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October 7th, 2006 - Pentagon to Probe Gitmo Beatings Claim

News article by the Associated Press

News article by the Los Angeles Times

Profile of the Guantánamo Concentration Camp

Pentagon to Probe Gitmo Beatings Claim


By Thomas Watkins

The Associated Press

Saturday, October 7, 2006; 6:56 AM


Camp Pendleton, Calif. - The Pentagon said Friday that it will investigate a Marine's sworn statement that guards at Guantanamo Bay bragged about beating detainees and described it as a common practice.


The Marine, a paralegal who was at the U.S. Navy station in Cuba last month, alleges that several guards she talked to at the base club said they routinely hit detainees.


"From the whole conversation, I understood that striking detainees was a common practice," the sergeant wrote. "Everyone in the group laughed at the others' stories of beating detainees."


The woman's name was blacked out of a copy of a two-page affidavit provided to The Associated Press by a civilian defense attorney working with Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, the Marine Corps' defense coordinator for the Western United States and based at Camp Pendleton.


Vokey, who sent the statement Wednesday to the Inspector General at the Department of Defense, called for an investigation, saying the abuse alleged in the affidavit "is offensive and violates United States and international law."


Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler said defense officials "are reviewing this affidavit and will investigate these allegations fully." A call to the inspector general's office was not immediately returned


Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand, spokesman for the Joint Task Force that oversees detention facilities at Guantanamo, said the force "will participate fully with the inspector general to learn the facts of the matter and will take action where misconduct is discovered."


"Abuse or harassment of detainees in any form is not condoned or tolerated," Durand said.


Guantanamo Bay houses about 450 suspected members of al-Qaida and the Taliban. Human-rights groups have roundly criticized the Bush administration for detaining most without criminal charges, but U.S. officials have defended the detentions as necessary in the war on terrorism and say the detainees are treated humanely.


The Marine said in the sworn statement that she has been working at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton in Southern California on a Guantanamo-related case, and was in Guantanamo from Sept. 20-27.


She said some Marines had invited her to the base club Sept. 23. She didn't see them but a group of at least 15 sailors invited her to join them. She said she spoke with the sailors for about an hour, during which she had one drink, and that the sailors did not appear drunk.


A 19-year-old sailor referred to only as Bo "told the other guards and me about him beating different detainees being held in the prison," the statement said.


"One such story Bo told involved him taking a detainee by the head and hitting the detainee's head into the cell door. Bo said that his actions were known by others," the statement said. The sailor said he was never punished.


Other guards "also told their own stories of abuse towards the detainees" that included hitting them, denying them water and "removing privileges for no reason."


"About 5 others in the group admitted hitting detainees" and that included "punching in the face," the affidavit said.


Guantanamo was internationally condemned shortly after it opened more than four years ago when pictures captured prisoners kneeling, shackled and being herded into wire cages. That was followed by reports of prisoner abuse, heavy-handed interrogations, hunger strikes and suicides.


Military investigators said in July 2005 they confirmed abusive and degrading treatment of a suspected terrorist at Guantanamo Bay that included forcing him to wear a bra, dance with another man and behave like a dog.


However, the chief investigator, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, said "no torture occurred" during the interrogation of Mohamed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was captured in December 2001 along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.


Associated Press Writer Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


© 2006 The Associated Press


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At Guantanamo: Hard Time and a View of What Could Have Been

Detainees at a new camp will see only a sliver of a common area; isolation has become the norm.


By Carol J. Williams

Los Angeles Times

October 7, 2006


Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - The narrow windows in the 7-by-12 steel and concrete cells of Camp 6 will give detainees a view of a common room designed to bring them together as brothers in faith, language and customs.


But looking is all they will be able to do. The area will be off-limits.


When the Guantanamo prison complex's new camp was designed two years ago, the triangular communal area was intended to let detainees mingle over meals, games and conversation.


But virtually all time at Guantanamo has become hard time, and when prisoners begin arriving at the $38-million building in the next few weeks, they will be kept mostly in isolation.


A May riot in which dozens of detainees attacked U.S. soldiers, the suicide of three prisoners in June, and changes in the camp population - including the arrival of 14 "high value detainees" - have transformed Guantanamo into a largely maximum security facility.


The first new arrivals in two years - the group including the self-proclaimed Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his alleged lieutenant Ramzi Binalshibh - were flown from secret CIA prisons abroad over Labor Day weekend. But dozens have left in recent months, too, having been cleared by annual review boards for release or transfer to their native countries. Negotiations also are underway between the State Department and foreign governments on the possible group repatriations of more than 300 Afghans, Saudis and Yemenis. Washington is trying to obtain assurances that the men will neither be tortured nor freed to potentially threaten U.S. or allied forces.


The 100 or so expected to remain after the transfers will be the detainees considered the most dangerous, those with little hope of release or reward for good behavior, according to military jailers. That population is unlikely to elicit much softening of the conditions.


Near the same time of the May and June incidents, officials discovered that prisoners with good behavior records had been dismantling their faucets to fashion weapons, officials said. That prompted jailers to reconsider whether prisoners should be allowed to interact and possibly plot resistance.


"We had to think about whether there is such a thing as a medium-security terrorist,'' said Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the prison and interrogation network that houses 460 war-on-terror suspects.


Col. Wade Dennis, who is effectively Guantanamo's warden, echoed Harris' concern that although most detainees cooperated with camp rules, the recent violence suggested some had been hiding their true nature.


"Detainees have already demonstrated they have the will and the thought processes to do self-harm and I facilitate that if I let them live in a communal-type environment," said Dennis.


Shortly after the suicides, the prison commanders decided to scrap the medium-security comforts, and will keep inmates isolated behind steel doors for all but an hour or two of daily exercise time.


"Meals will be served in their cells," said Naval Cmdr. Kris Winter, head of the force staffing the prisons.


Since the discovery of the vandalized faucets, Camp 1 has been emptied and its detainees moved to temporary metal-mesh cells pending repairs or relocation to Camp 6, which is expected to be fully populated by the end of the year.


Camp 4, which held about 175 prisoners before the riot, is a barracks-like compound where detainees slept 10 to a room, ate together and were free to congregate for as much as 14 hours daily. It has been cleared of all but about 30 Afghans who didn't take part in the uprising - the only detainees not confined to solitary cells.


Harris and Dennis say they will invoke tougher screening before any prisoners are allowed back into communal living.


Where to hold the prisoners among Guantanamo's eight detention facilities is an exercise in risk assessment complicated by the shutdown of Camp 1 - previously the most populous prison - and the virtual emptying of Camp 4 to modify fans and light fixtures that the rioters used to make weapons.


Unlike Camp 5, the reigning hard-time housing, Camp 6 has no outside windows or natural light in the cells. The prefabricated units are arrayed along two sides of a triangle. Bare concrete walls, floors and metal furnishings make the common room an echo chamber.


In addition to mothballing the tables, lockers and leg-stretching spaces in the new camp, the Navy's construction force, or SeaBees, and the prison's Kellogg Brown and Root contractors have erected chain-link partitions to make 10-by-30-foot exercise pens in what was designed as an open sports court.


Other retrofitting has included shower doors that will prevent the detainees from communicating, said Lt. Cmdr. Eileen D'Andrea, who was in charge of the prison's construction and 11th-hour revisions. An expanded guard force also will be needed to provide the manpower to shackle and escort each prisoner every time he needs to leave his cell, said Lt. Col. Mike Nicolucci, Dennis' deputy.


The hardening of Guantanamo detention dispirits the detainees and their lawyers, who see it as part of U.S. political posturing in an election year.


"They've set this up as a showcase and they feel they can't back down from it," Marine Maj. Michael Mori, who represents Australian detainee David Hicks, said of the Bush administration's Guantanamo operations. "Every day in Iraq and Afghanistan they let people go who they know are far more dangerous than these guys."


Rank-and-file guards express little concern or curiosity about the conditions of the prisoners' confinement, noting that they are just doing their duty.


"I don't know exactly what they did but they must have done something wrong to be here," said Master-at-Arms Seaman Leif Kreizenbeck, a 23-year-old Oregonian who arrived barely a month ago.


Construction chief D'Andrea said the prison's design allows for future changes. Each of the eight clusters of 22 cells around a common area is self-contained and could be transformed to a medium-security, communal-living "pod" if that is what detention authorities decide.


That prospect seems distant.


"Once we get Camp 4 repaired - and that is costing us a tremendous amount of money - we will be very selective about who goes back to Camp 4," said Harris.


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