Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Danielle Kurtzleben, was distributed by the Inter Press Service News Agency, August 14, 2009
WASHINGTON, Aug 14 (IPS) - The U.S. government continues to withhold even the most basic information about prisoners in the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a New York-based legal rights organisation.
An April 2009 ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents and information about the detainment of prisoners at Bagram has yielded dead ends with both the Department of Defence (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The ACLU wants the Obama Administration to make these records public, including information about "the number of people currently detained at Bagram, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention, as well as records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as ‘enemy combatants.’"
The Bagram detention facility, located on an air base north of Kabul, reportedly houses around 600 detainees. These detainees comprise a mixture of suspected terrorists from outside Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Afghanis captured while fighting American soldiers.
In a letter responding to the ACLU’s FOIA request, the CIA said it could "neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence" of records containing the information requested by the ACLU.
The DOD’s response said that the department has a list containing basic detainee information, including names, capture dates and circumstances, and length of detainment. However, the DOD said that this list is classified, and cannot be released for national security and personal privacy reasons.
Bagram is a major topic of interest for several human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Justice Network, which have criticised the Obama Administration’s record on promoting justice in its overseas prisons, comparing conditions at Bagram to those at the much- criticised U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"There are serious concerns that Bagram is another Guantanamo - except with many more prisoners, less due process, no access to lawyers or courts and reportedly worse conditions," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, in a statement issued on Thursday.
"As long as the Bagram prison is shrouded in secrecy, there is no way to know the truth or begin to address the problems that exist there," said Goodman.
Several former and current Bagram detainees have accused U.S. soldiers at Bagram of holding them without charge, conducting harsh interrogations, and engaging in abusive practices such as beatings and sleep deprivation. While many agree that abusive practices towards prisoners at Bagram have stopped, denial of legal rights remains a major problem.
"The chief complaint [among Bagram detainees] is lack of meaningful process to challenge their detention," said Sahr Muhammedally, Senior Associate with the Law and Security Program at Human Rights First, a human rights advocacy organisation headquartered in New York. She said that many prisoners at Bagram do not know why they are being detained.
Muhammedally has travelled to Afghanistan to interview 30 Bagram detainees, most recently in April. She told IPS that the capacity does not currently exist to process all of the prisoners and bring them all to fair trials.
The question of fair trials for Bagram detainees was raised in April, when the Obama Administration appealed a federal judge’s decision to allow three Bagram detainees to challenge their detention in U.S. courts - a move that drew heavy criticism.
However, despite the current lack of transparency and due process at Bagram, Muhammedally told IPS that she remains hopeful that the Obama Administration will create meaningful changes at Bagram, citing a task force created in January to review and potentially change policies and procedures at the facility.
AFP reported in July that the Pentagon’s proposed "overhaul" of practices in Bagram is in response to a report by Marine Major General Douglas Stone, who helped to reform U.S. detention practices in Iraq. Ideas for new programmes at the facility include training "more moderate inmates" in job skills and de-radicalisation before their release.
Muhammedally thinks that these potential changes show that the Obama Administration remains committed to justice at Bagram. "I’m not ready to completely write off the administration’s policy on this issue, because I think they are concerned about what is going on there," she told IPS.
She added, "They are seriously looking at reforming the detention regime in Afghanistan. I’m just waiting to see what some of those reforms are going to be."
This article was posted to Press.TV, August 2, 2009
The newly appointed commander of US-led troops in Afghanistan says he does not plan to halt controversial air strikes which have killed many civilians in the war-torn country.
Gen Stanley McChrystal emphasized the air strikes were necessary to protect troops taking part in ground operations across Afghanistan.
"It's very hard because it's a balance for the young soldier on the ground, who is in combat. One of the assets that he has that might save his life might be air power or indirect fire from artillery or mortars and we don't want to take away that protection for him," the BBC quoted McChrystal as saying.
Civilians have been the main victims of violence in Afghanistan particularly in the troubled southern and eastern provinces where the main fighting is going on.
The spiraling civilian casualties inflicted by US-led forces in Afghanistan have sparked outrage among Afghans and constitute a moot point between Kabul and Washington.
The top US commander added that he plans to reduce Afghan civilians' death but not on expense of troops' lives.
He said both "preventing and investigating" civilian causalities would be Washington's priority in the conflict-torn country.
The remarks comes a day after a UN report suggested that air strikes by the US-led forces and insurgent bombings were responsible for a higher number of civilian causalities in the war-torn country.
UN assistance mission in Afghanistan warned on Friday that the number of Afghan civilians killed either in US-led airstrikes or Taliban attacks had risen beyond the 1000 mark in the first half of 2009.
The development comes as a Saturday air-strike in southern Afghanistan reportedly killed five civilians and wounded ten. Reports said missiles were fired at a residential area in a small town in Helmand province.
The UN has warned that an increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan could mean a greater loss of life in the war-torn country.
This review, by Steven Lendman, was posted to Global Research, July 7, 2009.
Marjorie Cohn is a Distinguished Law Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego where she's taught since 1991 and is the current President of the National Lawyers Guild. She's also been a criminal defense attorney at the trial and appellate levels, is an author, and writes many articles for professional journals, other publications, and numerous popular web sites.
Her record of achievements, distinctions, and awards are many and varied - for her teaching, writing, and her work as a lawyer and activist for peace, social and economic justice, and respect for the rule of law. Cohn's previous books include "Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice" and "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law."
Her newest book just out, co-authored with Kathleen Gilberd (a recognized expert on military administrative law), is titled "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent." It explores why US military personnel disobey orders and refuse to participate in two illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also explains that US and international law obligate them to do so.
Cohn and Gilberd write:
"Rules of engagement limit forms of combat, levels of force, and legitimate enemy targets, defining what is legal in warfare and what is not. (They're also) defined by an established body of international (and US) law" that leave no ambiguity.
Nonetheless, in past and current US wars, virtually no "Rules" whatever are followed. Soldiers are trained to fire at "anything that moves," place no value on enemy lives, and often treat civilians no differently from combatants. It results in massive civilian casualties, dismissively called "collateral damage." It also gets growing numbers in the ranks to resist - to challenge so-called "Rules" they believe are illegal and immoral.
"Rules of Disengagement" "discuss(es) the laws and regulations governing military dissent and resistance - the legal rules of disengagement (and offers) practical guidelines (that include) political protest to requesting discharge from the service."
Today, growing Iraq and Afghanistan casualty counts are enormous as well as the disturbing toll on the GIs involved - including long and repeated deployments, often leaving permanent debilitating effects, physical and/or psychological.
US soldiers have a right and duty to dissent and resist, and today it's easier than ever through all the modern ways of communicating, including blogging, sharing stories, photos, videos, and "developing new ways to speak out to fellow soldiers and civilians online and in the media."
"Rules of Disengagement" goes into courtrooms where military personnel "have spoken out, arguing that (today's) wars are illegal (and immoral) under international (and US) law." It's a "practical guide" providing "specific discussion(s) of applicable regulations and laws" for readers "to form their own conclusions and consider their own options." Above all, it's a way for honorable young men and women to dissent, resist, and disengage from two illegal, immoral wars, in hopes many others will follow their example. Resisting Illegal Wars
Every US war since WW II has been illegal. Article 51 of the UN Charter only permits the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security."
In addition, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 (the war powers clause) authorizes only both houses of Congress, not the president, to declare war. Nonetheless, that process was followed only five times in our history and last used on December 8, 1941 after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
Yet many judges won't apply "the law to the wars, and then to service members' refusal to take part" in them. They say it's "not their role, not a matter under their jurisdiction, or not 'relevant.' " In case studies the authors use, court-martial judges, juries, and the public increasingly accept these arguments but also recognize that "men and women of conscience have put their futures on the line for their opinions and actions against illegal wars (and) orders."
It hasn't shown up in court-martial decisions except in more lenient sentences, indicating growing respect for those brave enough to resist on matters of conscience and their opinions regarding the law. Pablo Paredes for one.
The Navy petty officer third class and weapons-control technician refused duty on the USS Bonhomme Richard as it deployed to the Persian Gulf on December 6, 2004 to take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was charged with unauthorized absence and willfully missing his ship's deployment. On May 10, 2005, Paredes avoided jail and a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge when the court-martial judge dismissed the former charge, convicted him on the latter one, sentenced him to two months restriction, three months of hard labor without confinement, and reduction in rank from E-4 to E-1.
Lt. Cdr. Robert Klant denied expert testimony on the war's illegality, but let Cohn testify as an expert witness, at the sentencing hearing. At its conclusion, Klant astonished attending spectators by saying:
"I believe the government has successfully demonstrated a reasonable belief for every service member to decide that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal to fight in." Paredes benefitted from that view. Others have as well, but not often or easily. Modern Conscientious Objectors (COs)
They're persons who refuse to perform military service, and request noncombatant status or discharge on grounds of religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical beliefs with regard to wars and killing. Objecting on the basis of conscience is 'a long and honorable" tradition going back to the beginning of the republic. It was used frequently during the Vietnam war.
Objectors help others by expanding the right to resist and dissent. Under DOD regulations, "the military must grant CO status to any service member who (consciously opposes all) war(s) in any form, whose opposition is founded on religious training and beliefs, and whose position is sincere and deeply held." This position "must have developed or become central to the CO's beliefs after entry into the military," and applicants must provide "clear and convincing evidence that he or she is a CO."
US Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia was the first Iraq War veteran to refuse further involvement on matters of conscience after serving in it earlier from April - October 2003. Following leave, he failed to rejoin his National Guard unit and filed for discharge as a CO on grounds that the invasion and occupation were illegal and immoral. The Army then charged him with desertion to send a strong message to others who resist.
His May 2004 court-martial was a kangaroo-court show trial, widely broadcast to all military personnel worldwide on internal Pentagon television, radio and newspaper outlets. At trial, the military judge disallowed prepared defense testimony under Army Field Manual 27-10, the Constitution, and established international law.
Mejia was found guilty of desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty. He was sentenced to a year in prison, reduction in rank to E-1, one year's forfeiture of pay, and a bad conduct discharge after which Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience, its highest honor.
After the verdict, international law expert Francis Boyle was allowed to testify during the sentencing phase - but under strict limitations imposed by the judge. He cited relevant domestic, international, and military law, reviewed crimes of war and against humanity under them, and explained the culpability of commanders and government officials to the highest levels for abusing and torturing prisoners.
Mejia served nine months in prison and in August 2007 was elected chairman of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Hundreds of others have filed for CO status while many more go AWOL or refuse deployment to combat zones. The military never makes it easy, yet the illegitimacy of two illegal wars and the immense hardships on young GIs and their families makes growing numbers resist and dissent. Still many others aren't aware that they qualify for CO status.
Current CO stereotypes stem from the Vietnam era when they were viewed as subversives and cowards. Other myths are that wars must be ongoing for those in the military to apply, the process is lengthy, discharges, if granted, won't be honorable, and federal benefits will be lost as well as eligibility for government jobs. "Needless to say, these myths are not true," but exist to discourage applicants and impede the process.
Various civilian organizations provide good information on CO rights, regulations on them, and procedures on how to apply. Also, the "CO process is one of the most legally protected of discharge proceedings - COs have greater rights than those who seek discharge for family hardship or similar reasons." Yet command hostility exists and rights are often denied. "Success rates vary among the services." Some COs are discharged for other reasons. Many applications are rejected. Some go AWOL as a result, and others do or don't succeed through court intervention. Imperial America doesn't make it easy, so applicants have to persist all the harder. Winter Soldier
Iraq and Afghan veterans willing to come forward provide the most compelling evidence of "war crimes beyond imagination." Yet those familiar with Vietnam, WW II, and other US wars have heard it before. John Dower's powerful WW II book, "War Without Mercy," documented how both sides in the Pacific war depersonalized the opposition, abandoned the rules of war, and fought with equal savagery.
