Six years ago, on May 31, 2007, I posted the first article here in what has become, I believe, the most sustained and comprehensive analysis of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo that is available anywhere — and for which, I’m gratified to note, I was recently short-listed for this year’s Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. In these six years, I have written — or cross-posted, with commentary — nearly 2,000 articles, and over 1,400 of these are about Guantánamo.
I had no idea it would turn out like this when I began writing articles about Guantánamo six years ago. I had just completed the manuscript for my book The Guantánamo Files, which consumed the previous 14 months of my life, and which was published four months later, in September 2007.
I was wondering how to follow up on the fact that I had lived and breathed Guantánamo almost every waking hour over that 14-month period, as I distilled 8,000 pages of US government allegations and tribunal and review board transcripts, as well as media reports from 2001 to 2007, into a book that attempted, for the first time, to work out who the men held at Guantánamo were, to explain where and when they were seized, and also to explain why, objectively, it appeared that very few of them had any involvement whatsoever with international terrorism.
As I was wondering how to proceed, I received some shocking news. A Saudi at Guantánamo, a man named Abdul Rahman al-Amri, had died, reportedly by committing suicide. I knew this man’s story and decided to approach the Guardian, explaining who I was and why I felt qualified to comment, but when I was told that they weren’t interested, and would be getting the story from the Associated Press, I realized that the WordPress blog that my neighbour Josh had set up for me, initially to promote my books, provided me with the perfect opportunity to self-publish articles, and to see what would happen.
That first article is here, and I’m cross-posting it below, as a reminder of where it all began, as well as to remember Abdul Rahman al-Amri, and the eight other men who have died at Guantánamo. Two days after, I published a follow-up article, also cross-posted below, and I published reminders of his death on the 1st anniversary in 2008 (“The forgotten anniversary of a Guantánamo suicide“), on the 2nd anniversary in 2009, and on the 3rd anniversary in 2010.
There have long been profound doubts expressed about most of the alleged suicides at Guantánamo — and particularly of the three men who died in June 2006, Abdul Rahman al-Amri Al-Amri in 2007, and Mohammed al-Hanashi in June 2009. The supposed “triple suicide” in June 2006 was the subject of an excellent report by Scott Horton in Harper’s Magazine in January 2010, based, in particular, on the testimony of Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, who disputed the authorities’ story (and also see my articles here and here, and my discussion of Erling Borgen’s film “Death in Camp Delta”). There had also been doubts about al-Hanashi’s death (see here, here and here), but little had been done regarding al-Amri’s death until my friend and colleague Jeff Kaye wrote an article in February 2012, based on their autopsy reports, which I cross-posted, with my own commentary, as “Were Two Prisoners Killed at Guantánamo in 2007 and 2009?”
I hope you have time to read the articles below, in memory of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, whose death — and subsequent demonization by the US authorities — started my career as a full-time journalist and activist on Guantánamo. Many of the themes I touched upon back then — dealing with inadequate information masquerading as evidence — are still, I’m sad to note, relevant today, providing another compelling reason for Guantánamo to be closed, and for nothing like it to be attempted again. For a detailed analysis of his story, see the first entry in this article I wrote last May, as part of my ongoing project to analyze the classified military files relating to the prisoners in Guantánamo, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner.
According to the Associated Press, the Saudi citizen who apparently committed suicide at Guantánamo on Wednesday 30 May has been identified by the Saudi authorities as Abdul Rahman al-Amri. Described by the Pentagon as a 34-year old from Ta’if, born on 17 April 1973, al-Amri had been held in the maximum security Camp V, reserved for the “least compliant and most ‘high-value’ inmates”, according to a US military spokesman.
Whether or not this is a valid description of al-Amri is debatable. He did not take part in any of the tribunals at Guantánamo –- either the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT), convened to assess the status of the prisoners as “enemy combatants”, or the annual Administrative Review Boards (ARB), convened to assess whether the prisoners still constitute a threat to the US and its interests. He did, however, prepare a statement for his CSRT in which he “admitted it was his duty to fight jihad and that he continues to admit to that today. He says it is all Muslims’ responsibility to fight for jihad when called upon by a Muslim government (in this case, and at that time, it was the Taliban)”.
