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Declassified Gitmo Notes Tell of Widespread Abuse

by Jessica Azulay

July 11, 2006 – Providing another indirect view into the lives of detainees held by the US military at Guantánamo Bay, a civil-rights group has released a report detailing what it calls the “systematic physical, psychological, sexual, medical and religious abuseâ€� of detainees.

The report, compiled by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), mixes previously classified accounts from detainees themselves, as relayed through their lawyers, with information that has been made publicly available, like FBI memos, official reports and testimonials from government officials who previously worked at Guantánamo.

The 51-page document is one of the most detailed and comprehensive accounts to date of the mistreatment endured by captives at Guantánamo.

“I think the torture and abuse detailed here will shock Congress and the American public,� said CCR Legal Director Bill Goodman in a press statement announcing the report.

The report is largely based on prisoners’ statements during meetings with their attorneys. According to CCR, all of the detainee accounts included in the report had to be cleared through the US Defense Department under rules that information given to lawyers at Guantánamo is presumed secret until cleared by Pentagon censors.

CCR has led efforts to provide legal counsel and other basic rights to the hundreds of captives detained in the so-called “war on terror.� CCR coordinates hundreds of pro bono attorneys who are representing the detainees held at Guantánamo.

In Goodman’s opinion, the report “reveals a lawless, immoral and ineffective detention facility and undermines the administration’s increasingly desperate attempts to lie about what is happening down there.�

The allegations made by prisoners and recounted in the report include brutal beatings resulting in severe injury, shackling in extremely painful positions, intense psychological humiliation and degradation, religious desecration, sexualized harassment and physical assault.

Through their lawyers, the detainees tell of some prisoners sustaining permanent physical and psychological trauma at the prison. There are also stories of attempts at resistance and solidarity, often punished brutally by guards.

“At the end of 2004, [another prisoner] was in my block, and he refused to give back his paper plate as a minor protest over something,� recounted prisoner Omar Deghayes, from Libya, through his lawyer. “Five [military guards] came in on him, and three kneed him in the stomach until they had knocked him to the floor. This ruptured his stomach and he suffered constant and increasing pain.� Deghayes said the prisoner asked for medical care for several months before receiving it, and then he needed an operation.

“He was kept at the hospital for only two days, and then returned to Camp V,� Deghayes continued. “We have heard his screams of pain whenever he uses the toilet. One day he collapsed in his cell, and so we felt forced to conduct a joint protest on his behalf.…

“Finally, we were able to pressure the military into taking him back to the clinic. As they took him to the clinic, he was crying out in pain, and the guards – sad to say – were laughing at him.�

The notes also relay moral judgment on the part of captives, as in the case of Deghayes’s eyewitness account of his neighbor’s ordeal. “Beating him so badly was, in the first place, a vicious act for so minor a rule violation – a rule violation committed by someone who is being held without being proven guilty of any crime,� Deghayes apparently told his lawyer.

During a meeting with client Mustafa Ait Idir, attorney Robert Kirsch wrote that Idir said he was brutally beaten for asking to “speak with an officer after guards refused to turn down fans that were making prisoners cold.� Idir said that when guards entered his cell, he did what they ordered and sat on the floor with his hands behind him.

“Suddenly, guards grabbed him and picked him up,� wrote Kirsch, relaying what Idir had told him. “The guards banged his body and his head into the steel bunk…. The guards then threw him on the floor and continued to pound him and bang his head and body on the floor. The guards then picked him up and banged his head on the foot stirrups of the toilet unit in his cell…. He was taken to solitary confinement after that beating.�

The CCR report also compiles detailed accounts of the use of frigid temperatures, loud music and force-feeding to break a hunger strike. Fasting detainees demanded that they be released or charged with crimes, that those cleared for release by military panels be let go immediately, that juveniles be removed from the harshest parts of the camp, and that religious abuse at the prison end. 

The report also documents sexualized harassment and threats allegedly used against detainees in interrogations.

“Prisoners report that sex frequently is used to harass them,� wrote the report’s authors. “Women wearing bikinis and lingerie sexually taunted [detainee] Murat Kurnaz on two occasions and suggested they would do sexual favors in return for cooperation. When he pushed away a woman who placed her hand down his shirt, he was beaten by [guards] and left shackled for about 20 hours.�

The report continues, “Sexual provocations by female interrogators carried [a] distinctly religious dimension, as Islam places restrictions on physical contact between unrelated men and women.�

Many of the detainees’ allegations of abuse, though not specifically corroborated by other sources in the report, are similar to testimonials from released detainees as well as reports by government agents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and the personal stories of some former Guantánamo officials who have spoken out publicly.

For instance, in his book, Inside the Wire, military intelligence linguist Sergeant Saar – who worked at Guantánamo in 2003, wrote of sexualized harassment: “Had someone come to me before I left for Gitmo and told me that we would use women to sexually torment detainees in interrogations to try to sever their relationship with God, I probably would have thought that sounded fine. And if someone had spelled out for me the details of the interrogation I had just participated in, I probably would have approved. But I hated myself as I walked out of that room, even though I was pretty sure we were talking to a piece of shit in there.�

In a press statement that accompanied the report’s release, CCR said it carried particular significance coming a week and a half after the Supreme Court ruled that the Geneva Conventions apply, at least in part, to the Guantánamo Bay captives. Many of the allegations by detainees in the report constitute clear violations of the Geneva Conventions’ and other international legal prohibitions against torture.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Report originally appeared in the July 11, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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