Later examples include:
Winter Soldier 1971 - the Vietnam My Lai massacre killing around 500 civilians was a mere skirmish compared to death squad campaigns like Operation Phoenix that contributed to an estimated 80,000 deaths from around 1968 - 1971. Numerous other stories documented mass murder, torture, rape and other atrocities - the same kinds committed earlier and today;
Winter Soldier 2008 - "traumatized" veterans today tell similar horrors stories to ones from past wars, including Vietnam, Korea, and WW II; Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) offer testimonies as ammunition for their three unifying principles:
immediately ending the Iraq and Afghan wars and occupations and withdrawing all troops;
paying reparations to Iraqis; and
providing proper medical care for all US war veterans.
Short of these, all imaginable atrocities will continue, including mass killings, torture, rape, destruction, and much more. Wars are ugly business, and laws or no laws, the worst of abuses happen routinely by a military command teaching rank and file soldiers to commit them with impunity. And they're besides the harm done to GIs, many of whom are never the same from the experience - if they survive. Vietnam destroyed an entire generation of American youths, and today's wars are doing it again.
The rules of engagement are stipulated in various laws of war - the Constitution, Hague and Geneva Conventions; UN Charter; Nuremberg Charter, Judgment and Principles; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Supreme and lower Court decisions; US Army Field Manual 27-10; and the Law of Land Warfare (1956). They state that nations must abide by the laws of war. No exceptions are ever allowed, and failure comply constitutes a crime of war and/or against humanity.
At the Nuremberg Tribunal, chief US prosecutor Robert Jackson cited wars of aggression as the "supreme international crime against peace differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." Yet this standard indicts America on all its wars since WW II.
And young GIs are affected. Winter Soldiers 2008 say "they were subject to amorphous and contradictory rules of engagement - often free-fire zones where they could shoot at anything that moved (including noncombatants). These rules, or lack thereof, led to the commission of atrocities and war crimes," not occasionally but often.
Aside from the 2001 Afghanistan bombings and March 2003 "shock and awe" attack, the worst of them took place in April and November 2004. In retaliation for the killing and mutilation of four Blackwater mercenaries, the first and second Fallujah Battles waged some of the fiercest urban combat since the 1968 Battle of Hue in Vietnam. Several thousand or more were killed, mostly civilians. Major war crimes were committed. Illegal weapons were used. Vast destruction was inflicted. The city was held under siege. Free-fire zone rules applied. A "shoot-to-kill" curfew was imposed, and according to Adam Kokesh: "we changed our rules of engagement more often than we changed our underwear."
Winter Soldiers 2008 speak out publicly over what they saw and did in their tours, including in testimonies to Congress. "So far (none of them) have been prosecuted for their testimony, though some active duty witnesses were harassed by superiors." Dissent and Disengagement
Resistance includes refusing illegal orders, objecting on the basis of conscience, requesting a discharge, demonstrating, picketing, dissenting as the Constitution allows, attending rallies, petitioning Congress, going underground, taking refuge abroad, speaking out publicly, and through the media. It's acting according to one's principles and morality and not backing down when the going gets tough.
Lt. Ehren Watada's case is instructive. In June 2006, he refused to deploy to Iraq and publicly said why - that "as an officer of honor and integrity, (he could not participate in a war that was) manifestly illegal....morally wrong (and) a horrible breach of American law." He became the first US military officer to face court-martial for his action and was charged with:
one specification under UCMJ article 87 - missing movement;
two specifications under article 99 - contempt toward officials (for making public comments about George Bush); and
three specifications under article 133 for conduct unbecoming an officer.
If convicted on all charges, he faced possible dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and seven years in prison. A military equivalent of a grand jury convened on August 17, 2006 to review the charges and rule on their justification. Watada called three expert witnesses in his defense:
former UN Iraq Humanitarian Coordinator (1997 - 1998) Denis Halliday who resigned under protest because he was "instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide (and already) killed well over one million individuals, children and adults;"
US Army Colonel Ann Wright who resigned her commission as a State Department foreign service officer in March 2003 to protest a "war of aggression (in) violat(ion) of international law;" and
Professor Francis Boyle, international law and human rights expert, activist, and author of numerous books, papers, and articles on these topics.
On August 22, the Army reported on the proceeding and recommended all charges be referred to a general court-martial. It began in February 2007 under very constricted rules - denying a First Amendment defense, disallowing one's questioning the legality of the war, and refusing to allow expert testimony, including from Cohn.
However, legal issues couldn't be excluded as they directly related to charges brought, so the prosecution introduced them at trial. In addition, Watada firmly stated before testifying that he refused to deploy because of the war's illegality.
Unable to stop him from saying this, judge John Head declared a mistrial. He'd lost control of the proceeding, knew Watada was on solid ground, and had to prevent his evidence from being introduced to avoid the embarrassing possibility of an acquittal on one or all charges. If it happened, the war's illegality would be exposed and its continuation jeopardized.
Under the Fifth Amendment's "double jeopardy" clause, Watada can't be retried on the same charges. It states no person shall be "subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." Watada's triumph by mistrial was a powerful tribute to his convictions and spirit. It's also an inspiration to civil resisters and all members of the military to follow in his footsteps.
On October 22, 2008, US District Court Judge Benjamin Settle agreed with Watada's double jeopardy claim and dismissed three of the five counts against him. In mid-May, beyond the timeline of Cohn and Gilberd's book, the Department of Justice dropped plans to retry him on two remaining counts, but his legal problems continue as the Army is still weighing further action. Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Piek said the base's leadership is considering "a full range of judicial and administrative options that are available, and those range from court-martial on those two remaining specifications, to nonjudicial punishment, to administrative separation from the Army."
If they can't win one way, they may keep harassing Watada and make him pay by attrition. Millions of war resisting Americans may have other ideas, and organizations like Project Safe Haven, Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War are united with others in demanding an end to Watada's persecution as well as two illegal wars and occupations.
They also support "high-visilbility demonstrations, protests and street theater," along with the right to resist and dissent. The law supports them "to speak out on a broad range of issues" using all means of technology to do it. Military regulations also "can be powerful weapons for service members who choose to dissent."
DOD Directive 1325.6 Guidelines for Handling Dissent and Protest Activities among Members of the Armed Forces describes basic rights for "dissident and protest activities" with guidelines pertaining to:
possession and distribution of printed materials;
off-base locations allowed;
publishing underground newspapers and materials;
off-base demonstrations and protests; and
rules for military personnel participation.
Resisters have the law and regulations on their side if they conform to their provisions therein - "consistent with good order and discipline and the national security." But going up against the Pentagon and Department of Justice is never easy, and even winning exacts a great toll.
But fundamentally, "GIs do in fact have the right to express their opposition to the wars verbally and in writing, share that position with the media, state it on the Internet, distribute it to other GIs in newspapers or leaflets, say it from the microphone at national antiwar rallies, and show it by marching in off-base antiwar demonstrations and picket lines" - as long as they're off-duty, off-base, and out of uniform.
Imperfect as it is and getting worse, it's still America, and growing numbers of GIs, their families and friends are resisting two illegal wars and occupations, demanding they end, and the nation returned peace. Those goals are worth everyone's time to fight for, and it's high time more among us did it.. Challenging Racism
For many decades, young recruits are taught to kill by portraying enemies as subhuman. So the Japanese were called "Japs" and portrayed in cartoons as apes or savage gorillas; North Koreans, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were called "gooks;" and Arabs are called "rag-heads," "camel jockeys" and "sand niggers." As a result, extreme racism is a pervasive problem in the military. But it's a proved effective way to motivate soldiers to fight and kill by viewing Westerners as superior to nonwhite enemies globally.
Many Winter Soldiers (2008) "discussed the pervasiveness of racist behavior," admitted using racial epithets, and "engag(ing) in brutality that dehumanized Iraqis and Afghanis." However Vietnam-era history "shows that organizing and protests by African American, Latino, and other minority GIs (with support from other service members)" offer the best chance of achieving real change. But success depends on ending the Pentagon's proven way to teach young recruits to kill, so getting the top brass to abandon it won't be easy. Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in the Military
Teaching recruits "sexism and sexual imagery" works the same way as indoctrinating racism. Soldiers are taught to equate "strength and discipline in combat (to) sexual prowess," military violence to the sexual kind, and "disobedience, nonconformity, or weakness as feminine."
Today, sexism is so embedded in military culture that female soldiers pay the price. They're discriminated against in training, assignments, promotion, much else, and are frequent victims of harassment and sexual assault - the former through "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors," and other similar behavior; the latter includes "rape and other forcible or unwanted sexual contact...."
In a male-dominated military, this behavior is embedded, ritualized, and symbolic of male power. The highly-publicized September 1991 Tailhook incident is a prominent example but a rare one that made headlines. It involved a group of Naval aviators sexually assaulting 26 women at one of their annual gatherings. They cornered and surrounded them, passed them down a gauntlet, jeered, taunted, grabbed, fondled, and tried to strip them.
Similar incidents are all too common, and for years top brass knew of and tolerated them. They have documented evidence that half or more of women in all branches have been victims of sexual harassment or assault. It shows a profound contempt many military men (including top brass) have for women in the ranks, at the enlisted and officer levels.
Complaints, studies, hearings and regulations do little to halt these practices. Reports surface often about harassment, assaults, rape and other demeaning behavior in basic training, the service academies, duty assignments of all kinds, and in combat. The military today is no safer for women than it ever was. It never will be unless the Pentagon changes its ideology, how it trains GIs, and if it's willing to impose stiff penalties to offenders. The Medical Side of War
The state of the military's health care system is deplorable. Pressed to fund and fill the ranks for two illegal and unpopular wars, Congress and the Pentagon pay scant attention to the injured, sick, and psychologically damaged. It's further testimony to a nation defiling its principles - ones observed only rhetorically, hardly ever in practice, and not at all once the usefulness of combatants is over.
The Iraq and Afghan wars have produced an epidemic of psychological wounds that for many end up permanent. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is frighteningly common, yet care delivered is minimal, inadequate, and dismissive of a major problem afflicting many tens of thousands of returning vets.
Others from the Vietnam era retained their scars, and it's happening again today. Many couldn't find work then or now, abused their spouses, and too often ended up homeless or committed suicide (before or after coming home). An uncaring nation didn't notice nor does it today. The real crime is that the Pentagon and Congress are well versed on these problems, yet do little to address them. Only unbridled militarism, advancing imperialism, filling the ranks, funding numerous weapons systems and munitions, and enriching war-profiteers matter.
The result for hundreds of thousands returning from past and current wars is untreated medical needs, an uncertain future, and the knowledge that the nation they fought for doesn't care when they're no longer needed. Vietnam vets know it, and so do ones today from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Without a draft, the military needs volunteers to fill the ranks. The result is the stop-loss practice of involuntarily extending enlistment terms and frequent redeployments, even for those with serious physical or psychological injuries.
The Pentagon denied the affects of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the existence of Gulf War Syndrome from the first Iraq war. In 1990 - 91 and now, its likely cause was the widespread use of depleted uranium (DU), the proliferation of other toxic substances, and the illegal use of dangerous vaccines in violation of the Nuremberg Code on medical experimentation. No rules apply in our war fighting, nor does the health and welfare of our recruited men and women matter - enlisted to be used, then discarded when their service ends. It's especially evident in the "medical side of war" when those most in need are largely ignored and forgotten.