Having served in the Saudi army for nine years, al-Amri apparently travelled to Afghanistan in September 2001, undertook military training at a “school for jihad” in Kandahar and then moved on to the front lines. In December 2001, he passed through the Tora Bora region, crossed the border into Pakistan, and surrendered to the Pakistani police. He was one of approximately 180 Guantánamo prisoners handed over to the US authorities after being detained by the Pakistani authorities during a one-week period in mid-December 2001. Dozens of these men were either humanitarian aid workers or religious teachers, and most of the rest were, like al-Amri, Taliban foot soldiers recruited to fight the Northern Alliance in an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before 9/11. In his statement, al-Amri pointed out that “Americans trained him during periods of his service” with the Saudi army, and insisted that, “had his desire been to fight and kill Americans, he could have done that while he was side by side with them in Saudi Arabia. His intent was to go and fight for a cause that he believed in as a Muslim toward jihad, not to go and fight against the Americans”.
He also refuted the most serious allegation against him: that he “was identified as the person responsible for providing a movie that provided all the details on how the USS Cole was attacked [in 2000] and the explosives that were used”. He admitted that he used the alias Abu Anas whilst in Afghanistan, but explained that he believed that another individual with the same name had been responsible for providing the film. This would not be surprising. Countless prisoners have refuted a variety of allegations based on claims relating to their supposed aliases, and it’s probable — given al-Amri’s stated role as nothing more than a foot soldier against the Northern Alliance — that he was no exception.
Watch the press for the Pentagon’s response to his death, however. Whilst it’s probable that there’ll be more subtlety on display than last June, when the prison’s commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, described the suicides of three prisoners as “an act of asymmetric warfare”, it’s likely that someone in the administration will step forward to declare that the USS Cole allegation “proves” that al-Amri — held for nearly five and a half years without charge, without trial, and without access to a lawyer or to members of his family — was an al-Qaeda operative. What will probably not be mentioned is that, according to a report by the imprisoned al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, al-Amri, like the three prisoners who apparently committed suicide last year, had been on hunger strike for several months.
Even in death, it seems, there is no escape from the vengeance of the Pentagon.
More on the apparent suicide of the Saudi prisoner Abdul Rahman al-Amri duly surfaced yesterday. As well as taking part in a hunger strike before his death, it transpires, from a source cited by Arab News, that he had been a hunger striker during the mass hunger strike in 2005, and that, at the time of his death, he was suffering from hepatitis and stomach problems. Where, one wonders, was the much-vaunted medical care for “enemy combatants,” which, in 2005, Brigadier General Jay Hood, the commander of the Joint Task Force in Guantánamo, declared was “as good as or better than anything we would offer our own soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines”? The answer, as so many other Guantánamo prisoners have noted, is almost certainly that medical care is refused to prisoners who fail to cooperate with the authorities, and that, as one of the “least compliant” prisoners, al-Amri would have received little, if any medical care.
As I warned two days ago, the US authorities have also launched a propaganda campaign portraying al-Amri as a dangerous member of al-Qaeda. In a statement reported by Agence France Presse, US Southern Command claimed, “During his time as a foreign fighter in Afghanistan, he became a mid-level al-Qaeda operative with direct ties to higher-level members including meeting with Osama bin Laden. His associations included (bin Laden’s) bodyguards and al-Qaeda recruiters. He also ran al-Qaeda safe houses.” Quite how it was possible for al-Amri, who arrived in Afghanistan in September 2001, to become a “mid-level al-Qaeda operative” who “ran al-Qaeda safe houses” in the three months before his capture in December has not been explained, and nor is it likely that an explanation will be forthcoming. Far more probable is that these allegations were made by other prisoners –- either in Guantánamo, where bribery and coercion have both been used extensively, or in the CIA’s secret prisons. In both, prisoners were regularly shown a “family album” of Guantánamo prisoners, and were encouraged –- either through violence or the promise of better treatment –- to come up with allegations against those shown in the photos, which, however spurious, were subsequently treated as “evidence.”
