Monday, February 16, 2009

Former Prison Guard Details Conditions at Gitmo

In the category of "this would've been useful a few years ago", a former prisoner guard at Guantanamo Bay recounts abuses he witnessed at the detention camp (h/t Adam): Neely put it in an interview with The Associated Press this week, "The stuff I did and the stuff I saw was just wrong."

Neely, a burly Texan who served for a year in Iraq after his six months at Guantanamo, received an honorable discharge last year, with the rank of specialist, and now works as a law enforcement officer in the Houston area. He is also president of the local chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

An urge to tell his story led him to the University of California at Davis' Guantanamo Testimonials Project, an effort to document accounts of prisoner abuse. It includes public statements from three other former guards, but Neely was the first to grant researchers an interview. He also spoke extensively with the AP.

Testimony from the other guards echoes some of Neely's concerns. One of the other guards, Sean Baker, described in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" how he was beaten and hospitalized by fellow soldiers in a January 2003 training drill in which he wore an orange jumpsuit to play the role of a detainee.

Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr. told the Web site in an interview this month that he saw several abuses during his service at Guantanamo in 2003, including detainees subjected to cold temperatures and loud music, and he later converted to Islam.

Neely, 28, describes a litany of cruel treatment by his fellow soldiers, including beatings and humiliations he said were intended only to deliver physical or psychological pain.

Only months had passed since the Sept. 11 attacks, and Neely said many of the guards wanted revenge. Especially before the first Red Cross visit, he said guards were seizing on any apparent infractions to "get some" by hurting the detainees. The soldiers' behavior seemed justified at the time, he said, because they were told "these are the worst terrorists in the world."

He said one medic punched a handcuffed prisoner in the face for refusing to swallow a liquid nutritional supplement, and another bragged about cruelly stretching a prisoner's torn muscles during what was supposed to be physical therapy treatments.

He said detainees were forced to submit to take showers and defecate into buckets in full view of female soldiers, against Islamic customs. When a detainee yelled an expletive at a female guard, he said a crew of soldiers beat the man up and held him down so that the woman could repeatedly strike him in the face.

Neely says he feels personally ashamed for how he treated that elderly detainee the first day. As he recalls it, the man made a movement to resist on his way to his cage, and he responded by shoving the shackled man headfirst to the ground, bruising and scraping his face. Other soldiers hog-tied him and left him in the sun for hours.
Only later did Neely learn — from another detainee — that the man had jerked away thinking he was about to be executed.

"I just felt horrible," Neely recalled.

A former Army spokesman for the base says the guards had "strict direction from the start" (the reporter's words) but that's bullshit. This sort of thing only happens with the explicit or implicit approval of commanders, and commanders only give that approval when civilian leadership wants it or doesn't care to stop it.

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