How the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) handles disability claims highlights a problem reaching epidemic levels. In early May 2009, the Veterans Benefits Administration and Board of Veterans Appeals at VA had a backlog of 915,000 claims, and their rate is growing so fast it may now be approaching or past one million and climbing.
Things are so bad for returning vets that most face an average six month wait for benefits and up to four years to have their appeals heard when they're denied - which is often. It's in addition to the shameful treatment GIs get for their health needs - many serious and requiring extensive, expensive treatment, often not gotten from an uncaring nation. Discharges
Many GIs become disillusioned when they learn promises made are hollow. Some seek early discharges that can be gotten honorably but not easily most often with the nation at war on two fronts and needing all the troops it can get. Still numerous reasons qualify for an Expiration of Active Obligated Service (EAOS), including CO status, disability and illness.
family hardship or dependency factors;
parenthood for single parents or in cases where husbands and wives are in the military;
pregnancy or childbirth;
inadequate performance or conduct during the first six months of training;
qualification under the "don't ask, don't tell" for gays and lesbians;
specific personality disorders;
other physical or psychological factors that don't qualify for medical discharges;
erroneous enlistments, including contract violations and recruiter fraud;
alien status; especially relevant at a time undocumented Latinos (mainly Mexicans) are recruited with promises (then broken) of a green card for them and their family as well as free education, medical care, and post-service employment;
being a sole surviving family member;
unsatisfactorily performing duties;
"separation from the Delayed Entry Program (DEP)" that entraps "youths still in school or the Delayed Training Program (DTP)" for enlistment in the reserves; and
less than honorable discharges for misconduct, drug abuse, court-martial, and other undesirable factors.
Other administrative discharges are also available, all honorable, including "general" ones under honorable conditions. But recruits get little information during training. Those requesting them are told discharges are impossible, so to get the facts civilian sources must be consulted. It takes time, and following proper procedures is essential. But the payoff is worth the trouble for those willing to do it and counseling is available to help.
A GI Rights Network has a toll-free hotline, and there are other organizations as well. They're in it "for the long haul" to instruct today's military how to exit honorably from two illegal wars and avoid the risk of death or disabling injuries. The Families
America's wars harm families as well as GIs. They must cope with the same problems of long, repeated deployments, possible death or permanent impairment, and the lasting affects of war-related trauma that afflict even those visibly or otherwise unscathed.
Some families go public against the Iraq and Afghan wars, recruiter lies and misconduct that entrap their loved ones, and as civilians they're free to speak publicly with no restrictions on what they may say.
Gold star mothers spoke out against the Vietnam War, and today Cindy Sheehan (whose son Casey was killed in Iraq five days after he arrived) and other parents who lost sons and daughters founded Gold Star Families for Peace. They say honor our lost loved ones by ending these illegal wars and occupations, stop invading other countries, and return the nation to peace.
Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) is the largest organization of its kind against the Iraq war with chapters in 29 states. They support their loved ones, demonstrate, speak out publicly, and lobby Congress the way some of their members did earlier against the Vietnam war. "These courageous families....endure unspeakable suffering....join together to support one another....work to end the war....(and represent) the power of collection action."
They're "a powerful force in the effort to end these wars. They can tell the truth to counter recruiters' deceptions." They can effectively represent their loved ones and help others through a common effort to free us all from the scourge of war. Conclusion
America's Iraq and Afghan wars are illegal and immoral. Every service member is obligated by law to disengage, resist, and refuse any longer to participate. US and international laws support them, and as Ehren Watada stated in his defense: "An order to take part in an illegal war is unlawful in itself. So my obligation is not to follow the order to go to Iraq."
Increasing numbers of others are deployed as part of America's permanent war and occupation agenda - continuing no differently under Obama than George Bush. To know what's planned for Iraq, Afghanistan and future US targets, think Korea. US forces arrived in 1950 and never left. Think Japan as well. They've been there as well since WW II, on the mainland and choicest real estate of the country's southern-most and poorest prefecture - Okinawa.
Further, since the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, America has had no enemies anywhere - except those invented to advance a global imperial agenda at the expense of our nation's youths and their families, other loved ones, and friends at home. Wars guarantee new ones and a permanent cycle of violence, death and destruction, the only winners being profiteers who benefit hugely.
As a result, growing numbers of GIs, veterans, families, and the general public are opting to "disengage" and resist. Together they represent power enough to impact "whether or not the United States is able to carry out these and future wars of aggression."
Most Americans oppose the Iraq war and its continued toll on GIs and their families. It's just a matter of time until opposition to Afghanistan is as great and with luck whatever new conflicts the administration plans. Those sent to fight them and their families end up losers. Their choice is clear and unequivocal - absolutely refuse any longer to participate and with enough sharing that view, they'll end. With overwhelming homeland needs unmet at a time of grave economic crisis, honor and necessity must dictate our future course. It's up to mass public activism to demand it.
Taxi to the Dark Side - BBC - Uploaded for www.pacman.pt.vu Taxi to the Dark Side is a 2007 Academy Award-nominated documentary film directed by American filmmaker Alex Gibney. The film focuses around the controversial death in custody of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar. Dilawar was beaten to death by American soldiers while being held in extrajudicial detention at the Bagram Air Base. Taxi to the Dark Side also goes on to examine America's policy on torture and interrogation in general, specifically the CIA's use of torture and their research into sensory deprivation. There is description of the opposition to the use of torture from its political and military opponents, as well as the defence of such methods; the attempts by Congress to uphold the standards of the Geneva Convention forbidding torture; and the popularisation of the use of torture techniques in shows such as 24. The film is said to be the first film to contain images taken within Bagram Air Base. On November 19, 2007, Taxi to the Dark Side was named by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as one of 15 films on its documentary feature Oscar shortlist, and was ultimately one of five films nominated for a prize in the "Best Documentary Feature" category
This article, by Jason Leopold, was originally posted to Truthout.org, June 17, 2009
On January 25, 2002, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales advised George W. Bush in a memo to deny al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners protections under the Geneva Conventions because doing so would "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act" and "provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."
Two weeks later, Bush signed an action memorandum dated February 7, 2002, addressed to Vice President Dick Cheney, which denied baseline protections to al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners under the Third Geneva Convention. That memo, according to a recently released bipartisan report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee, opened the door to "considering aggressive techniques," which were then developed with the complicity of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and other senior Bush officials.
"The President's order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees," says the committee's December 11 report.
"While the President's order stated that, as 'a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,' the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in US custody."
The Supreme Court held in 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that the prisoners were entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.
Many of the classified policy directives, such as Gonzales's memo to Bush, are now part of the public record thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Bush administration, which has so far resulted in the release of more than 100,000 pages of documents that shows how Bush officials twisted the law in order to build a legal framework for torture.
These documents have been posted on the ACLU's web site. But several hundred of the most explosive records were republished in the book "Administration of Torture" along with hard-hitting commentary by the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer, who heads the group's National Security Project, and Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the organization.
Rumsfeld Wanted a "Product"
On February 14, 2002, just one week after Bush signed the action memo, Maj. Gen. Mike Dunlavey was contacted by Rumsfeld, who asked him to attend a Defense Department meeting with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others on February 21 or 22. At the meeting, Rumsfeld told Dunlavey he wanted him to oversee interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay naval facility in Cuba. Prisoners captured by US military personnel had first arrived at Guantanamo a month earlier. Dunlavey was a family court judge in Erie County, Pennsylvania, when he got the call from Rumsfeld and was placed in charge of interrogations at Guantanamo.
Rumsfeld told Dunlavey, according to a witness statement he made on March 17, 2005, to US Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who was investigating FBI complaints about abuse at Guantanamo, that the Department of Defense had rounded up "a number of bad guys" and the secretary of defense "wanted a product and wanted intelligence now." Rumsfeld "wanted to set up interrogation operations and to identify the senior Taliban and senior operatives and to obtain information on what they were going to do regarding their operations and structure," Dunlavey said, according to a copy of his witness statement. "Initially, I was told that I would answer to SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) and [US Southern Command]. The directions changed and I got my marching orders from the President of the United States. I was told by the SECDEF that he wanted me back in Washington, DC every week to brief him.... The mission was to get intelligence to prevent another 9/11." Dunlavey did not explain what he meant by "I got my marching orders from the president." But his comments suggest that Bush may have played a much larger role in the interrogation of prisoners than he has let on. Moreover, Dunlavey's witness statement indicates that harsh interrogations, such as waterboarding, may have taken place earlier than previously known and may have preceded an August 1, 2002, legal opinion issued by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel authorizing specific interrogation techniques to use against prisoners.
As early as December 2001, according to the documents obtained by the ACLU, high-ranking military officials began to implement an Army and Air Force survival-training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which were meant to prepare US soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime.
In June 2004, Gen. James Hill of Southern Command, the Defense Department's command unit responsible for military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, held a press briefing and confirmed that interrogation techniques specifically authorized by Rumsfeld for use at Guantanamo were derived from the SERE school. In October 2002, Dunlavey wrote to Hill to seek authorization that interrogators be granted the authority to use methods that strayed from the Army Field Manual in order to extract information from prisoners.
Dunlavey, in making his case to Hill for authority to use more aggressive techniques, attached a copy of Bush's then classified February 7, 2002, action memo along with an analysis that said, "since the detainees are not [Enemy Prisoners of War] the Geneva Conventions limitations that ordinarily would govern captured enemy personnel interrogations are not binding on US personnel." Hill sent Dunlavey's request to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers discussed it with William Haynes II, the Defense Department's general counsel, who briefed Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith. The request ultimately ended up on Rumsfeld's desk and he approved it, according to the documents.
"The documents establish that senior officials in Washington, including White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, constructed a legal framework that would permit the abuse and torture of prisoners," the ACLU's Jaffer and Singh wrote in "Administration of Torture." "They establish that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, relying on this legal framework, expressly authorized the use of interrogation methods - including SERE methods - that went far beyond those endorsed by the Army Field Manual. They establish that Rumsfeld and Gen. Geoffrey Miller oversaw the implementation of the newly authorized interrogation methods and closely supervised the interrogation of prisoners thought to be especially valuable."
In early December 2002, FBI officials who had participated in some interrogations at Guantanamo complained to Miller that the methods used against prisoners at Guantanamo were unlawful. But Miller was not receptive. That led FBI officials to conclude that senior Bush administration officials and Rumsfeld were making decisions about interrogations in particular.
A December 16, 2002, email written by an FBI official expressed frustration that the Defense Department refused to budge from its controversial interrogation methods.
"Looks like we are stuck in the mud with the interview approach of the military vs. law enforcement," the email said.
In May 2004, Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he briefed Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone about his plan to "Gitmo-ize" the Abu Ghraib prison.
That month, an email written by a senior FBI agent in Iraq in 2004 specifically stated that President George W. Bush had signed an executive order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation, and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.The FBI email, dated May 22, 2004, followed disclosures about abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and sought guidance on whether FBI agents in Iraq were obligated to report the US military's harsh interrogation of inmates when that treatment violated FBI standards, but fit within the guidelines of a presidential executive order.
According to the email, Bush's executive order authorized interrogators to use military dogs, "stress positions," sleep "management," loud music and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." to extract information from detainees in Iraq.
The May 2004, FBI email stated that the FBI interrogation team in Iraq understood that despite revisions in the executive order that occurred after the furor over the Abu Ghraib abuses, the presidential sanctioning of harsh interrogation tactics had not been rescinded.