As with so many Guantánamo prisoners, the contradictory allegations against al-Amri beggar belief. By his own admission, he traveled to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, having served in the Saudi army for nine years and four months. US Southern Command expanded on his activities as a Taliban recruit, claiming that, “by his own account,” he “volunteered to fight with local Taliban commander Mullah Abdul al-Hanan, and fought on the front lines north of Kabul”, and that he subsequently “fought US forces in November 2001 in the Tora Bora Mountains.” This may or may not be true, but it is at least within the realms of plausibility. Claiming that he ran al-Qaeda safe houses, on the other hand, is simply absurd, and should alert all sensible commentators to scrutinize with care the allegations made by the US authorities against the majority of those held in Guantánamo without charge or trial (I’ve studied all of them, and allegations that are either groundless or contradictory are shockingly prevalent).
If we are to believe this callous attempt to blacken the name of a man who, having apparently taken his life in desperation, appears to have made the mistake of traveling to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban at the wrong time, one question in particular needs answering: when, during the three months that al-Amri stayed in a guest house in Kabul, trained at a “school for jihad” in Kandahar, fought on the front lines, retreated to Tora Bora and crossed into Pakistan, was he supposed to have located the al-Qaeda safe houses that he was accused of running?
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
The few times I’ve seen stories done about US troops at Guantanamo, it’s always about how “horrible” the conditions are there:
Free satellite TV and big screens to watch it on.
Free net access.
State of the art gym.
All the favorite fast food you’d want. I wonder how those corporate employees feel about this? Hi Mom and Dad. Guess where I’m getting transferred to?
Tri-care (free medical care). They get better care than I do here on the mainland.
Nobody talks about the detainees. Instead, we see the same stock footage that we’ve seen a million times before. Nobody bothers to talk to Cubans to find out how they feel about it. I mean, it IS their country.
Fact for the day: Overall, TV viewing in the States is down by 20%.
Great analysis of the supposedly “horrible” conditions, Tom, and that’s a great punchline, but unfortunately, when people turn off the TV news, because it’s drivel, far too many of them fail to replace it with anything meaningful. They pretend that politics is boring, forgetting that everything is political. Those who are engaged switch off and find new ways of finding out information and sharing it and acting on it, but it’s not those people we need to save – it’s the disengaged. Our ancestors fought for rights that are being thrown away by people today – or, rather, are being taken by corporations and those who pimp for them, the lawmakers and MPs who pretend to care for us, when all they care about is feathering their own nests.
On Facebook, Pauline Kiernan wrote:
An heroic achievement for which I salute you. Px
Monique D’hooghe wrote:
glad you are such a stubborn bstrd … lotsa luv from amman
Pauline Kiernan wrote:
Monique D’hooghe put it best!
Abdullah Al-Jeffery wrote:
God bless you
Thank you, Pauline, Monique and Abdullah. Very glad of your interest and support.
Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:
I always think it’s impossible for them to commit suicide in a place like Guantanamo. Never believed those stories. It’s sad we will never know the truth, the families won’t get closure and the guilty ones won’t ever be prosecuted
Agreed, Natalia. Do please read my friend and colleague Jeff Kaye’s account of finding the autopsy reports for Abdul Rahman al-Amri and Muhammed Salih (who died in June 2009), and how inadequate he found the reports: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/6981:recently-released-autopsy-reports-heighten-guantanamo-suicides-mystery
Toia Tutta Jung wrote:
You’re a true journalist, Andy Worthington. Thank you for your commitment to true journalism and for providing such competent analysis of the facts.
Thank you, Toia. I do my best. Occasionally a rogue story slips through the net, of course, as we’ve seen the last few days, but generally I believe that my body of work is trustworthy! Your support is very much appreciated.
