On Veterans Day, my correspondence with Brandon Neely, Iraq war resister and former Guantánamo guard

11.11.08

Iraq war resister Brandon NeelyToday, to mark Veterans Day, two former soldiers and war resisters, Brandon Neely (photo, left) and Benjamin Lewis, have an article on AlterNet, This Veterans Day, U.S. Soldiers Say ‘Stop the War’, which I recommend.

Brandon Neely served as a military police officer from 2000 to 2005, and worked at Guantánamo for six months in 2002 before being sent to Iraq, where, he said, he saw “a lot of bad and horrible things and have done them too while over there. I came back in March of 04 to a wife and 3 kids I didn’t even know. Not a day goes by that I don’t re-live the war in my head one way or another. I have come to terms with this. But the reasons we went to Iraq are totally wrong and the reasons continue to be wrong while we are there.”

The Army attempted to recall Brandon from his Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR) status to active duty in May 2007, but this is his explanation of what happened next: “I ignored all letters to my house. I refused to sign for anything at the house and refused to pick up mail at the post office. I was sent threatening letters and emails stating that my discharge would be changed if I did not respond. Well, I never responded and on June 23rd 2008 I received my honorable discharge from IRR in the mail. My advice would be: if you are recalled just ignore it, they never once came to my house or job.” Today, Brandon is a vocal opponent of the war and president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

I recently received an email out of the blue from Brandon, and thought this would be a good opportunity to make his recollections more widely available.

Dear Mr. Worthington,
I just recently came across your web site and your book you wrote on Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and the prisoners that were held there. It’s nice to see that someone is helping to give a voice to these people who mostly were wrongfully held. I myself was at Camp X-Ray. I was with the 401st MP Company as a military police officer, the first company that was there that started the camp. I remember the day that they first arrived on the camp and remember a lot of the prisoners that were held — not by name but mostly by face. I just wanted to send you an email and let you know what you are doing is great and I hope one day Gitmo will be shut down.
Take care. Thanks, Brandon

This was my reply:

Brandon,
Thanks very much for getting in touch, and for providing such constructive comments. I thought your name was familiar, and have just Googled you and found out about your principled stand against the Iraq war. I noticed that you have been interviewed recently, and are presumably getting a lot of attention at the moment, so I wanted to say that I hope you get as much support as possible.
With best wishes,
Andy

And Brandon wrote back:

Thank you for the email and the support. I was recalled back to active duty in 2007 and just ignored it and in 2008 they just honorably discharged me from the army. I did that interview with Courage to Resist a couple weeks ago, not sure if you listened to it, but in the interview I talk a little about my time at Camp X-Ray and some of the talks I had with David Hicks. When I was in Gitmo I was 21. I was young and didn’t know what was going on really. You’re told one thing and go with it, but over time I realized that it was wrong. So many of those people were innocent. We as military police officers or guards never saw the interrogations — at least that’s how it was when I was there — but a lot of things that were really wrong happened in the camp from my point of view.

To complete this Veterans Day package, the following is a transcript of Brandon’s recollections of Guantánamo from his interview with Courage to Resist on October 8 (though the whole interview is worth listening to, as Brandon also explains what happened in Iraq to turn him against the war).

Courage to Resist: So you went to Guantánamo Bay, yes?

Brandon Neely: Yes, sir, we got there January [2002]. I can’t remember the exact date but it was about 48, 72 hours before any of the detainees showed up.

Courage to Resist: How long were you in Guantánamo?

Brandon Neely: About six months.

Courage to Resist: Were you troubled by anything you saw or experienced while you were there?

Brandon Neely: You know, when we first got there they put it into your head — I can remember them telling us, you know, these are the worst of the worst, these are the guys who plotted 9/11, these are the guys that, you know, raised all this havoc on your country. Being young, everybody was mad, upset, I guess you can say out to hurt, or for blood, or however you want to phrase it.

But after we were there a while and we started to get the detainees in — and I guess at first I didn’t think nothing about it — but after a while actually talking to some of these detainees — and there were a lot of young ones too — and some guys, they seemed like common people. And now I kind of keep up with the detainees’ [stories], and some of the guys that have been released, and they’re just common day folks, and I can remember when they came in.

You know, there was some stuff that happened there that wasn’t legit, that shouldn’t happen, but happened, and I really didn’t think too much about it. I thought about it, but I was young, I was doing what I was told, and I really just wanted to go home, and came home in June.

Courage to Resist: But it sounds like when you saw these guys coming in, they didn’t seem to be the stereotype of the evildoers you imagined.

Brandon Neely: No, and it was amazing because — I’m sure you’ve heard the story of David Hicks, one of the Australian guys. I remember when he first came in. As a matter of fact I was the guy that got him off the bus, took him through the whole process, and talking to him — I think it was him and two other British guys, and they also spoke real good English — and he told us, you know, that a lot of these guys in here aren’t guilty, and that the Northern Alliance captured and sold them to the US and they paid $1500 a head for them.

As it went along over the years, if you read in the papers — and all that stuff’s started coming to light now — all these guys are saying, yeah, well they captured me, because I was at the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and they sold me to the US for $1500.

Courage to Resist: Yes, well how many convictions have there been? Hasn’t there only been one conviction so far out of all of those hundreds of detainees?

Brandon Neely: One or two. I think David Hicks did actually plead guilty. And there was just a recent one. Other than that, there’s been nobody. [Note: See here for more on David Hicks' plea bargain, here for the second trial (of Salim Hamdan), and here for the third and most recent trial].

Courage to Resist: Nobody else convicted.

Brandon Neely: And there’s another thing. When we got there, there was no SOP or Standard Operating Procedure. We were told, “This has never been done before. They’re not Enemy Prisoners of War. There’s no standard procedure of how to run it.” They were kind of writing the book as they went, kind of a trial and error thing.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

4 Responses

  1. jjray says...

    The method by which Brandon Neely avoiding deployment through the IRR (the backdoor draft) is important. For instance, a Marine Sgt. called up through the IRR was killed in Afghanistan recently.
    http://marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/11/marine_ruiz_afghanistan_110309w/

    One can only hope more personnel in the IRR take Brandon’s stand. The IRR is supposed to be for a national emergency (like the US getting invaded). It’s not for occupation duty. Congress lacks the balls to set up a legal draft needed to staff it’s wars.

  2. BBC: Former Guantanamo Prisoners Nothing More Than Charitable Potheads | TheWorldPolitics says...

    [...] his country. Not only did Neely get away with his scheme to avoid his duty to country, he also advises others to follow his path, as author Andy Worthington recalls: The Army attempted to recall Brandon from [...]

  3. Guantánamo Guard and Ex-Prisoners Meet (via the BBC) « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] month later, I received an email out of the blue from Brandon, in which he thanked me for my work and wrote, “It’s nice to see that someone is [...]

  4. Ferdrick Applegate says...

    Love the site! Thank you for the great info :)

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