"I have been told that all interrogation techniques previously authorized by the Executive Order are still on the table but that certain techniques can only be used if very high-level authority is granted," the author of the FBI email said.
"We have also instructed our personnel not to participate in interrogations by military personnel which might include techniques authorized by Executive Order but beyond the bounds of FBI practices."
The White House had emphatically denied that any such presidential executive order existed, calling the unnamed FBI official who wrote the email "mistaken." Prior to the May 22, 2004, email several others written by FBI agents that month were sent to Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general counsel, about detainees being tortured before the unnamed agent sent Caproni the email citing Bush's alleged executive order.|
On July 9, 2004, the FBI's Office of Inspections distributed an email asking its agents who were stationed at Guantanamo whether they had witnessed, "Aggressive treatment, interrogations or interview techniques ... which were not consistent with FBI interview policy/guidelines." More than two-dozen agents responded that they observed numerous instances of detainee abuse. One FBI agent wrote that, despite Rumsfeld's public statements to the contrary, the interrogation methods "were approved at high levels w/in DoD." In addition to Rumsfeld, the FBI emails said Paul Wolfowitz, one Bush administration official who has largely escaped scrutiny in the torture debate, approved the methods at Guantanamo.
In 2006, Miller received a Distinguished Service Medal for "exceptionally meritorious service." Dunlavey is an Erie County judge.
Pasadena City College, Building R room 122
1570 E. Colorado Blvd in Pasadena
All are welcome to attend this forum for veterans, military families, and experts to share their views and experiences concerning the military. We will address the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. We will also have a question and answer session.
Boots on the Ground-Marine Infantry (Iraq Veterans Against the War)
History's Relevance-Vietnam Veterans Against the War
A Daily Sacrifice-Military Families Speak Out
The Ultimate Sacrifice-Gold Star Families
Military Combat Strategy-Why the U.S. can't win an occupation
Guests should park in the designated student lot and follow the signs to building R room 122. Make sure to pay the $2 fee for parking and display it on your dashboard to avoid college citations. Please be prepared to register by showing identification and association to an organization (if any) the day of the event. All attendees should have proper registration to be allowed in by security personnel.
This is a peaceful and informative gathering. Attendees agree to abide to a strict Code of Conduct by registering and by presence. Violence, slander, or any other disruptive activity will not be tolerated and attendees displaying such behavior will be asked to leave.
Dinner and snacks will be provided and donations are highly encouraged and appreciated.
The event will also include informational resources from:
Military Families Speak Out
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Veterans for Peace
Orange County Recruitment Awareness Project
Addicted to War
Peace Action West
SoCal Oath Keepers
For more information or to volunteer to help out at the event, please email Wendy Barranco at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of the media contact should contact Pat Alviso at email@example.com.
This article, by Mark Danner, was published by the New York Review of Books, April 9 2009
1- We think time and elections will cleanse our fallen world but they will not. Since November, George W. Bush and his administration have seemed to be rushing away from us at accelerating speed, a dark comet hurtling toward the ends of the universe. The phrase “War on Terror”—the signal slogan of that administration, so cherished by the man who took pride in proclaiming that he was “a wartime president”—has acquired in its pronouncement a permanent pair of quotation marks, suggesting something questionable, something mildly embarrassing: something past. And yet the decisions that that president made, especially the monumental decisions taken after the attacks of September 11, 2001—decisions about rendition, surveillance, interrogation—lie strewn about us still, unclaimed and unburied, like corpses freshly dead.
How should we begin to talk about this? Perhaps with a story. Stories come to us newborn, announcing their intent: Once upon a time… In the beginning… From such signs we learn how to listen to what will come. Consider:
I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately 4m x 4m [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed….
A man, unnamed, naked, strapped to a bed, and for the rest, the elemental facts of space and of time, nothing but whiteness.
The storyteller is very much a man of our time. Early on in the “War on Terror,” in the spring of 2002, he entered the dark realm of “the disappeared”—and only four and a half years later, when he and thirteen other “high-value detainees” arrived at Guantánamo and told their stories in interviews with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (reported in the confidential document listed above) did he emerge partly into the light. Indeed, he is a famous man, though his fame has followed a certain path, peculiar to our modern age: jihadist, outlaw, terrorist, “disappeared.” An international celebrity whose name, one of them anyway, is instantly recognizable. How many people have their lives described by the president of the United States in a nationally televised speech?
Within months of September the 11th, 2001, we captured a man known as Abu Zubaydah. We believe that Zubaydah was a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden…. Zubaydah was severely wounded during the firefight that brought him into custody—and he survived only because of the medical care arranged by the CIA.
A dramatic story: big news. Wounded in a firefight in Faisalabad, Pakistan, shot in the stomach, groin, and thigh after jumping from a roof in a desperate attempt to escape. Massive bleeding. Rushed to a military hospital in Lahore. A trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins awakened by a late-night telephone call from the director of central intelligence and flown in great secrecy to the other side of the world. The wounded man barely escapes death, slowly stabilizes, is shipped secretly to a military base in Thailand. Thence to another base in Afghanistan. Or was it Afghanistan?
We don’t know, not definitively. For from the moment of his dramatic capture, on March 28, 2002, the man known as Abu Zubaydah slipped from one clandestine world, that of al-Qaeda officials gone to ground in the days after September 11, into another, a “hidden global internment network” intended for secret detention and interrogation and set up by the Central Intelligence Agency under authority granted directly by President George W. Bush in a “memorandum of understanding” signed on September 17, 2001.
This secret system included prisons on military bases around the world, from Thailand and Afghanistan to Morocco, Poland, and Romania—”at various times,” reportedly, “sites in eight countries”—into which, at one time or another, more than one hundred prisoners…disappeared. The secret internment network of “black sites” had its own air force and its own distinctive “transfer procedures,” which were, according to the writers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report, “fairly standardised in most cases”:
The detainee would be photographed, both clothed and naked prior to and again after transfer. A body cavity check (rectal examination) would be carried out and some detainees alleged that a suppository (the type and the effect of such suppositories was unknown by the detainees), was also administered at that moment.
The detainee would be made to wear a diaper and dressed in a tracksuit. Earphones would be placed over his ears, through which music would sometimes be played. He would be blindfolded with at least a cloth tied around the head and black goggles. In addition, some detainees alleged that cotton wool was also taped over their eyes prior to the blindfold and goggles being applied….
The detainee would be shackled by [the] hands and feet and transported to the airport by road and loaded onto a plane. He would usually be transported in a reclined sitting position with his hands shackled in front. The journey times…ranged from one hour to over twenty-four to thirty hours. The detainee was not allowed to go to the toilet and if necessary was obliged to urinate and defecate into the diaper.
One works the imagination trying to picture what it was like in this otherworldly place: blackness in place of vision. Silence—or “sometimes” loud music—in place of sounds of life. Shackles, together sometimes with gloves, in place of the chance to reach, touch, feel. One senses metal on wrist and ankle, cotton against eyes, cloth across face, shit and piss against skin. On “some occasions detainees were transported lying flat on the floor of the plane…with their hands cuffed behind their backs,” causing them “severe pain and discomfort,” as they were moved from one unknown location to another.
For his part, Abu Zubaydah—thirty-one years old, born Zein al-Abedeen Mohammad Hassan, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, though coming of Palestinian stock, from the Gaza Strip—
alleged that during one transfer operation the blindfold was tied very tightly resulting in wounds to his nose and ears. He does not know how long the transfer took but, prior to the transfer, he reported being told by his detaining authorities that he would be going on a journey that would last twenty-four to thirty hours.
A long trip then: perhaps to Guantánamo? Or Morocco? Then back, apparently, to Thailand. Or was it Afghanistan? He thinks the latter but can’t be sure…. 2- All classified, compartmentalized, deeply, deeply secret. And yet what is “secret” exactly? In our recent politics, “secret” has become an oddly complex word. From whom was “the secret bombing of Cambodia” secret? Not from the Cambodians, surely. From whom was the existence of these “secret overseas facilities” secret? Not from the terrorists, surely. From Americans, presumably. On the other hand, as early as 2002, anyone interested could read on the front page of one of the country’s leading newspapers:
US Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations: “Stress and Duress” Tactics Used on Terrorism Suspects Held in Secret Overseas Facilities
Deep inside the forbidden zone at the US-occupied Bagram air base in Afghanistan, around the corner from the detention center and beyond the segregated clandestine military units, sits a cluster of metal shipping containers protected by a triple layer of concertina wire. The containers hold the most valuable prizes in the war on terrorism—captured al Qaeda operatives and Taliban commanders….
“If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job,” said one official who has supervised the capture and transfer of accused terrorists. “I don’t think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this. That was the whole problem for a long time with the CIA….”
This lengthy article, by Dana Priest and Barton Gellman, appeared in The Washington Post on December 26, 2002, only months after the capture of Abu Zubaydah. A similarly lengthy report followed a few months later on the front page of The New York Times (”Interrogations: Questioning Terror Suspects in a Dark and Surreal World”). The blithe, aggressive tone of the officials quoted—”We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them”—bespeaks a very different political temper, one in which a prominent writer in a national newsmagazine could headline his weekly column “Time to Think About Torture,” noting in his subtitle that in this “new world…survival might well require old techniques that seemed out of the question.”
So there are secrets and secrets. And when, on a bright sunny day two years ago, just before the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the President of the United States strode into the East Room of the White House and informed the high officials, dignitaries, and specially invited September 11 survivor families gathered in rows before him that the United States government had created a dark and secret universe to hold and interrogate captured terrorists—or, in the President’s words, “an environment where they can be held secretly [and] questioned by experts”—he was not telling a secret but instead converting a known and well-reported fact into an officially confirmed truth:
In addition to the terrorists held at Guantánamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency…. Many specifics of this program, including where these detainees have been held and the details of their confinement, cannot be divulged….
We knew that Abu Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking…. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used—I think you understand why….
I was watching the live broadcast that day and I remember the uncanny feeling that came over me as, having heard the President explain the virtues of this “alternative set of procedures,” I watched him stare straight into the camera and with fierce concentration and exaggerated emphasis intone once more: “The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it—and I will not authorize it.” He had convinced himself, I thought, of the truth of what he said.
This speech, though not much noticed at the time, will stand, I believe, as George W. Bush’s most important: perhaps the only “historic” speech he ever gave. In telling his version of Abu Zubaydah’s story, and versions of the stories of Khaled Shaik Mohammed and others, the President took hold of many things that were already known but not acknowledged and, by means of the alchemical power of the leader’s voice, transformed them into acknowledged facts. He also, in his fervent defense of his government’s “alternative set of procedures” and his equally fervent denials that they constituted “torture,” set out before the country and the world the dark moral epic of the Bush administration, in the coils of whose contradictions we find ourselves entangled still. Later that month, Congress, facing the midterm elections, duly passed the President’s Military Commissions Act of 2006, which, among other things, sought to shelter from prosecution those who had applied the “alternative set of procedures” and had done so, said the President, “in a thorough and professional way.”
At the same time, perhaps unwittingly, President Bush made it possible that day for those on whom the “alternative set of procedures” were performed eventually to speak. Even as the President set out before the country his version of what had happened to Abu Zubaydah and the others and argued for its necessity, he announced that he would bring him and thirteen of his fellow “high-value detainees” out of the dark world of the disappeared and into the light. Or, rather, into the twilight: the fourteen would be transferred to Guantánamo, the main acknowledged offshore prison, where—”as soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed”—they “can face justice.” In the meantime, though, the fourteen would be “held in a high-security facility at Guantánamo” and the International Committee of the Red Cross would be “advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to meet with them.”