Abzter Ganjakur wrote:
HOW DID U NOT GIVE UP?
THAT’S WHAT YOU CALL A TRUE JOURNALIST! THE GUARDIAN SURE MISSED OUT.
Ha! Thanks, Abzter. I didn’t give up because I know the men’s stories, and I know the horrors of Guantanamo, and I have an obligation to stick with it until the wretched place is closed down.
And I should point out that I’m available to write a regular column – weekly, fortnightly or monthly, say – for any reputable publication that would like to employ me, by the way.
I agree about picking your battles/areas to work in to be effective. Having said that, here are a few ideas to help as we do our parts for the cause. If you’re doing any/all of these already, good for you.
On many sites (Twitter, You Tube, etc.), it’s a matter of covering ground with hash tags and posting comments in high visibility areas. That being said, don’t give into the temptation to artificially jack up your hit rates. All the major social media sites have online cops and software that will flag “suspicious activity”. In addition, many TOS (terms of service) are so deliberately vague because their Powers that Be are counting on you to say, me fight a giant media corporation over this? What’s the point? Then you walk away.
Is the govt. really monitoring all of my communications? Let’s assume that yes, Cameron and Obama are. As long as you keep it legal, to the point, non-violent and factual, set that aside.
How do you protect yourself from being hacked or outed? Think like a hacker. In general terms, hackers will start with your phone number or online clues that they connect together. Another option is your IP address. Which means make a list of these and then what’s my response to it? It’s like chess. Reasonably anticipate and protect yourself. Why? Because you never know for sure where the attack will come from. Besides, some people will use endless lists of temporary IP addresses, and then dump them. The same goes with temporary email accounts, mobile phones, etc.
How do you sustain momentum in closing Guantanemo and freeing the innocent people there?
Maintain the momentum in the story. Usually, until an official news outlet picks something up that’s “controversial”, nobody will touch it. Then suddenly one outlet gives in. Once they do it, the others have to pick it up or they’ll look bad.
How do you do that? One way is to literally do something that’s never been done before. No disrespect to Code PInk, Andy or any other activists doing positive work. However, there is a lot of sameness online. How then do I stand out in billions of hours of You Tube clips? We all know that there’s no magic formula to go viral. On the other hand, when you do the trick then is to positively maintain that momentum.
Another idea is to (IMO) never look at comments unless you have to. Aside from this site, I almost never read comments elsewhere. Why? Because not always but much of the time it’s troll attacks that have nothing to do with the subject of the article/post. Why not be the only source that DOESN’T attack all the time? In a way it’s like marketing a radio station brand. The world’s greatest classic rock collection in your radio. Well actually, we don’t have every cool tune in the world. It just seems like it.
Males and females both receive the same sadistic pleasure of physical and psychological torture, even from Western Cultures, as can be seen by the recent Abu Ghraib prison scandal (www.antiwar.com), Guantanamo Bay prison camp allegations, and the Stanford prison experiment and Milgram experiment that involved both sexes and official and peer encouragement. This also includes the 1940’s United States military and Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) experiments of pharmacological secret ingestion to soldiers and civilians who were not aware that they were given L.S.D. to see the affects of aggression as part of their biologic warfare program. This also involves when the Western Nations’ publics participates with entities in oppressing, physical torturing, psychological torturing, and aggression targeted towards other human beings, innocent or guilty, due to being easily influenced without critically analyzing the veracity, logic and legalities involved in any accusations made against other people.
The “culture of fear” that the U.S.A. is currently experiencing is somewhat of an anomaly as many western nations, such as ones in Europe that live much closer to where the U.S.A. intelligence agencies believe that that terrorist organizations are based from, although concerned, are not as neurotic in their daily lives, daily media, and government interference in their own nation states’ freedoms due to the threat of terrorism. This is a bit embarrassing since the U.S.A. is considered, at least by many, the leader of liberty, justice, and freedom around the world and is the model that many nations used to model themselves after. This is not the pervasive sentiment at the moment due to some ignominious events that gained world attention such as war in Iraq with no W.M.D., the rationale for being there, Abu Ghraib, torture, and Guantanamo Bay just to name a few. Although this appears to be heading back in the right direction, ideally, these notorious events would not have occurred which just diverts attention away from all the good that the U.S.A. does around the world.
