantánamo, they remember the detainee yelling "Oh Neely!"
I also want it to be known that we were told by the United States Army that, if we did not sign this piece of paper that stated we would not talk to the press, write a book, or make a movie, we could not leave and go back home. This happened the day before we left. Although you have already begun to do so, can you tell me how you came to think the way you do about Guantánamo? How did your views change?
When I initially learned of my deployment to Guantánamo and for the purpose we were going for, I was ready to go and face the world's most dangerous men; these terrorists who had plotted and killed thousands of people in my country on September 11th, 2001. I was ready to seek my own personal revenge on these people in whatever manner I could.
Then the day came when these world's most dangerous men arrived, and they were not what I expected to see. Most of them were small, underweight, very scared, and injured. I was expecting these people to come off that bus looking like vicious monsters. Then I was one of the people responsible for the older detainee being injured. And seeing the abuse these detainees went through. . . The same people I worked with every day, the same people I went to sleep with every night, were the same people mistreating these detainees. After speaking with the detainees and realizing they had families who loved them, just as I had, I started to realize that these people are no different than me. Hell! I was older than some of the ones there.
I also grew to respect the Muslim culture during my time at Guantánamo. I greatly admired the detainees for praying all the time and being true to their religion. You don't see that in America much anymore.
I think everyone can agree that at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, there are some really bad people. And there are a lot of good people there as well. But innocent, guilty, black, white, Muslim, or Jew, no matter what you are there is no excuse to treat people in the manner that I and other people did. It's wrong and just downright criminal, and it goes against everything that the United States of America stands for.
Is there anything else that I should have asked but haven't?
I can't think of anything else, but if you ever have any more questions, don't hesitate to ask.
Thank you. And finally, can you comment on this interview? Was it hard for you to do?
Almerindo, I would sincerely like to thank you for taking the time out to listen to what I had to say. It's been a long time coming that I spoke out about this issue, as doing so at times was hard, especially to remember the things I try so hard to forget. But this is a part of my personal healing process. To me, speaking out and letting people know my story, whether in Iraq or Guantanamo, helps me deal with everything in a positive manner.
. . .
I came home in March of 2004 from a year tour in Iraq to a wife and three beautiful children I did not even know and who didn't even know the man I came home as. It was--and continues to be--a struggle every day of our lives. I went through many times of deep depression which turned into me turning to alcohol to comfort me. It was easier to do this than to deal with what I was feeling inside. I was destroying not only myself but my family as well. I woke up one morning and realized I needed to get my life back in order not just for myself, but my family as well. I left the Army in August of 2005 and was ready to start my new life; just leave the Army and all the good and bad times I had went through behind me. That is easier said than done. There has not been a day that goes by I have not re-lived what I did or saw in Guantanamo or Iraq. It does not get any easier; it just eats you up inside day by day. I have spoken out against the Iraq war and took a stand when I was recalled in 2007 and refused to go back and I decided that I needed to tell my story about Guantanamo as well. How can I as a father tell my children to tell the truth and stand up for what they believe in if I was not willing to do the same?
I often think of the detainees who have been released or continue to be caged there like animals. I don't think people realize these caged individuals' lives have been changed forever. The innocent people who were wrongfully held have lost so much. Some of them have lost family members, jobs, and money. And for what? No matter what happens in their future, they will not be able to get that lost time back that we took from them.
Since we started this interview President Barack Obama has said the detention facility in Guantánmo Bay will be closed within a year. That's great, but what are WE as the United States of America, the people who kidnapped and tortured these people going to do for them? Just send them home like nothing happened? In the USA if you are sentenced to prison and later on you are found not to be guilty through DNA or what not you are given compensation. Are we going to give compensation to these individuals that were so wrongfully held for so many years? We should. We started this mess and it's time we attempt to help this people move on with their lives. The sad part of this all is the people who are responsible. Former President George Bush and Former Vice President Dick Cheney will never be held accountable for the decisions they made. It's the detainees and the guards like myself that will have to live every day with what they went through, saw, and did while there.
Would you recommend other military personnel to give testimony to the Guantanamo Testimonials Project?
I would greatly encourage any other military members who spent time at Guantanamo at any time to tell their story of what they went through, good or bad. It's important that our stories are told. It's history, and the people have the right to know. It's a hard decision to tell your side of the story when you're not sure of how it will be received, but it's the right thing to do.