A few weeks later, from October 6 to 11 and then from December 4 to 14, 2006, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross—among whose official and legally recognized duties is to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise treatment of prisoners of war—traveled to Guantánamo and began interviewing “each of these persons in private” in order to produce a report that would “provide a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the fourteen during the period they were held in the CIA detention program,” periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.”
As the ICRC interviewers informed the detainees, their report was not intended to be released to the public but, “to the extent that each detainee agreed for it to be transmitted to the authorities,” to be given in strictest secrecy to officials of the government agency that had been in charge of holding them—in this case the Central Intelligence Agency, to whose acting general counsel, John Rizzo, the report was sent on February 14, 2007. Indeed, though almost all of the information in the report has names attached, and though annexes contain extended narratives drawn from interviews with three of the detainees, whose names are used, we do find a number of times in the document variations of this formula: “One of the detainees who did not wish his name to be transmitted to the authorities alleged…”—suggesting that at least one and perhaps more than one of the fourteen, who are, after all, still “held in a high-security facility at Guantánamo,” worried about repercussions that might come from what he had said.
In virtually all such cases, the allegations made are echoed by other, named detainees; indeed, since the detainees were kept “in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention” throughout their time in “the black sites,” and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantánamo, the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. “The ICRC wishes to underscore,” as the writers tell us in the introduction, “that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the fourteen adds particular weight to the information provided below.”
The result is a document—labeled “confidential” and clearly intended only for the eyes of those senior American officials to whom the CIA’s Mr. Rizzo would show it—that tells a certain kind of story, a narrative of what happened at “the black sites” and a detailed description, by those on whom they were practiced, of what the President of the United States described to Americans as an “alternative set of procedures.” It is a document for its time, literally “impossible to put down,” from its opening page—
1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program
1.1 Arrest and Transfer
1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention
1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment
1.3.1 Suffocation by water
1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing
1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
1.3.4 Beating and kicking
1.3.5 Confinement in a box
1.3.6 Prolonged nudity
1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music
1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water
1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles
1.3.11 Forced shaving
1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food
1.4 Further elements of the detention regime….
—to its stark and unmistakable conclusion:
The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms “torture” and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn’t be more significant, or indeed more welcome after years in which the President of the United States relied on the power of his office either to redefine or to obfuscate what are relatively simple words. “This debate is occurring,” as President Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden the week after he delivered his East Room speech,
because of the Supreme Court’s ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article III of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article III says that, you know, there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It’s like—it’s very vague. What does that mean, “outrages upon human dignity”?
In allowing Abu Zubaydah and the other thirteen “high-value detainees” to tell their own stories, this report manages to answer, with great power and authority, the President’s question. 3- We return to a man, Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian who, in his thirty-one years, has lived a life shaped by conflicts on the edge of the American consciousness: the Gaza Strip, where his parents were born; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he apparently first saw the light of day; Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, where he took part in the jihad against the Russians, perhaps with the help, directly or indirectly, of American dollars; then, post-Soviet Afghanistan, where he ran al-Qaeda logistics and recruitment, directing aspiring jihadists to the various training camps, placing them in cells after they’d been trained. The man has been captured now: traced to a safe house in Faisalabad, gravely wounded by three shots from an AK-47. He is rushed to the Faisalabad hospital, then to the military hospital at Lahore. When he opens his eyes he finds at his bedside an American, John Kiriakou of the CIA:
I asked him in Arabic what his name was. And he shook his head. And I asked him again in Arabic. And then he answered me in English. And he said that he would not speak to me in God’s language. And then I said, “That’s okay. We know who you are.”
And then he asked me to smother him with a pillow. And I said, “No, no. We have plans for you.”
Kiriakou and the “small group of CIA and FBI people who just kept 24/7 eyes on him” knew that in Abu Zubaydah they had “the biggest fish that we had caught. We knew he was full of information…and we wanted to get it.” According to Kiriakou, on a table in the house where they found him “Abu Zubaydah and two other men were building a bomb. The soldering [iron] was still hot. And they had plans for a school on the table….” The plans, Kiriakou told ABC News correspondent Brian Ross, were for the British school in Lahore. Their prisoner, they knew, was “very current. On top of the current threat information.”
With the help of the American trauma surgeon, Abu Zubaydah’s captors nursed him back to health. He was moved at least twice, first, reportedly, to Thailand; then, he believes, to Afghanistan, probably Bagram. In a safe house in Thailand the interrogation began:
I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next 2 to 3 weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle.
I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time.
The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every fifteen minutes twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise.
The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks.
During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face.
A naked man chained in a small, very cold, very white room is for several days strapped to a bed, then for several weeks shackled to a chair, bathed unceasingly in white light, bombarded constantly with loud sound, deprived of food; and whenever, despite cold, light, noise, hunger, the hours and days force his eyelids down, cold water is sprayed in his face to force them up.
One can translate these procedures into terms of art: “Change of Scenery Down.” “Removal of Clothing.” “Use of Stress Positions.” “Dietary Manipulation.” “Environmental Manipulation.” “Sleep Adjustment.” “Isolation.” “Sleep Deprivation.” “Use of Noise to Induce Stress.” All these terms and many others can be found, for example, in documents associated with the debate about interrogation and “counter-resistance” carried on by Pentagon and Justice Department officials beginning in 2002. Here, however, we find a different standard: the Working Group says, for example, that “Sleep Deprivation” is “not to exceed 4 days in succession,” that “Dietary Manipulation” should include “no intended deprivation of food or water,” that “removal of clothing,” while “creating a feeling of helplessness and dependence,” must be “monitored to ensure the environmental conditions are such that this technique does not injure the detainee.” Here we are in a different place.
But what place? Abu Zubaydah was not only the “biggest fish that we had caught” but the first big fish. According to Kiriakou, Zubaydah, as he recovered, had “wanted to talk about current events. He told us a couple of times that he had nothing personal against the United States…. He said that 9/11 was necessary. That although he didn’t think that there would be such a massive loss of life, his view was that 9/11 was supposed to be a wake-up call to the United States.”
In those initial weeks of healing, before the white room and the chair and the light, Zubaydah seems to have talked freely with his captors, and during this time, according to news reports, FBI agents began to question him using “standard interview techniques,” ensuring that he was bathed and his bandages changed, urging improved medical care, and trying to “convince him they knew details of his activities.” (They showed him, for example, a “box of blank audiotapes which they said contained recordings of his phone conversations, but were actually empty.”) According to this account, Abu Zubaydah, in the initial days before the white room, “began to provide intelligence insights into Al Qaeda.”
Or did he? “How Good Is Abu Zubaydah’s Information?” asked a Newsweek “Web exclusive” on April 27, 2002, less than a month after his capture. The extreme secrecy and isolation in which Abu Zubaydah was being held, at a location unknown to him and to all but a tiny handful of government officials, did not prevent his “information” being leaked from that unknown place directly into the American press—in the cause, apparently, of a bureaucratic struggle between the FBI and the CIA. Even Americans who were not following closely the battling leaks from Zubaydah’s interrogation would have found their lives affected, whether they knew it or not, by what was happening in that faraway white room; for about the same time the Bush administration saw fit to issue two “domestic terrorism warnings,” derived from Abu Zubaydah’s “tips”—about “possible attacks on banks or financial institutions in the Northeastern United States” and possible “attacks on US supermarkets and shopping malls.” As Newsweek learned from a “senior US official,” presumably from the FBI—whose “standard interview techniques” had produced that information and the “domestic terrorism warnings” based on it—the prisoner was “providing detailed information for the ‘fight against terrorism.’” At the same time, however, “US intelligence sources”—presumably CIA—”wonder whether he’s trying to mislead investigators or frighten the American public.”
For his part, John Kiriakou, the CIA man, told ABC News that in those early weeks Zubaydah was “willing to talk about philosophy, [but] he was unwilling to give us any actionable intelligence.” The CIA officers had the “sweeping classified directive signed by Mr. Bush,” giving them authority to “capture, detain and interrogate terrorism suspects,” and Zubaydah was “a test case for an evolving new role,…in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator of terrorism suspects.” Eventually a team from the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center was “sent in from Langley” and the FBI interrogators were withdrawn.
We had these trained interrogators who were sent to his location to use the enhanced techniques as necessary to get him to open up, and to report some threat information…. These enhanced techniques included everything from what was called an attention shake, where you grab the person by their lapels and shake them, all the way up to the other end, which is waterboarding.
They began, apparently, by shackling him to the chair, and applying light, noise, and water to keep him awake. After two or three weeks of this Abu Zubaydah, still naked and shackled, was allowed to lie on the bare floor and to “sleep a little.” He was also given solid food—rice—for the first time. Eventually a doctor, a woman, came and examined him, and “asked why I was still naked.” The next day he was “provided with orange clothes to wear.” The following day, however, “guards came into my cell. They told me to stand up and raise my arms above my head. They then cut the clothes off of me so that I was again naked and put me back on the chair for several days. I tried to sleep on the chair, but was again kept awake by the guards spraying water in my face.”
What follows is a confusing period, in which harsh treatment alternated with more lenient. Zubaydah was mostly naked and cold, “sometimes with the air conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, Mr. Zubayah seemed to turn blue.” Sometimes clothing would be brought, then removed the next day. “When my interrogators had the impression that I was cooperating and providing the information they required, the clothes were given back to me. When they felt I was being less cooperative the clothes were again removed and I was again put back on the chair.” At one point he was supplied with a mattress, at another he was “allowed some tissue paper to use when going to toilet on the bucket.” A month passed with no questioning. “My cell was still very cold and the loud music no longer played but there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played twenty-four hours a day. I tried to block out the noise by putting tissue in my ears.” Then, “about two and half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before.”
It is difficult to know whether these alterations in attitude and procedure were intended, meant to keep the detainee off-guard, or resulted from disputes about strategy among the interrogators, who were relying on a hastily assembled “alternative set of procedures” that had been improvised from various sources, including scientists and psychiatrists within the intelligence community, experts from other, “friendly” governments, and consultants who had worked with the US military and now “reverse-engineered” the resistance training taught to American elite forces to help them withstand interrogation after capture. The forerunners of some of the theories being applied in these interrogations, involving sensory deprivation, disorientation, guilt and shame, so-called “learned helplessness,” and the need to induce “the debility-dependence-dread state,” can be found in CIA documents dating back nearly a half-century, such as this from a notorious “counterintelligence interrogation” manual of the early 1960s:
The circumstances of detention are arranged to enhance within the subject his feelings of being cut off from the known and the reassuring, and of being plunged into the strange…. Control of the source’s environment permits the interrogator to determine his diet, sleep pattern and other fundamentals. Manipulating these into irregularities, so that the subject becomes disorientated, is very likely to create feelings of fear and helplessness.
A later version of the same manual emphasizes the importance of guilt: “If the ‘questioner’ can intensify these guilt feelings, it will increase the subject’s anxiety and his urge to cooperate as a means of escape.” Isolation and sensory deprivation will “induce regression” and the “loss of those defenses most recently acquired by civilized man,” while the imposition of “stress positions” that in effect force the subject “to harm himself” will produce a guilt leading to an irresistible desire to cooperate with his interrogators.
4- Two and a half months after Abu Zubaydah woke up strapped to a bed in the white room, the interrogation resumed “with more intensity than before”:
Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face….
I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside…. They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.