Yet, the same principle of safety due to the “culture of fear” that guided and facilitated the angst that sociologically and psychologically impacted the people who are in the war zones (and when they return home) and a national populace in a state of 2 wars, it is not surprising, yet is correctable. The problem internally for the U.S.A., is that this has impacted our own personal freedoms in America and legislation such as the Patriot Act or any others without Congressional and Judicial oversight, including “enhanced interrogation techniques”, that is a disgrace and disingenuous to all those who served and fought for our freedoms, in the past, the present, and the future. Consequently, adding insult to injury, our internal liberties are slowly taken away due to legal precedents that we were told was enacted to protect us from our external enemies.
The juxtaposition that we the people must demand that Congress corrects are that some of these dangerous legal precedents results in the loss of liberties in the rule of law due to “safety”. If not, we will be doomed to lose civil rights and constitutional protections (especially the Bill of Rights), that, to emphasize, we used to take for granted. Instead of a “culture of fear”, we must have a “culture of reason” in which we live according to the realities of the world, not hypotheticals, and deal with them appropriately. If not, with the advancement of technology in the 21st century that will only increase in abilities, the sooner that it is done, the better, to maintain our freedoms simultaneously protecting us without eradicating the principles that this nation was founded upon and looked upon by the rest of the world with dignity and honor.
In the age of terrorism (the utilization of fear tactics to accomplish an objective, usually political), especially since the 9/11/2001 attacks on the U.S.A. by terrorists, the U.S.A. has lived in a “culture of fear” and scare tactics that is perpetuated by some of our leaders and various media forums frightening the populace into acquiescing little by little our civil rights for “safety” from our government due to the methodology of utilizing America’s “enemies” and many, not all, of their legitimate dangers, to allow our leaders to enact new legislation to slowly eradicate liberties and freedoms. This pattern is strongly implemented in American culture today and a lot of people are oblivious to the legal precedent implications that will, I repeat, will eventually affect good people in negative aspects as the momentum for this to keep increasing grows stronger by the day and dangers. It is imperative to have “safety” and freedom, including civil rights and Constitutional Law correctly balanced and prioritized and not to overreact to real and imagined threats to our Nation. The U.S.A., as the leader of the free world, has and always will have external and internal threats and the current dynamics of terrorism (that has already been here in one form or another) and the cyber concerns of the 21st century are serious. Yet, how far do we the people allow intrusions upon our civil rights and constitutional protections for safety, or the illusion of it?
Congratulations Andy, your articles have often moved me to tears, mostly of frustration as much as utter sadness at the plight of these men..
You deserve to win the Martha Gellthorn prize and the prisoners in Guantanamo deserve a justice they have never ever even been given a sniff at by the U.S.
If there was a mainstream media worthy as it once was of regular accolades you would also be writing for it. Best of luck.
Interesting points, Tom. Thanks.
Gerry, thank you for your considered comments and the important points you make. I particularly liked your statement, “Instead of a ‘culture of fear’, we must have a ‘culture of reason’ in which we live according to the realities of the world, not hypotheticals, and deal with them appropriately.” Keeping people in a permanent state of fear has become normal over the last 11 years, and continues on an almost daily basis with horrendous effects – allowing governments to take away our rights and liberties, and encouraging people to live sadly diminished lives.
Thank you, Jacquelyne. Wonderful to hear from you, and thank you for the lovely supportive words.
Guantanamo Bay has probably harmed the US more then the terrorists, as it’s ruined it’s public image. Yes, there are terrorists out there and they are capable of doing damage and need to be stopped, but not at the cost of taking everyone’s freedom away. Most terrorists would leave us alone if we left their countries alone anyway. And the few that won’t, could be hunted down by the police using normal methods and convicted in normal courts.
