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This article, by Jeremy Scahill, was published by The Nation, October 22, 2009
On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a series of arguments by lawyers for the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater seeking to dismiss five high-stakes war crimes cases brought by Iraqi victims against both the company and its owner, Erik Prince. At the same time, Judge T.S. Ellis III sent the Iraqis' lawyers back to the legal drawing board to amend and refile their cases, saying that the Iraqi plaintiffs need to provide more specific details on the alleged crimes before a final decision can be made on whether or not the lawsuits will proceed.
"We were very pleased with the ruling," says Susan Burke, the lead attorney for the Iraqis. Burke, who filed the lawsuits in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now preparing to re-file the suits. Blackwater's spokesperson Stacy DeLuke said, "We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis's opinion."
Ellis's ruling was not necessarily a response to faulty pleadings by the Iraqis' lawyers but rather appears to be the result of a Supreme Court decision that came down after the Blackwater cases were originally filed. In a 5-4 ruling in May 2009 in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the court reversed decades of case law and imposed much more stringent standards for plaintiffs' documentation of facts before going to trial. According to Ellis's ruling, which cites Iqbal, the Iraqis must now file complaints that meet these new standards.
Judge Ellis, a Reagan appointee with a mixed record on national security issues, rejected several of the central arguments Blackwater made in its motion to dismiss, namely the company's contention that it cannot be sued by the Iraqis under US law and that the company should not be subjected to potential punitive damages in the cases. The Iraqi victims brought their suits under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for litigation in US courts for violations of fundamental human rights committed overseas by individuals or corporations with a US presence. Ellis said that Blackwater's argument that it cannot be sued under the ATS is "unavailing," adding that corporations and individuals can both be held responsible for crimes and torts. He said bluntly that "claims alleging direct corporate liability for war crimes" are legitimate under the statute.
Ellis also rejected Blackwater's argument that "conduct constitutes a war crime only if it is perpetrated in furtherance of a 'military objective' rather than for economic or ideological reasons." Ellis said that under Blackwater's logic "it is arguable that nobody who receives a paycheck would ever be liable for war crimes. Moreover, so narrow is the scope of [Blackwater's] standard that it would exclude murders of civilians committed by soldiers where there was no legitimate 'military objective' for committing the murders."
"What is important here is that the judge is saying that violations of war crimes can be committed by private people or corporations," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said Ellis's ruling is "an affirmation of the precedent set by CCR thirty years ago" when it brought the first successful Alien Tort suit in 200 years "that those who engage in violations of fundamental human rights abroad can be held liable in the US." Ellis's ruling, he says, "is sympathetic to the idea that the Blackwater case is an appropriate use of the law."
But Ellis also ruled that the Iraqi plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient specific details linking Blackwater's owner Erik Prince to the alleged murders and other crimes in Iraq. In order for the case to proceed against Prince, Ellis wrote, "the complaints must state facts that would allow a trier of fact plausibly to infer that Prince intentionally killed or inflicted serious bodily harm on innocent civilians during an armed conflict and in the context of and in association with that armed conflict." The plaintiffs, Ellis ruled, "have failed to meet this burden."
In a hearing on August 28, Burke said that she has evidence that Prince ordered or directed the killings of innocent Iraqis and at that time asked Judge Ellis permission to later amend her cases if Ellis ruled that, in light of the Iqbal decision, such information was necessary for the cases to proceed. In his ruling, Ellis granted Burke's request in four of the five cases. In one case, involving the alleged murder of a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president by a drunken Blackwater operative, Andrew Moonen, on Christmas Eve 2006 inside the Green Zone, Ellis found that there was insufficient evidence to suggest Prince "intentionally killed" the bodyguard or that his "conduct proximately caused the decedent's death."
In the four other cases, which include 18 Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by Blackwater, Ellis ruled that Burke could refile her claim with more details about Prince's alleged involvement and the role of the Blackwater corporation in the killings. Ellis found that the cases "could be amended to add factual allegations that would permit plausible inferences that Prince and Xe [Blackwater] defendants ordered killings of innocent Iraqi civilians...and that defendants' conduct proximately caused the injuries or deaths to plaintiffs."