One is reminded here that Abu Zubaydah was not alone with his interrogators, that everyone in that white room—guards, interrogators, doctor—was in fact linked directly, and almost constantly, to senior intelligence officials on the other side of the world. “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m gonna slap him. Or I’m going to shake him. Or I’m gonna make him stay up for 48 hours,” said John Kiriakou.
Each one of these steps…had to have the approval of the Deputy Director for Operations. So before you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, “He’s uncooperative. Request permission to do X.” And that permission would come…. The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific. And the bottom line was these were very unusual authorities that the agency got after 9/11. No one wanted to mess them up. No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard.… No one wanted to be the guy who accidentally did lasting damage to a prisoner.
Smashing against hard walls before Zubaydah enters the tall black coffin-like box; sudden appearance of plywood sheeting affixed to the wall for him to be smashed against when he emerges. Perhaps the deputy director of operations, pondering the matter in his Langley, Virginia, office, suggested the plywood?
Or perhaps it was someone higher up? Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, according to ABC News, CIA officers “briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council’s Principals Committee,” including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who “then signed off on the [interrogation] plan.” At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, the administration was devising what some referred to as a “golden shield” from the Justice Department—the legal rationale that was embodied in the infamous “torture memorandum,” written by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee in August 2002, which claimed that for an “alternative procedure” to be considered torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort “that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result.” The “golden shield” presumably would protect CIA officers from prosecution. Still, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet regularly brought directly to the attention of the highest officials of the government specific procedures to be used on specific detainees—”whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subject to simulated drowning”—in order to seek reassurance that they were legal. According to the ABC report, the briefings of principals were so detailed and frequent that “some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed.” At one such meeting, John Ashcroft, then attorney general, reportedly demanded of his colleagues, “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”
We do not know if the plywood appeared in Zubaydah’s white room thanks to orders from his interrogators, from their bosses at Langley, or perhaps from their superiors in the White House. We don’t know the precise parts played by those responsible for “choreographing” the “alternative set of procedures.” We do know from several reports that at a White House meeting in July 2002 top administration lawyers gave the CIA “the green light” to move to the “more aggressive techniques” that were applied to him, separately and in combination, during the following days:
After the beating I was then placed in the small box. They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about 3 months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box, I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.
I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited. The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress.
I was then placed again in the tall box. While I was inside the box loud music was played again and somebody kept banging repeatedly on the box from the outside. I tried to sit down on the floor, but because of the small space the bucket with urine tipped over and spilt over me…. I was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.
I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold.
This went on for approximately one week. During this time the whole procedure was repeated five times. On each occasion, apart from one, I was suffocated once or twice and was put in the vertical position on the bed in between. On one occasion the suffocation was repeated three times. I vomited each time I was put in the vertical position between the suffocation.
During that week I was not given any solid food. I was only given Ensure to drink. My head and beard were shaved everyday.
I collapsed and lost consciousness on several occasions. Eventually the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor.
I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.
5- All evidence from the ICRC report suggests that Abu Zubaydah’s informant was telling him the truth: he was the first, and, as such, a guinea pig. Some techniques are discarded. The coffin-like black boxes, for example, barely large enough to contain a man, one six feet tall and the other scarcely more than three feet, which seem to recall the sensory-deprivation tanks used in early CIA-sponsored experiments, do not reappear. Neither does the “long-time sitting”—the weeks shackled to a chair—that Abu Zubaydah endured in his first few months.
Nudity, on the other hand, is a constant in the ICRC report, as are permanent shackling, the “cold cell,” and the unceasing loud music or noise. Sometimes there is twenty-four-hour light, sometimes constant darkness. Beatings, also, and smashing against the walls seem to be favored procedures; often, the interrogators wear gloves.
In later interrogations new techniques emerge, of which “long-time standing” and the use of cold water are notable. Walid Bin Attash, a Yemeni national involved with planning the attacks on the US embassies in Africa in 1998 and on the USS Cole in 2000, was captured in Karachi on April 29, 2003:
On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks. I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural.
During the first two weeks I did not receive any food. I was only given Ensure and water to drink. A guard would come and hold the bottle for me while I drank…. The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell…. I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing twenty-four hours each day throughout the three weeks I was there.
This “forced standing,” with arms shackled above the head, a favorite Soviet technique ( stoika ) that seems to have become standard procedure after Abu Zubaydah, proved especially painful for Bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan:
After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position….
By his account, Bin Attash was kept in this position for two weeks—”apart [from] two or three times when I was allowed to lie down.” Though “the methods used were specifically designed not to leave marks,” the cuffs eventually “cut into my wrists and made wounds. When this happened the doctor would be called.” At a second location, where Bin Attash was again stripped naked and placed “in a standing position with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal ring in the ceiling,” a doctor examined his lower leg every day—”using a tape measure for signs of swelling.”
I do not remember for exactly how many days I was kept standing, but I think it was about ten days…. During the standing I was made to wear a diaper. However, on some occasions the diaper was not replaced and so I had to urinate and defecate over myself. I was washed down with cold water everyday.
Cold water was used on Bin Attash in combination with beatings and the use of a plastic collar, which seems to have been a refinement of the towel that had been looped around Abu Zubaydah’s neck:
Every day for the first two weeks I was subjected to slaps to my face and punches to my body during interrogation. This was done by one interrogator wearing gloves….
Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements.
Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets…. I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation….
Bin Attash notes that in the “second place of detention”—where he was put in the diaper—”they were rather more sophisticated than in Afghanistan because they had a hose-pipe with which to pour the water over me.” 6- A clear method emerges from these accounts, based on forced nudity, isolation, bombardment with noise and light, deprivation of sleep and food, and repeated beatings and “smashings”—though from this basic model one can see the method evolve, from forced sitting to forced standing, for example, and acquire new elements, like immersion in cold water.
Khaled Shaik Mohammed, the key planner of the September 11 attacks who was captured in Rawalpindi on March 1, 2003—nine of the fourteen “high-value detainees” were apprehended in Pakistan—and, after a two-day detention in Pakistan during which he alleges that a “CIA agent…punched him several times in the stomach, chest and face [and]…threw him on the floor and trod on his face,” was sent to Afghanistan using the standard “transfer procedures.” (”My eyes were covered with a cloth tied around my head and with a cloth bag pulled over it. A suppository was inserted into my rectum. I was not told what the suppository was for.”) In Afghanistan, he was stripped and placed in a small cell, where he “was kept in a standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head. My feet were flat on the floor.” After about an hour,
I was taken to another room where I was made to stand on tiptoes for about two hours during questioning. Approximately thirteen persons were in the room. These included the head interrogator (a man) and two female interrogators, plus about ten muscle guys wearing masks. I think they were all Americans. From time to time one of the muscle guys would punch me in the chest and stomach.
These “full-dress” interrogations—where the detainee stands naked, on tiptoe, amid a crowd of thirteen people, including “ten muscle guys wearing masks”—were periodically interrupted by the detainee’s removal to a separate room for additional procedures:
Here cold water from buckets was thrown onto me for about forty minutes. Not constantly as it took time to refill the buckets. After which I would be taken back to the interrogation room.
On one occasion during the interrogation I was offered water to drink, when I refused I was again taken to another room where I was made to lie [on] the floor with three persons holding me down. A tube was inserted into my anus and water poured inside. Afterwards I wanted to go to the toilet as I had a feeling as if I had diarrhoea. No toilet access was provided until four hours later when I was given a bucket to use.
Whenever I was returned to my cell I was always kept in the standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head.
After three days in what he believes was Afghanistan, Mohammed was again dressed in a tracksuit, blindfold, hood, and headphones, and shackled and placed aboard a plane “sitting, leaning back, with my hands and ankles shackled in a high chair.” He quickly fell asleep—”the first proper sleep in over five days”—and remains unsure of how long the journey took. On arrival, however, he realized he had come a long way:
I could see at one point there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing black, with masks and army boots, like Planet-X people. I think the country was Poland. I think this because on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me without the label removed. It had [an] e-mail address ending in “.pl.”
He was stripped and put in a small cell “with cameras where I was later informed by an interrogator that I was monitored 24 hours a day by a doctor, psychologist and interrogator.” He believes the cell was underground because one had to descend steps to reach it. Its walls were of wood and it measured about ten by thirteen feet.
It was in this place, according to Mohammed, that “the most intense interrogation occurred, led by three experienced CIA interrogators, all over 65 years old and all strong and well trained.” They informed him that they had received the “green light from Washington” to give him ” a hard time.” “They never used the word ‘torture’ and never referred to ‘physical pressure,’ only to ‘ a hard time. ‘ I was never threatened with death, in fact I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the ‘ verge of death and back again.’”
I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor. Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the handcuffs around my wrist resulting in open and bleeding wounds. [Scars consistent with this allegation were visible on both wrists as well as on both ankles.] Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.
For interrogation, Mohammed was taken to a different room. The sessions last for as long as eight hours and as short as four.
The number of people present varied greatly from one day to another. Other interrogators, including women, were also sometimes present…. A doctor was usually also present. If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head and face. A thick flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe. The beatings and use of cold water occurred on a daily basis during the first month.
Like Abu Zubaydah; like Abdelrahim Hussein Abdul Nashiri, a Saudi who was captured in Dubai in October 2002, Mohammed was also subjected to waterboarding, by his account on five occasions:
I would be strapped to a special bed, which could be rotated into a vertical position. A cloth would be placed over my face. Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in a fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the guards so that I could not breathe…. The cloth was then removed and the bed was put into a vertical position. The whole process was then repeated during about one hour. Injuries to my ankles and wrists also occurred during the water-boarding as I struggled in the panic of not being able to breath. Female interrogators were also present…and a doctor was always present, standing out of sight behind the head of [the] bed, but I saw him when he came to fix a clip to my finger which was connected to a machine. I think it was to measure my pulse and oxygen content in my blood. So they could take me to [the] breaking point.
As with Zubaydah, the harshest sessions of interrogation involved the “alternative set of procedures” used in sequence and in combination, one technique intensifying the effects of the others:
The beatings became worse and I had cold water directed at me from a hose-pipe by guards while I was still in my cell. The worst day was when I was beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. My head was banged against the wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators. Finally I was taken for a session of water boarding. The torture on that day was finally stopped by the intervention of the doctor. I was allowed to sleep for about one hour and then put back in my cell standing with my hands shackled above my head.
Reading the ICRC report, one becomes eventually somewhat inured to the “alternative set of procedures” as they are described: the cold and repeated violence grows numbing. Against this background, the descriptions of daily life of the detainees in the black sites, in which interrogation seems merely a periodic heightening of consistently imposed brutality, become more striking. Here again is Mohammed:
After each session of torture I was put into a cell where I was allowed to lie on the floor and could sleep for a few minutes. However, due to shackles on my ankles and wrists I was never able to sleep very well….The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell, which I could use on request [he was shackled standing, his hands affixed to the ceiling], but I was not allowed to clean myself after toilet during the first month…. During the first month I was not provided with any food apart from on two occasions as a reward for perceived cooperation. I was given Ensure to drink every 4 hours. If I refused to drink then my mouth was forced open by the guard and it was poured down my throat by force…. At the time of my arrest I weighed 78kg. After one month in detention I weighed 60kg.
I wasn’t given any clothes for the first month. Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw sunlight.
Q : Mr. President,…this is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?
President George W. Bush : Look, I’m going to say it one more time…. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We’re a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws, and that might provide comfort for you.
—Sea Island, Georgia, June 10, 2004
Abu Zubaydah, Walid Bin Attash, Khaled Shaik Mohammed—these men almost certainly have blood on their hands, a great deal of blood. There is strong reason to believe that they had critical parts in planning and organizing terrorist operations that caused the deaths of thousands of people. So in all likelihood did the other twelve “high-value detainees” whose treatment while secretly confined by agents of the US government is described with such gruesome particularity in the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross. From everything we know, many or all of these men deserve to be tried and punished—to be “brought to justice,” as President Bush, in his speech to the American people on September 6, 2006, vowed they would be.
It seems unlikely that they will be brought to justice anytime soon. In mid-January, Susan J. Crawford, who had been appointed by the Bush administration to decide which Guantánamo detainees should be tried before military commissions, declined to refer to trial Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was to have been among the September 11 hijackers but who had been turned back by immigration officials at Orlando International Airport. After he was captured in Afghanistan in late 2002, Qahtani was imprisoned in Guantánamo and interrogated by Department of Defense intelligence officers. Crawford, a retired judge and former general counsel of the army, told TheWashington Post that she had concluded that Qahtani’s “treatment met the legal definition of torture.”
The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent….
You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive.
Qahtani’s interrogation at Guantánamo, accounts of which have appeared in Time and The Washington Post, was intense and prolonged, stretching for fifty consecutive days beginning in the late fall of 2002, and led to his hospitalization on at least two occasions. Some of the techniques used, including longtime sitting in restraints, prolonged exposure to cold, loud music, and noise, and sleep deprivation, recall those described in the ICRC report. If the “coercive” and “abusive” interrogation of Qahtani makes trying him impossible, one may doubt that any of the fourteen “high-value detainees” whose accounts are given in this report will ever be tried and sentenced in an internationally recognized and sanctioned legal proceeding.
In the case of men who have committed great crimes, this seems to mark perhaps the most important and consequential sense in which “torture doesn’t work.” The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value is, at the least, much disputed. John Kiriakou, the CIA officer who witnessed part of Zubaydah’s interrogation, described to Brian Ross of ABC News what happened after Zubaydah was waterboarded:
He resisted. He was able to withstand the water boarding for quite some time. And by that I mean probably 30, 35 seconds…. And a short time afterwards, in the next day or so, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate because his cooperation would make it easier on the other brothers who had been captured. And from that day on he answered every question just like I’m sitting here speaking to you…. The threat information that he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.
This claim, echoed by President Bush in his speech, is a matter of fierce dispute. Bush’s public version, indeed, was much more carefully circumscribed: among other things, that Zubaydah’s information confirmed the alias (”Muktar”) of Khaled Shaik Mohammed, and thus helped lead to his capture; that it helped lead, indirectly, to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni who was another key figure in planning the September 11 attacks; and that it “helped us stop another planned attack within the United States.”
At least some of this information, apparently, came during the early, noncoercive interrogation led by FBI agents. Later, according to the reporter Ron Suskind, Zubaydah
named countless targets inside the US to stop the pain, all of them immaterial. Indeed, think back to the sudden slew of alerts in the spring and summer of 2002 about attacks on apartment buildings, banks, shopping malls and, of course, nuclear plants.
Suskind is only the most prominent of a number of reporters with strong sources in the intelligence community who argue that the importance of the intelligence Zubaydah supplied, and indeed his importance within al-Qaeda, have been grossly and systematically exaggerated by government officials, from President Bush on down.
Though it seems highly unlikely that Zubaydah’s information stopped “maybe dozens of attacks,” as Kiriakou said, the plain fact is that it is impossible, until a thorough investigation can be undertaken of the interrogations, to evaluate fully and fairly what intelligence the United States actually received in return for all the severe costs, practical, political, legal, and moral, the country incurred by instituting a policy of torture. There is a sense in which the entire debate over what Zubaydah did or did not provide, and the attacks the information might or might not have prevented—a debate driven largely by leaks by fiercely self-interested parties—itself reflects an unvoiced acceptance, on both sides, of the centrality of the mythical “ticking-bomb scenario” so beloved of those who argue that torture is necessary, and so prized by the writers of television dramas like 24. That is, the argument centers on whether Zubaydah’s interrogation directly “disrupted a number of attacks.”
Perhaps unwittingly, Kiriakou is most revealing about the intelligence value of interrogation of “high-value detainees” when he discusses what the CIA actually got from Zubaydah:
What he was able to provide was information on the al-Qaeda leadership. For example, if bin Laden were to do X, who would be the person to undertake such and such an operation? “Oh, logically that would be Mr. Y.” And we were able to use that information to kind of get an idea of how al-Qaeda operated, how it came about conceptualizing its operations, and how it went about tasking different cells with carrying out operations…. His value was, it allowed us to have somebody who we could pass ideas onto for his comments or analysis.
This has the ring of truth, for this is how intelligence works—by the patient accruing of individual pieces of information, by building a picture that will help officers make sense of the other intelligence they receive. Could such “comments or analysis” from a high al-Qaeda operative eventually help lead to the disruption of “a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks”? It seems possible—but if it did, the chain of cause and effect might not be direct, certainly not nearly so direct as the dramatic scenarios in newspapers and television dramas—and presidential speeches—suggest. The ticking bomb, about to explode and kill thousands or millions; the evil captured terrorist who alone has the information to find and disarm it; the desperate intelligence operative, forced to do whatever is necessary to gain that information—all these elements are well known and emotionally powerful, but where they appear most frequently is in popular entertainment, not in white rooms in Afghanistan.
There is a reverse side, of course, to the “ticking bomb” and torture: pain and ill-treatment, by creating an unbearable pressure on the detainee to say something, anything, to make the pain stop, increase the likelihood that he will fabricate stories, and waste time, or worse. At least some of the intelligence that came of the “alternative set of procedures,” like Zubaydah’s supposed “information” about attacks on shopping malls and banks, seems to have led the US government to issue what turned out to be baseless warnings to Americans. Khaled Shaik Mohammed asserted this directly in his interviews with the ICRC. “During the harshest period of my interrogation,” he said,
I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop…. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent…wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US.
For all the talk of ticking bombs, very rarely, if ever, have officials been able to point to information gained by interrogating prisoners with “enhanced techniques” that enabled them to prevent an attack that had reached its “operational stage” (that is, had gone beyond reconnoitering and planning). Still, widespread perception that such techniques have prevented attacks, actively encouraged by the President and other officials, has been politically essential in letting the administration carry on with these policies after they had largely become public. Polls tend to show that a majority of Americans are willing to support torture only when they are assured that it will “thwart a terrorist attack.” Because of the political persuasiveness of such scenarios it is vital that a future inquiry truly investigate claims that attacks have been prevented.
As I write, it is impossible to know what benefits—in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting al-Qaeda—the President’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. What we can say definitively is that the decision has harmed American interests in quite demonstrable ways. Some are practical and specific: for example, FBI agents, many of them professionals with great experience and skill in interrogation, were withdrawn, apparently after objections by the bureau’s leaders, when it was decided to use the “alternative set of procedures” on Abu Zubaydah. Extensive leaks to the press, from both officials supportive of and critical of the “alternative set of procedures,” undermined what was supposed to be a highly secret program; those leaks, in large part a product of the great controversy the program provoked within the national security bureaucracy, eventually helped make it unsustainable.
Finally, this bureaucratic weakness led officials of the CIA to destroy, apparently out of fear of eventual exposure and possible prosecution, a trove of as many as ninety-two video recordings that had been made of the interrogations, all but two of them of Abu Zubaydah. Whether or not the prosecutor investigating those actions determines that they were illegal, it is hard to believe that the recordings did not include valuable intelligence, which was sacrificed, in effect, for political reasons. These recordings doubtless could have played a critical part as well in the effort to determine what benefits, if any, the program brought to the security of the United States.
Far and away the greatest damage, though, was legal, moral, and political. In the wake of the ICRC report one can make several definitive statements:
1. Beginning in the spring of 2002 the United States government began to torture prisoners. This torture, approved by the President of the United States and monitored in its daily unfolding by senior officials, including the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.
2. The most senior officers of the US government, President George W. Bush first among them, repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The President lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.
3. The US Congress, already in possession of a great deal of information about the torture conducted by the administration—which had been covered widely in the press, and had been briefed, at least in part, from the outset to a select few of its members—passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and in so doing attempted to protect those responsible from criminal penalty under the War Crimes Act.
4. Democrats, who could have filibustered the bill, declined to do so—a decision that had much to do with the proximity of the midterm elections, in the run-up to which, they feared, the President and his Republican allies might gain advantage by accusing them of “coddling terrorists.” One senator summarized the politics of the Military Commissions Act with admirable forthrightness:
Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.
Senator Barack Obama was only saying aloud what every other legislator knew: that for all the horrified and gruesome exposés, for all the leaked photographs and documents and horrific testimony, when it came to torture in the September 11 era, the raw politics cut in the other direction. Most politicians remain convinced that still fearful Americans—given the choice between the image of 24 ’s Jack Bauer, a latter-day Dirty Harry, fantasy symbol of untrammeled power doing “everything it takes” to protect them from that ticking bomb, and the image of weak liberals “reading Miranda rights to terrorists”—will choose Bauer every time. As Senator Obama said, after the bill he voted against had passed, “politics won today.”
5. The political damage to the United States’ reputation, and to the “soft power” of its constitutional and democratic ideals, has been, though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring. In a war that is essentially an insurgency fought on a worldwide scale—which is to say, a political war, in which the attitudes and allegiances of young Muslims are the critical target of opportunity—the United States’ decision to use torture has resulted in an enormous self-administered defeat, undermining liberal sympathizers of the United States and convincing others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us. 8- In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and a famously colorful hard-liner, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee and made the most telling pronouncement of the era: “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” In the days after the attacks this phrase was everywhere. Columnists quoted it, television commentators flaunted it, interrogators at Abu Ghraib used it in their cables. (”The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees, Col Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken.” )
The gloves came off: four simple words. And yet they express a complicated thought. For if the gloves must come off, that means that before the attacks the gloves were on. There is something implicitly exculpatory in the image, something that made it particularly appealing to officials of an administration that endured, on its watch, the most lethal terrorist attack in the country’s history. If the attack succeeded, it must have had to do not with the fact that intelligence was not passed on or that warnings were not heeded or that senior officials did not focus on terrorism as a leading threat. It must have been, at least in part, because the gloves were on—because the post-Watergate reforms of the 1970s, in which Congress sought to put limits on the CIA, on its freedom to mount covert actions with “deniability” and to conduct surveillance at home and abroad, had illegitimately circumscribed the President’s power and thereby put the country dangerously at risk. It is no accident that two of the administration’s most powerful officials, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, served as young men in very senior positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations. They had witnessed firsthand the gloves going on and, in the weeks after the September 11 attacks, they argued powerfully that it was those limitations—and, it was implied, not a failure to heed warnings—that had helped lead, however indirectly, to the country’s vulnerability to attack.
And so, after a devastating and unprecedented attack, the gloves came off. Guided by the President and his closest advisers, the United States transformed itself from a country that, officially at least, condemned torture to a country that practiced it. And this fateful decision, however much we may want it to, will not go away, any more than the fourteen “high-value detainees,” tortured and thus unprosecutable, will go away. Like the grotesque stories in the ICRC report, the decision sits before us, a toxic fact, polluting our political and moral life.
Since the inauguration of President Obama, the previous administration’s “alternative procedures” have acquired a prominence in the press, particularly on cable television, that they rarely achieved when they were actually being practiced on detainees. This is especially the case with waterboarding, which according to the former director of the CIA has not been used since 2003. On his first day in office, President Obama issued executive orders that stopped the use of these techniques and provided for task forces to study US government policies on rendition, detention, and interrogation, among others.
Meantime, Democratic leaders in Congress, who have been in control since 2006, have at last embarked on serious investigations. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Christopher Bond, the chair and ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, have announced a “review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program,” which would study, among other questions, “how the CIA created, operated, and maintained its detention and interrogation program,” make “an evaluation of intelligence information gained through the use of enhanced and standard interrogation techniques,” and investigate “whether the CIA accurately described the detention and interrogation program to other parts of the US government”—including, notably, “the Senate Intelligence Committee.” The hearings, according to reports, are unlikely to be public.
In February, Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called for the establishment of what he calls a “nonpartisan commission of inquiry,” better known as a “Truth and Reconciliation Committee,” to investigate “how our detention policies and practices, from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, have seriously eroded fundamental American principles of the rule of law.” Since Senator Leahy’s commission is intended above all to investigate and make public what was done—”in order to restore our moral leadership,” as he said, “we must acknowledge what was done in our name”—he would offer grants of immunity to public officials in exchange for their truthful testimony. He seeks not prosecution and justice but knowledge and exposure: “We cannot turn the page until we have read the page.”
Many officials of human rights organizations, who have fought long and valiantly to bring attention and law to bear on these issues, strongly reject any proposal that includes widespread grants of immunity. They urge investigations and prosecutions of Bush administration officials. The choices are complicated and painful. From what we know, officials acted with the legal sanction of the US government and under orders from the highest political authority, the elected president of the United States. Political decisions, made by elected officials, led to these crimes. But political opinion, within the government and increasingly, as time passed, without, to some extent allowed those crimes to persist. If there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.
President Obama, while declaring that “nobody’s above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing…people should be prosecuted,” has also expressed his strong preference for “looking forward” rather than “looking backwards.” One can understand the sentiment but even some of the decisions his administration has already made—concerning state secrecy, for example—show the extent to which he and his Department of Justice will be haunted by what his predecessor did. Consider the uncompromising words of Eric Holder, the attorney general, who in reply to a direct question at his confirmation hearings had declared, “waterboarding is torture.” There is nothing ambiguous about this statement—nor about the equally blunt statements of several high Bush administration officials, including the former vice-president and the director of the CIA, confirming unequivocally that the administration had ordered and directed that prisoners under its control be waterboarded. We are all living, then, with a terrible contradiction, an enduring one, and it is not subtle, any more than the accounts in the ICRC report are subtle. “It was,” as Mr. Cheney said of waterboarding, “a no-brainer for me.” Now Abu Zubaydah and his fellow detainees have stepped forward out of the darkness to link hands with the former vice-president and testify to his truthfulness.
By Mark Danner
March 12, 2009
This article, by Jason Leopold, was posted to the Public Record, March 31, 2009
Doug Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, is best known for cooking up bogus prewar Iraq intelligence linking Iraq and al-Qaeda and 9/11.
But in addition to his duties to his duties stove piping phony intelligence directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney, Feith was also a key member of a small working group of Defense Department officials who oversaw the implementation of “enhanced interrogation techniques” at Guantanamo Bay that has been widely regarded as torture.
Last weekend, Spain’s investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon, who issued an arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, ordered prosecutors to investigate Feith and five other senior Bush administration officials for sanctioning torture at the prison facility.
On Sunday, Feith responded to the charges. He told the BBC he that "the charges as related to me make no sense.”
"They criticize me for promoting a controversial position that I never advocated," Feith claimed. But Feith’s denials ring hollow.
The allegations against Feith contained in the 98-page complaint filed in March 2008 by human rights lawyer Gonzalo Boye and the Association for the [Dignity] was largely gleaned from a lengthy interview Feith gave to international attorney and University College London professor Phillpe Sands. Sands is the author of “Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values.
The other Bush officials named in the complaint are: former Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s counsel David Addington, and former Pentagon general counsel William Haynes, II. The charges cited in the complaint against these officials was also largely based on material Sands cited in his book about the roles they played in sanctioning torture.
Last year, in response to questions by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Condoleezza Rice, who, as National Security Adviser, was part of a working group that included Haynes, Yoo, Addington and Gonzales, said interrogation methods were discussed as early as the summer of 2002 and Yoo provided legal advice at “several” meetings that she attended. She said the DOJ’s advice on the interrogation program “was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales.”
Yoo met with Gonzales and Addington to discuss the subjects he intended to address in two August 2002 torture memos, according to a declassified summary of the Armed Services Committee report. Feith’s was also included in the discussions.
Sands wrote that as early as 2002, “Feith’s job was to provide advice across a wide range of issues, and the issues came to include advice on the Geneva Conventions and the conduct of military interrogations.”
Feith told Sands that he “played a major role in” George W. Bush’s decision to sign a Feb. 7, 2002 action memorandum suspending the Geneva Conventions for al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.
The memo did say that prisoners had to be treated “humanely,” but Feith told Sands the verbiage needed “to be fleshed out.” “But it’s a fine phrase—‘humane treatment,’” Feith added. Still, even with the phrase intact, the Common Article 3 restrictions against torture and “outrages upon personal dignity” were removed. Feith said 2002 was a special year for him.
“This year I was really a player,” Feith told Sands.
“I asked him whether, in the end, he was at all concerned that the Geneva decision might have diminished America’s moral authority,” Sands wrote. “He was not. ‘The problem with moral authority,’ [Feith] said, was ‘people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the assholes, to put it crudely.’”
“Douglas Feith had a long-standing intellectual interest in Geneva, and for many years had opposed legal protections for terrorists under international law” Sands wrote in his book. “He referred me to an article he had written in 1985, in The National Interest, setting out his basic view. Geneva provided incentives to play by the rules; those who chose not to follow the rules, he argued, shouldn’t be allowed to rely on them, or else the whole Geneva structure would collapse. The only way to protect Geneva, in other words, was sometimes to limit its scope. To uphold Geneva’s protections, you might have to cast them aside.”
In addition to Sands’ account, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union have released documents showing that Haynes regularly briefed Feith about a list of aggressive interrogation techniques for use against “high-value” Guantanamo detainees.
According to an executive summary of the Armed Services Committee report released last December, “techniques such as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval.”
In November 2002, Haynes sent Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a memo stating that he “had discussed the issue [of enhanced interrogations] with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, and General [Richard] Myers and that he believed they concurred in his recommendation.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to release a declassified version of its report that will include a full account of Feith’s role in implementing a policy of torture at Guantanamo. The report is 200 pages, contains 2,000 footnotes, and will reveal a wealth of new information about the genesis of the Bush administration's interrogation policies, according to these sources. The investigation relied upon the testimony of 70 people, generated 38,000 pages of documents, and took 18 months to complete.
Other documents released last year show that Feith worked closely with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes II in 2002 on an Army and Air Force survival-training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which were meant to prepare U.S. soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime, against detainees at Guantanamo. One of the SERE techniques used against detainees was waterboarding.
Moreover, Feith and Haynes were members of a Pentagon "working group" that met from January through March 2003 and prepared a report for Rumsfeld stating what methods military interrogators could use to extract information from a prisoner at Guantanamo. Yoo worked on the legal memo for the group.
Early drafts of the report advocated intimidating prisoners with dogs, removing prisoners' clothing, shaving their beards, slapping prisoners in the face and waterboarding.
Though some of the more extreme techniques were dropped as the list was winnowed down to 24 from 35, the final set of methods still included tactics for isolating and demeaning a detainee, known as "pride and ego down."
Such degrading tactics violated the Geneva Convention, which bars abusive or demeaning treatment of captives.
Rumsfeld signed the Feith’s and Haynes final report on April 2, 2003, two weeks after Bush ordered U.S. forces to invade Iraq.
One year later, photos depicting U.S. soldiers abusing and humiliating detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were publicly released.
According to a report by a panel headed by James Schlesinger on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses in 2004, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez said Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memo suspending Geneva Conventions, which Feith had said he was principally responsible for, led him to implement "additional, tougher measures" against detainees.
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.
This article, by Mark Benjamin, was posted to Salon, Februuary 24, 2009
WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to move forward with a commission to investigate torture during the Bush administration. Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., told Salon Tuesday that his panel would soon announce a hearing to study various commission plans. His staff said the announcement could come as early as Wednesday.
While Michigan Democrat Rep. John Conyers and North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones drafted a bill to create a commission to review abuse of war powers during the Bush administration, Leahy's Senate commission would represent the first concrete steps forward toward a broad review of U.S. torture since 9/11.
Spearheading Senate efforts to establish a torture commission is Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. As a member of both the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee, Whitehouse is privy to information about interrogations he can't yet share. Still, regarding a potential torture commission, he told Salon, "I am convinced it is going to happen." In fact, his fervor on the issue was palpable. When asked if there is a lot the public still does not know about these issues during the Bush administration, his eyes grew large and he nodded slowly. "Stay on this," he said. "This is going to be big."
Whitehouse admitted he had not discussed the plan yet with President Obama, who has been notably wishy-washy on the notion since taking office. On the one hand, Obama has consistently said that "my administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture." Yet on the other hand, he has insisted that "nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen; but that generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards."
According to Whitehouse, current politics dictate that Congress should take the lead on establishing a torture commission. "When you look at the economic meltdown that [Obama] was left by the Bush administration, you can see why he would want to reassure the American public that he is out there looking at these problems and trying to solve them and not focusing on the sins of the past," he said.
Whitehouse, however, predicted that Obama would not object to a torture commission moving forward in Congress. Besides, he said, "When push comes to shove, we are the legislative branch of government. We have oversight responsibilities. And we don't need the executive branch's approval to look into these things just as a constitutional matter."
Plans to establish the commission still remain in their infancy, as senators and staff look at previous panels, such as the 9-11 Commission, and investigations following Watergate. Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney, noted that a torture commission might need the power to immunize witnesses on a case-by-case basis. The prospect of future prosecutions, he said, are beside the point. Most important was putting a spotlight on abuses committed by the Bush administration.
"We have this American government, which has an architecture and a shape and a system that drives it and constrains it and that keeps it honest," he said. "And what happened is that the Bush administration figured out a lot of ways to tunnel through the walls and sneak over the fences. So now we need to go back and say, 'We have got to plant those walls deeper so you can not tunnel under them.' We've got to spotlight how they did it," Whitehouse explained. "The ultimate goal in this is to protect and enhance American democracy."
Last week, retired Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba, known for conducting an honest investigation of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, discussed his support for such a commission in an exclusive interview with Salon. Taguba joined a group of former high-level diplomats and law enforcement officials who also announced their support for a torture commission late last week, along with 18 rights groups.
During that interview, Taguba stated that any review must include close analysis of claims from Bush administration officials that abusive interrogations worked. "Some of those activities were actually not effective and those who thought so were in the academic or pristine settings of their offices," Taguba said. "What would they know?"
Whitehouse agreed, and depicted as ironic the fact that some members of the intelligence community saw themselves as "the Lance Armstrongs of interrogation," while some members of the military objected to abuse as ineffective. "In fact, the exact opposite was true," Whitehouse said about such claims from the CIA."It was amateur hour with them, and the career, tough, serious military interrogators said that this just was not effective," he said. "But it is important to prove the point, because they keep saying, 'We saved lives. We interrupted plans. We did this, that and the other.'" Whitehouse added, "Well, when you drill down, there is never a fact there. It turns into fog and evasion."