Carol Anne Grayson wrote:
Well done Andy… respects and thanks… agree you have to keep going… sometimes a refusal becomes a motivating factor as it was for me when few were interested in drones… great work… am praying you win award…
Thanks, Carol. Your support is very much appreciated – and you have a lot to tell people about not giving up in the face of indifference or hostility.
Stop Wikileaks Censorship by Obama Administration wrote:
And you are inspirational! xo
Sara SN wrote:
And I have no doubt that for this, you will certainly win the Nobel.
Thanks, Stop WikiLeaks Censorship, and Sara. What lovely supportive comments!
Yes, exactly, Thomas. Thanks for that.
Andy, can I follow up on Tom’s initial comment comparing how tough it is for the GI’s stationed in Guantanamo, with the reality of all the recreational facilities they have access to?
I’ve been uploading images of Guantanamo to the wikimedia commons for years. And, included in those images are lots that would back up the argument that service at Guantanamo would be a great opportunity for a lazy GI, like the character “Sergeant Bilko” portrayed by actor Phil Silvers. But I think the situation was more nuanced than that. I think a lot of the brutality that went on at Guantanamo can be attributed to the difficulty for a young, patriotic, hormone driven, volunteer to be stationed in a backwater when they knew their peers were in danger on the front lines.
I am going to repeat how shocking I found a comment from a young Guantanamo guard to the BBC in 2005. He had just complained about how hard it was to be stationed at Guantanamo — because guards didn’t have enough opportunity to retaliate against the captives. He paused after saying this, because I think he could see from the faces of the BBC journalists that they were shocked and/or mystified that he should think he had any right to retaliated at all. He then burst out with the absurd and irrelevant claim “Half these guys killed a US soldier!”
It would be hard to serve in a backwater like Guantanamo when one got news that a buddy you bonded with in basic training had been killed by a landmine in Iraq or Guantanamo. And, I believe this had been made much worse by camp commandants and other senior officers — following the example of the worst commandant, Geoffrey Miller, who LIED to the guards about how dangerous the captives were. Even if these lies were intended solely to help keep up the guards’ morale, these lies were dangerous and unprofessional. Camp commandants and other senior officers told the guards they too were on the front lines, because the captives were such dangerous terrorists. This had the very predictable effect of turning the camp into one huge Milgram experiment.
Thanks, arcticredriver. You make very good points about Guantanamo guards very possibly feeling inadequate or inferior to those serving on the front lines, and wanting to take out those frustrations on the prisoners.
Andy, as a second followup on what the images from Guantanamo show about GI life in Guantanamo I am going to offer a selection of photos.
I think it is worth bearing in mind that, even when off-duty GIs have access to country-club quality recreation, they are subject to full military discipline and all the frustrations and petty humiliations of being bossed around when they are on duty, all day long.
In addition to the recreational facilities Tom mentioned GIs at Guantanamo have two cinemas, showing first run films. I think the films are free, but the GIs can buy all the usual junk food at the concession stand — including Starbucks Coffee.
The camp has about a dozen beaches, for those who like that kind of thing. There are scuba facilities, and sailboats, there are golf-courses. The USO sends beauty queens and cheerleaders to sign autographs. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victoria%27s_Secret_models_visit_Guantanamo,_December_2007.jpg
They USO sends celebrity TV chefs to cook for the GIs, and many bands perform there at no expense to the GIs. Country bands seem to be the most regular visitors.