Ellis rejected Burke's allegation that Blackwater engaged in summary executions, saying that under the law such classification of killings "require[s] state action, and none is alleged here." Blackwater also made an argument that the cases should have been tried in Iraq--or that the Iraqis' lawyers should have exhausted that possibility before filing their cases in US courts. Ellis shot down that argument and pointed out that Blackwater's own lawyers admitted that under the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 in Iraq, Blackwater would have immunity for its crimes under Iraqi law. Ellis also rejected Blackwater's claim that punitive damages are not allowed in these types of cases. As Ellis wrote, Blackwater's lawyers "offer no support" for this argument "in the case law or from recognized international treatises."
One of the central thrusts of the Iraqis' suits against Blackwater is that Erik Prince is the head of an organized crime syndicate as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO is a federal statute permitting private parties to seek redress from criminal enterprises who damage their property. Burke and CCR decided to sue Prince and his companies directly rather than his individual employees because they say Prince "wholly owns and controls this enterprise." They allege that Prince directed murders of Iraqi civilians from Blackwater's headquarters in Virginia and North Carolina. Ellis dismissed the claims that the Iraqis have standing under the RICO Act, but ruled that they can file an amended complaint that "Prince ordered or directed the killings allegedly committed in Iraq from within the United States, and that such conduct proximately caused the damage allegedly suffered by the RICO plaintiffs." In one of the cases, Ellis ruled that the four-year statute of limitations had expired for a RICO claim.
On August 3, lawyers for the Iraqis submitted two sworn declarations from former Blackwater employees alleging that Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One former employee alleged that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." What role, if any, these allegations will play in the amended complaints is unclear, but Burke insists she has evidence to back up all of her allegations.
Burke's case is also bolstered by the evidence the US government will present in its criminal case against Blackwater forces. On September 7, federal prosecutors in Washington, DC, submitted papers in the criminal case against five Blackwater operatives for their alleged role in the 2007 Nisour Square shooting in Baghdad that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded more than twenty others. Burke is representing many of these families in her civil case. Blackwater forces "fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause," the acting US Attorney in DC, Channing Phillips, alleges in court papers submitted by Kenneth C. Kohl, the lead prosecutor on this case. "[T]he defendants specifically intended to kill or seriously injure the Iraqi civilians that they fired upon at [Nisour] Square." The government also alleges that one Blackwater operative "wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as 'payback for 9/11,' and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot," while "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds."
In its motion to dismiss, Blackwater also argued that to allow the company to be sued for alleged crimes in a war zone would violate the rights of the president of the United States under the "political question doctrine" to not have a "second-guessing of the battlefield decisions of the U.S. government." Ellis rejected that outright and noted: "The United States has appeared as an interested party and argues that if defendants committed the alleged conduct, they were not acting as employees of the United States when they did so. Moreover, the government states that its contracts with defendants 'provided for multiple layers of [Xe defendants'] management to oversee the day-to-day operations' of its employees and that the employees were under the direct supervision of Xe defendants' management when the alleged conduct occurred."
Judge Ellis's ruling only relates to the charges that Blackwater and Prince violated federal laws and not to the additional allegations that they also violated state laws. Even if Judge Ellis ultimately rejects all of the federal arguments made by Burke and CCR, which is a big if, the cases can still proceed under "common law," as has happened in other torture and war crimes cases. Ellis has not yet ruled on those charges
On March 4, 2009 Specialist Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr. approached The Guantánamo Testimonials Project wishing to tell about his experience in Guantánamo, where he served as a guard from June 2003 through July 2004. We are grateful to Spc. Holdbrooks for his testimony, which comes in the form of the interview below.
In the interview we learn about many instances of abuse. But also of cases in which abuse could have happened but in fact didn't. Spc. Holdbrooks informs us, for example, that he knows of no beatings outside IRFings, of no instances of sexual abuse, and of no form of medical abuse. In fact, he mentions the compassion of medical personnel. He also points out that minors were treated far better than the rest of the population, that food was adequate, both in quantity and quality, and that detainees were not harassed during their transport home.
As to the abuse he witnessed, we learn of the guards' lack of training in corrections or the Geneva Conventions, the instilling of hatred towards the detainees, the lack of useable standard operating procedures, the guards spitting into the food or drink served to detainees, the collective punishment of the detainees (to create peer pressure to comply), the abusive use of pepper spray on the detainees, the various forms of religious abuse, including intentionally tossing Korans into toilets (to retaliate against or rile up the detainees), details about the various forms of positional torture (stress positions), observations about the use of temperature and noise extremes (and the role this played in interrogation), the use of fake menstrual blood on a detainee in the course of his interrogation, the common use of sleep deprivation on the detainees, the threats to kill detainees' relatives, the practice of letting detainees soil themselves (and depriving them of a change of clothes), and the sensory deprivation on detainees as they were being returned to their home countries. He also described an all-out detainee riot that lasted 21 hours.We interviewed Spc. Holdbrooks from March 4 to May 8, 2009.
We were told that we should hate them… and that if you don't hate these people, then you are one of them. (Spc. Terry C. Holdbrooks, Jr)
Why don't you begin by telling us where you were born and grew up?
I was born here in Phoenix, and grew up mostly here. I lived for three years with my biological parents in Vegas, but was back in Phoenix just before I turned 7--I believe.
When and why did you enroll in the military?
I enlisted into the military on August 22, 2002. Why? Simply because I was tired of not doing anything important or specific with my life. I wanted to amount to more than my parents had (being that I am the only of the three to graduate from high school). I wanted to go on to trade school and College afterwards. The army seemed to be a great idea: travel, culture, training, guns, war, fun… It's what most non-worldly American youth would want to do: play GI Joe and get paid for it. If I had put forth the effort to attain more worldly knowledge and awareness, I probably would've went with the Peace Corps instead, and would've never been to GTMO or watched my life go further astray from where I wanted to take it. But Allah has a plan for us all, so this is the way it should be. You said "Allah has a plan for us all". Were you raised a Muslim in Phoenix? No. I was not raised in any type of religious family. In turn this provoked me to have a greater concern in faith and religion in my studies, so that I would know more and be able to relate to people about their faith and feelings (or their ridicule and put downs, as my mind frame was in my youth). Let's come back to this later. In the meantime, tell me a little about your training when you joined the military. My training was very standard Military Police training, no corrections training. We received a two-week crash course--emphasis on crash course--for corrections before going to GTMO.
Did you receive any training there on the Geneva Conventions or on the treatment of prisoners of war? Negative. To the best of my memory. I seem to recall a brief crash course in regards to POW status and how that is supposed to go. But, otherwise, no. Not really. Not that I can recall. Geneva Convention wasn't that big of an emphasis either. Was GTMO your first assignment? GTMO was my first assignment, Fort Leonard Wood was always my duty station, and GTMO was my first deployment. There was none that followed. Can you describe your arrival in GTMO? I arrived in Guantanamo in June 2003, and stayed through July 2004. When we got off the plane, I seem to remember being in civilian clothes. We spent a week in a shacky town of sorts, adjusting to the weather and OJT (or on the job training). After that, it was all in or nothing. There was an issue with finding us housing at first. Either way, it was sort of a shock at first. Things were hectic, and didn't seem to be working smoothly. We had a rough transition with in-processing and getting adjusted to the environment. What were you told about the detainees? That these are the worst of the worst. That they are evil. That we should hate them. That these people hate America. That this is why 9/11 happened, and that if you don't hate these people, then you are one of them.
Were you given any Standard Operating Procedures (or SOP) manual? Negative. There was really no such SOP, as it was constantly at work and being updated. With the administration we had at the time changing the policies, there was really no way to create one that would not be outdated by the time it was printed. There was general information and practices that we followed and knew and were aware of, but not a floating-around SOP as to how to handle everything. Can you describe the first time you saw a detainee? The first time that I saw a detainee, it was a sad and sorry sight. I don't recall who it was, but he looked so tired and worn out. Washed-up you might say. With nothing to do but read a book you have memorized, or pace in a 6 by 8 cell, there really isn't much to be hopeful for. Some detainees would work out in their cells, which was great to see (at least they were making some positive use of their time). The first time we entered the camp, we took a tour of the facility, and saw every block in the main camp. Some of the detainees would spit or throw urine; others would turn their head in disdain or sorrow; others would try to rile us up. The Tipton Trio, particularly Rahul, made some jokes as we entered. And warned us, in a funny way, that we were not in Kansas anymore.
How would you react when you were spat at or hurled urine at? For me, that was just part of the job. Usually we would be sent home to change our uniforms so that we would be at less of a risk of infection of disease (if any). Nonetheless, it would be a simple situation of us leaving the block to go home and change, and whomever happened to throw something or spit would be written up, so to say. It would be noted in the computer and that would be the end of it. Rarely was there ever a further action. Every detainee had a file on the computer so that we could track what they had done (and were likely to do again), as well as the good and bad actions they had taken. How would other guards react? Guards who had no morals, ethics, or self-control had their own
retaliations. Perhaps spitting in their food or drink. Or yelling or cussing
at them. Or spitting back or throwing something at the cages. There was
retaliation, but it wasn't something that would be physical. Unless an
IRF was deemed needed [an IRF is a forced cell extraction; it is named after the Immediate Reaction Force called on to perform it].
Water was also something that could create an issue. If a detainee would flood a cell, or stall his toilet, we would turn the water off for the whole block. If a detainee was rude or condescending, or perhaps not compliant, we could turn off the water for the whole block as well. There was a number of reasons we could turn off the water for the whole block. And that would happen often too. It was a rarity we would ever just turn off an individual detainee's water. Mass punishment was a tactic that the Army incorporated to create peer pressure among the detainees to prevent outbreaks and instill control. You said that sometimes there was further action. Even if only rarely. What was it? If it was needed, a platoon sergeant would be called on the block to de-escalate the situation. Or a translator. Or the chaplain. Or IRFing. Or OC spray (i.e. pepper spray) would be used. OC was a control tool used to stop a situation from getting worse. Or to calm a situation down. By SOP, an authorized guard was to open a cell and spray OC into a cell on a detainee as we had been taught in our Military Police training, which is very specifically to be an S-like motion that covers the face, particularly the eyes, mouth, and nose. But a simple S; no more. Yet, there would be many times that a guard would unleash an entire can of OC spray on a detainee, his belongings, his Quran--everything that was in the cell. And with no remorse. Almost as if they had a smile (and some did). A detainee could be OC-sprayed and then IRFed; a detainee could be OC-sprayed and left in his cell without water or anything else to comfort or clean with; a detainee could be OC sprayed, IRFed, taken to an isolation block, and then left for hours till his shower the following day to clean it off. If his shower privilege wasn't taken away. Can you describe, either from your training or from what you have seen, what it feels like being OC sprayed? The training that we would undergo was to have OC sprayed on us, and then maneuver an obstacle course. It wasn't too terrible for me, but that is simply due to me not having a reaction to it. Others were blinded nearly instantly. The pain from what I heard could be from mild to intolerable, and had a wear-off time of 2 or 3 hours. It was rather awful for the majority of the people. It really feels like burning in the the eyes, dryness, and an overwhelming sense of fear and desperation.
The most particularly crappy incident that I saw was when a
detainee, whose name escapes me, happened to have an IRF called on him.
During this spraying and IRFing, he was not entitled to clean off the
spray, or his cell. He was left hogtied for the night, and without
water. The following day he did not receive a shower either--nor was
water turned on in his cell. He, his possessions, and Quran were
covered in OC spray, that stuff can damage your eyes if not blind them
if left in for long periods. Did you witness or participate in an IRFing? Probably a good one or two hundred of them, to be honest. And no. I did not participate in them. There would usually be two teams on the ready for an IRF. If it was a day that I was on a team, I would take a long enough time getting ready that it would be done before I was in the area to do it. I didn't want to participate, so I just made sure to take my time putting on gear and such. Can you describe an IRFing? Five brutish, dumb men, running into a cell with a large shield and zip ties. They would slam a detainee into the wall or bed or anywhere else in the cell, and then proceed to beat and/or hog tie the detainee with the zip ties, ultimately removing him from the block till he calmed down. Or leaving him in his cell till he was calm enough to come out or be untied. This happened often as it was a common resort for aggressive guards who were still hurt over 9/11 and had no knowledge of why 9/11 happened, or what the history was behind this war. According to SOPs, IRFs must involve minimal force. Was this part of your training? That is what they were supposed to be, but certainly not what they were, as we have already discussed. IRFs were part of our training. A minimal part of it, but a part nonetheless. It was a single, four-hour block, I believe. Just practice on each other, over and over, as to how to enter the cell, take down the detainee, and make an exit without injury to the military police. Does any IRFing stand out in your mind?
That would probably be the IRFs on flu shot day. We had nearly 200 IRFs, it seemed, that day. The day began as any other day; ride the bus to work, get ready for work, start with chow and showers and rec. Nothing unusual or interesting occurred. It was just another day. But then an order came down, probably from the hospital or from a doctor, to administer flu shots to the entire detainee population. At that point the process spread throughout the camp, like a rapid fever, that there was something foul going on. Someone
created a scare that this was an execution of the detainees, and that
we were going to kill them all. This spread through the camp in
moments. It was amazing to see how they could all communicate with each
other so quickly, despite language and distance barriers. Everyone was rioting. The rioting probably started closest to Camp 4, as the hospital was closest to Camp 4. And then the riots started in Camp Delta and went across Camps 1, 2, 3. All probably started in the Camp 1 area, where we kept the "crazy" detainees. It would make sense that a rumor that lethal injection shots would be administered would come from "the crazy block."
Some of the detainees pulled out weapons they may have had for
moments or months, and used them on the guards. Some used the faucets
of the sinks as crude knives and stabbed guards as we entered the
cells. It was a hellish event that really was far more of a fiasco
than it needed to be.
The rioting called for IRF teams. There were two at the ready per camp. And three camps. So there were six teams available. If an IRF was called, the shot operations stopped. That is why it took about twenty one hours to administer the shots (to give 700 detainees the flu shot should not have taken that long, as it only takes a moment to administer a shot per detainee). How did the teams behave? They were riled up and angry, aggressive, belligerent like a drunk American. It was really a nightmare to be in. But I hate crowds and social situations, so the fiasco was more of a nightmare to me than it would be to the average person. How did you behave?
I just kept my head down and out of sight. I would try and sneak off and smoke as much as I could. That way I wouldn't be in sight of the guards. The trick in the Army is "out of sight, out of mind." Were translators involved? There were some translators involved, but there really wasn't an ability to utilize them to the best of possibilities. They were being called all over the camp, and when they would hit a block, it would become even more crazy since every detainee would want to talk to them. How did it all end? 21 hours later, tired, sweaty, and exhausted. Some guards were stabbed, bitten or scratched, some detainees sustained blows to the head, stomach, back, body, etc. Some had broken or spang limbs and bones, but nothing that really sticks out too well. It was really a nightmare, just went on for hours. You say that the flu shot riots were not started by religious reasons. Did any riots start because of them?
Yes. When a Quran was seriously disrespected. Or if a Quran was thrown
in the toilet. Or if a detainee was not allowed to pray. Or if his
praying was disrupted. Did you actually witness this? There has been some controversy about these issues. . .
I saw and heard all of these incidents. They happened many times. It wasn't that uncommon for a guard to mishandle a Quran. Or for one to be tossed in a toilet. Or for people to mock prayer. Or make fun of Islam before the detainees, this is all common practice in GTMO. Tossing a Quran in a toilet happened many times during cell inspections--or cleaning, rather. But this also happened during an IRF. Nonetheless, when it happened during a cleaning of the cell, it was really a matter of the guard not particularly paying attention to what he was doing, and accidentally tossing it near the toilet--from where it then slid into the toilet. There were other times when a guard would intentionally put the Quran in a toilet to start a problem or "stick it" to a detainee. This wasn't too uncommon a circumstance. When it would happen during an IRF--abuse to a Quran, that is--it would be common to see a CO (Camp Officer) spray the Quran with OC spray while spraying the detainee as well. And the entirety of the cell. There are many forms of mockery that took place during praying, prayer call, etc. That happened lots of times. Can you say more about the uncomfortable positions the prisoners were chained in? If you were to be standing and put your wrists in between your ankles, in kind of a squatting position, that would be one of them. Or having your ankles chained behind you. Or your hands chained behind you. And then chained to the ground or chained to a wall. The positions, I mean, they weren’t entirely too creative, but they were uncomfortable.
Here is a depiction of "short shackling". It is artwork based on descriptions provided by actual Guantánamo prisoners, and part of The Tipton Report. How accurate would you say this depiction is? That is a very accurate depiction of the position. Not sure where they got that picture, but it's pretty accurate. If you look in the picture you'll see that the wrists are behind the ankles. That's one of the positions. Another one is having the wrists in front of the ankles, which I actually think would be more grueling than the first one. In the first one you can kind of balance or roll off the balls of your feet; with the second one you are really left on your toes, which would cause a great deal of ache and muscle stress at the legs. For how long would they be in those positions? During interrogation they would be stuck in these positions for however long the interrogation was. That could be anywhere from two to twelve hours. Maybe longer. Where they interrogated while chained in those positions? Yes, when they were interrogated they were chained in these positions. How did the detainees react to this? This was, aside from bodily functions, not pleasant. They weren’t entirely too happy to urinate or defecate on themselves. And to be in pain, or what not. Some of them were crying. It was a horrible, crappy, situation. Did you see these chainings? Did you carry them out yourself? Yes, I did see them. And I did see these transport rooms. I did transport them to the rooms. But no, I would not chain them. Once we get them to wherever they were going for interrogation, that would generally be the end of it--of what we would do. It would be the interrogators from that point onward. Were the temperatures in the rooms manipulated when they were in those positions? The temperatures in the rooms could vary anywhere from maybe 40 degrees on up to 120. More often than not it would be cold, being that they were outside during the day and the night and they were used to about 90 degrees day-round. They would use extreme colds to make it awful. How about the noise levels while they were chained in these ways? Where they manipulated? The noise levels in the rooms would usually be loud. Very loud. And inescapable. Generally, in the position depicted in the picture above, if you put a strobe light two feet in front of the detainee, and turn the volume up to an extreme level, that would be the situation they would be left in for hours and hours until they defecated or urinated on themselves and at that point interrogation would begin. That would involve an agent yelling and using profanity and intimidation factors--basically just threats. Whatever else may happen I am not entirely sure; it was not something I was necessarily able to partake in or witness. So would the interrogations happen during or after the chaining in uncomfortable position? Both--to be honest with you. More often than not, though, the interrogation would be after. The uncomfortable position would be endured for how many hours it was going to be endured and then afterwards the interrogation would take place--obviously due to the weakened state and the weakened mental stability of the detainee at that point in time. However, because it also happened during, sometimes an interrogator would go in during this state, with the music, the strobe light, the air conditioning and everything else, and perhaps present a photo to the detainee and scream or yell and demand answers aggressively and perhaps strike the detainee or what not and demand an answer, and if the detainee did not comply, then perhaps he would stay in that position for more hours in that climate. You say interrogators could strike detainees during interrogations. Did you actually witness this? If so, how did this come about. I did witness this. It happened much like the new memos say. It would be a slap to a head. Or perhaps the detainee would be held against a wall. Something of a minor aggression. But intimidation nonetheless. Was this the only such incident you witnessed? Did you hear about others? It seemed that it was standard for this to happen. At least I heard about it from others all the time. Both from guards and from detainees. Do you know if detainees were beaten in contexts other than IRFs and interrogations? No. If we may return to the issue of religious abuse, translator Erik Saar says, in his book, that a female interrogator at GTMO led a detainee to believe that she was menstruating at the time she was interrogating him, and made him think that the red stuff in her hands was menstrual blood (it was in fact red ink). She then proceeded to smear it on the detainee's face. Subsequently, she had the water to the detainee's cell cut, so he could not wash. She did this, Saar tells us, so that the detainee would not be clean to pray--thus diminishing the strength the detainee was supposedly deriving from his religion. Did you witness anything like this? I was there for that day. We were not the two soldiers to take him to--or from--interrogation, but we were smoking near the building he was being interrogated in, and saw him when he came out. He came out in what look liked a frustrated or near-tears state, and
was being taken to his cell by the other two guards in the area. We
looked over at him (or I looked over at him), and saw that he had
something red on his face, but I was not able to make out if it was from
being hit to the head or something else (as it turned out to be). Shortly after he was out of view, two interrogators and a lady came
walking out; the lady was wearing black, and she seemed rather pleased and
accomplished. You could tell by the look on her face. The other two
interrogators were commenting and giving her praise for her success. So
supposedly she gained some intel. Or she broke the detainee down. They walked off and, as I was walking off, I watched
her make a hand gesture as if she was smearing something on someone's
face (she had smeared blood from a blood capsule on the detainee). And then she laughed. There were a good number of IRFs and angry detainees that followed that event. And the blonde interrogator who did that was mighty proud of herself that day! Blood from a blood capsule? In Saar's book it was red ink from a marker pen. . .
It could have been a red ink pen. I heard that it was a blood capsule. I am pretty sure I heard that from her own mouth. And from other interrogators, as well, as they were talking. I did not see the act itself. But I saw the detainee afterwards, and worked that day, so I had to deal with the drama that came of it.
Thanks for the clarification. Let's turn to psychological abuse. Did you witness cases in which prisoners were deprived of sleep? This practice may have been referred to as the "frequent flyer program". Frequent flying happened often. Everyone who was down there participated in that. We didn't have a choice. You would be moving detainees, every two or three hours, from one cell to another. Sometimes between cells in the same block and sometimes between cells of different blocks. They would be moved all day long, for upwards of a week. Everyone who worked would have to move detainees throughout the day, so that was a common practice and happened regularly. Were you given any explanation for these movements? Your orders must have sounded bizarre (if not downright cruel). No, we were not. We were just told to move detainees. But there were so many teams at a time that would be assigned to do this, you may not have known that you were participating in that program. It did seem odd when you would have a detainee moved three times in one shift, but it wasn't really something I noticed at the time of occurrence. Did you witness any threats to detainees or their families?
There were a few instances of threats of life or limb to detainees. As well as their relatives. During interrogation, tactics can be used in which the interrogator would yell obscenities and give threats of physical abuse or what not, [saying] "if you don't tell us this we are going to kill your whole damn family" or, "we have your family, we know who they are." That did happen. Not entirely too often (or maybe it did happen often and I didn't see it). I think I'd seen it twice. I walked in, I saw what was going on in interrogation, and about as soon as I walked in and saw it, an interrogator or somebody else told me to walk out. Did you witness acts of severe humiliation? Yes. There was severe humiliation. That, primarily, would've been instances of detainees defecating on themselves and there was nothing done; there was no change of clothes. That happened. There was lots of verbal humiliation, obviously. Detainees were put down and treated like animals (or less than animals) in their interrogation. And there were guards, as well, that were very disrespectful towards them. Was there abuse related to food? There's nothing that was an issue with the food. They received an adequate quality and quantity of food each day. Food was not something that was messed with. Did you witness any form of sexual abuse? No. This never occurred. At least to my knowledge. How about medical abuse? No. This was something I touched on in other interviews. The medics were far more compassionate than the guards. They had a different job altogether. They were working in a medical field, and as a result had a medical attitude, not a political or propaganda jaded view. And were smarter. Did they do anything to stop or report abuse they might have seen? They didn't do anything to report abuse or stop it, but that was because they never saw it; they saw only what came of it. Did you see any minors among the detainees? If so, how were they treated? I did. They were treated far better. They had privileges to the ocean for an hour a week. And a television and the ability to watch movies. Same question for elderly detainees. They were in the general population, and were treated like the rest of the detainees.
Did you see how the detainees were transported into or out of Guantánamo? I was involved in one transportation mission with detainees (as far as I know, this was the only one that occurred while I was there). We took detainees home to Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Russia, etc. It was a long flight. Basically it was a C-130. It was gutted out. There were approximately fifty detainees in this flight. They had goggles, earmuffs, and bags over their heads. And blue jumpsuits (as opposed to orange ones). The detainees were shackled into their chairs (the same benches we were sitting on). They had a three-piece shackle (hands, feet, and waist), which was then shackled to the floor. It was a long, nonstop flight. We just left, went there, dropped them off and that was the end of it. This is interesting. It may be the first time we get a first-hand, verbal accounting of transport operations out of Guantánamo from the military. A couple of questions. The first is whether the detainees were informed that they were being taken home or were they deliberately misinformed about this? Also, were they harassed or abused in any way during the flight? I am not aware if they were told anything true or not. There was no harrasment or abuse during the flight; it was really quite simple: they were shackled and sat quietly; we sat quietly guarding them. Off and on we would take turns sleeping, It was a long flight. You say it was a long flight. What if the detainees needed to go to the restroom? Were they allowed to? Was there even one? Yes, there was a restroom. And they were allowed to use it. Although they were not completely unshackled for this process, it seemed it would be a bit messy of a process, wiping with a shackle still on, so they were unshackled in part. That is comforting. Pictures have been made public of transfers into Guantánamo in which the detainees were made to travel sitting on the floor over diapers. In any event, would you care to comment on this interview? Were you satisfied with it? Would you recommend other guards to approach The Guantánamo Testimonials Project with their testimonies? Yes, I absolutely would. You showed a great deal of professionalism and have kept to it, which is tremendous in effort and honesty. You have also delved deeper into issues--more than anyone else has ever. It has been a pleasure to work with you, and I look forward to an ongoing friendship with you!
CSHRA wishes to thank Terry Holdbrooks Jr. for this illuminating and courageous interview. And to invite anyone else with first-hand knowledge of Guantánamo to contribute testimony to the Guantánamo Testimonials Project. The project can be reached electronically at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, by Jason Leopold, was 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.