Among the photos I found were about 50 images of Guantanamo taken by a Marine reservist named Cesar Monroy, who was stationed there in 2003. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Photographs_from_Cesar_Monroy
Among the photos he took were a pair of images of bulletholes in the wall of a barracks where another Marine shot himself. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bullet_hole_from_a_GI_shooting_himself_2.jpg
He took some pictures of Cuban migrants sneaking into Guantanamo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Cuban_refugee_incident,_at_Guantanamo,_2003
In this picture, he shows his buddies loaded into a truck, and comments about how one of his buddies was later killed by a landmine. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:High_morale_at_Guantanamo.jpg
I think this kind of death is a heavy burden on GIs safe in a backwater like Guantanamo, and is one of the triggers for GIs who try to extract illicit “payback” from the captives who are at their mercy. Mind you, the Marines didn’t have direct contact with the captives. The battalions that guarded the captives were from the Army or, more rarely, the Navy.
Thanks, arcticredriver, for making those photos available. They provide fascinating insights into life at Guantanamo.
There was a group photo at night of a group of guards that made me want to know what all these men’s stories were and are: Where are they now? Do some of them feel like Brandon Neely and the many other guards who ended up feeling appalled at what they did, and what Guantanamo represented?
A question. Do any of these guards (especially the doctors, medics and psychiatrists) realize that every innocent detainee who has some form of PTSD needs individualized treatment? Just using cognitive (talk therapy) doesn’t fit all cases.
Unfortunately, much of the military still wants to “rack and stack” their people thru the system. As for detainees, deny everything for as long as possible. Then, under pressure start actual treatment.
Medication doesn’t work for everybody. To many, it’s a band aid that doesn’t solve the problem. How come the MSM doesn’t talk about civilians with PTSD? Because it doesn’t fit into a nice neat soundbite, that’s why. At this point, why would so many vets still continue to believe the official govt. line about terrorism? I don’t know.
I once asked a doctor a general question about PTSD, and she had no idea what I was talking about. I thought, hang on a minute. You seriously have no idea about this? What, you never learned about this in med school? How could you be a doctor and not know?
That’s the current environment that these detainees will have to deal with once they’re freed (if they’re lucky enough to get the proper treatment).
Andy, as for how many former guards are doubting whether they did the right thing… I don’t know any US soldiers personally, but I have discussed issues with some, online.
In particular, following the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos, I expressed some views online that I now don’t hold.
Charles Graner was a reservist like all the other MPs in his unit. He was a prison guard in civilian life. So was Ivan “Chip” Frederick, the most senior of the men charged. Graner seems to give the appearance he was a genuine sadist and unrepentant psychopath. Frederick, on the other hand, claimed he had done his best to raise concerns with his superiors. He claimed he asked them for a copy of the Geneva Conventions, because he was concerned he and his subordinates were being asked to do things that could violate the Geneva Conventions. He claimed his superiors mocked him.
At the time I had heard that GIs who were given illegal orders had an obligation to disobey them, or at least insist on having those orders, in writing. Some real GIs, and former GIs, explained to me the risks a soldier would open himself up to if he told his superiors he was not going to obey an order because he thought it was illegal.
Depending on the circumstances, they might end up facing extremely long sentences. There might be a coverup, and that could result in the court straining at gnats to punish the whistle-blower, while ignoring the massive offenses they blew the whistle on. This is precisely what happened to the Sergeant who blew the whistle on Ilario Pantano.
I think GIs are encouraged to think these moral questions are “above their pay grade” and they can safely leave them to their officers. I think officers generally leave these question to their superior officers or to the military’s civilian leadership. Darrel Vandeveld who you have written about before was an admirable exemption.
Thanks, Tom. Good points. In Guantanamo, they evidently couldn’t care less about the prisoners’ mental state, unless it looks like they’re going to embarrass the authorities by killing themselves. I’m shocked to hear you report that you once spoke to a doctor who didn’t know about PTSD. How does that happen?
Thanks, arcticredriver. I believe that many, many dozens of former guards at Guantanamo have communicated with former prisoners, or with journalists over the years, and have apologised for what they did, breaking with their programming, which, as you say, is not to question orders.
I think it’s certainly true that it’s difficult, practically, to say no to what you are told to do when you’re in the military, because you could be punished in all kinds of ways by your superiors.
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: