Patterico’s Exclusive Interview with a Man Who Has Spoken to the Terrorists at Guantánamo (Part Two: Stashiu Arrives at GTMO and Describes the Terrorists)
[This is Part Two of my exclusive interview with “Stashiu,” an Army nurse who worked at Guantánamo, and who spoke on a regular basis with detainees with psychological and/or behavioral problems. Part One was published yesterday and can be accessed here. In today’s entry, Stashiu talks about his arrival at GTMO, and discusses the true nature of the detainees who are being held there.]
Stashiu Arrives At GTMO
Stashiu has been in the U.S. Army for 23 years, and is due to retire soon. Since September 11, he has been trying to get deployed to help fight the war on terror. After all, the reason he had joined was to be deployed. He was on the list to go to Iraq, but had been retained by his boss stateside for a long period of time because his boss liked his work and wanted to keep him around. His first chance at a deployment came with his assignment to Guantánamo. Finally, Stashiu was getting his wish, and he was excited.
Stashiu arrived at Guantánamo aboard a plane operated by Delta Airlines. Although military aircraft fly into and out of GTMO, the military also uses Delta to ferry passengers to and from Guantánamo Bay.
When you come in to Guantánamo Bay, Stashiu told me, you realize right away that you are entering a Communist country. Security is handled by military personnel, but there is a level of tension far different from that present at other places Stashiu has traveled to. It reminded him that Castro’s Cuba lay just around the corner — a malevolent place where the dying dictator has tortured and killed too many to count.
The facility is, as advertised, on Guantánamo Bay. Incoming personnel arrive at an air strip located on the leeward side, and take a ferry across the bay to the windward side where the detention facility is located.
As he approached the Guantánamo facility’s Camp Delta along Skyline Drive, one of the windy roads on the way to the camp from the ferry, Stashiu felt the scene seemed surreal. He knew he was about to take part in a historical set of events, and he was excited.
For reasons of operational security, Stashiu could tell me little about the physical layout of Guantánamo. When I asked, he said that there is
[o]ne large area called “The Wire” which houses Camps 1-4. Camp 5 is a separate facility modeled on a supermax. Camp 6 is under construction and will be similar to Camp 5. Those are the main detainee areas. There are some other areas that fall under Joint Task Force-One large area called “The Wire” which houses Camps 1-4. Camp 5 is a separate facility modeled on a supermax. Camp 6 is under construction and will be similar to Camp 5. Those are the main detainee areas. All of this is public knowledge.
That’s about as far as Stashiu was willing to go, but — in an ironic nod to the paranoid lefties — he did take care to say that there are “no super-secret torture chambers.”
Speaking with Terrorists Daily
Stashiu’s title was Division Officer for Behavioral Health Services, which meant he spent hours talking to terrorists about what makes them tick. He shares these insights with you in this post.
The certificate accompanying Stashiu’s medal explains his title and duties:
As Division Officer for the 22-member Mental Health Unit, he oversaw the administrative functioning and quality of care for all detainees requiring mental health services. [Stashiu] . . . was responsible for the selection and Behavioral Health Training of all guard staff assigned. During a critical period of the deployment, he demonstrated exceptional leadership by coordinating the relocation of the Inpatient Psychiatric Detention Block into the new Behavioral Health Unit. . . . Through his distinctive accomplishments, [Stashiu] reflected credit upon himself, the United States Army, and the Department of Defense.
As a practical matter, Stashiu’s job meant that he spoke with detainees. A lot. Stashiu was at Guantánamo from November 2005 until May 2006. During that time he spoke with most of the terrorists and enemies of the United States who resided there. More than half of the detainees had been seen or treated by Behavioral Health — but a smaller number were “on service,” meaning they received regular psychological services from Stashiu and his colleagues. Stashiu cannot disclose the actual number or percentage of detainees “on service.” However, as we will see, he can say that most of the detainees are not mentally ill according to their psychiatric diagnosis in the common usage of the term.
Sometimes Stashiu and his colleagues provided psychiatric services at the request of detainees. Other times, these services were provided at the request of guards who believed that the detainee had a mental issue, based upon the detainee’s behavior.
Either way, Stashiu’s conversations with the detainees were often quite in-depth:
I talked to many of the detainees there at one time or another, sometimes for hours upon hours to build a rapport. Some of the hardest ones in there would do things for Psych that they would never do for guards.
(All emphasis in this post is mine.)
Stashiu told me about an inmate who had attempted suicide on a number of occasions, and said:
I talked with him for literally hundreds of hours. He was obviously our biggest challenge and was still alive when I left, nor was he one of the three successful suicides that occurred after I came back to the States.
Stashiu’s conversations with the detainees were often conducted in English, without the help of translators. Did most of the detainees speak English? I asked.
Many (probably most) speak at least some English, some are quite fluent. Some learned in Cuba from other detainees or from talking with guards and translators. Almost without exception though, they will ask for an interpreter at some point. Sometimes it is to try and pry information from the interpreter. Other times it is to avoid answering an uncomfortable question, for whatever reason. Plus, any time they go through an interpreter, they can claim that they were misunderstood due to faulty translation. The concept of reasonable doubt does not hold much sway for them, people are believed or disbelieved more for the relationship between the two people more than any affection for the truth.
Stashiu explained that there was an inpatient and outpatient side to the Psych Unit. He told me:
The inpatient side housed detainees with mental illness, active suicidality which required suicide precautions, and occasionally someone who was so disruptive they couldn’t be managed on a regular block. The outpatient side went out daily to see detainees on the blocks. Some were seen every single day, others up to every three months… whatever was needed to ensure their safety and stability.
The inpatient side consisted of a state-of-the-art psychological facility. Although noncompliant detainees were sometimes taken here, it was always because they had psychological issues. This was a mental health facility, not a disciplinary facility.
I asked Stashiu whether he got to know any of the detainees by name. He said:
I knew all of the ones on service by name and talked to most of them. Some of them nearly every day I was there. Like most deployed personnel, I worked many more than 40 hours a week.
However, Stashiu did not generally refer to the detainees by their proper names — though there were exceptions:
We were discouraged from using their names while talking with them. Each detainee had a identifying number which is how they were referred to. In practice, most of us used a mixture of name and number, depending on what we were talking with them about. If I was trying to get someone to take medicine they needed, I would use their name, or if possible, a familiar nickname used by other detainees to build rapport and persuade them. We have to do this in military and civilian psych facilities all the time because there are many people with mental illness who believe they don’t need medication for one reason or another.
Most of what I did involved talking with detainees and building rapport, even when it didn’t involve mental illness. Because some of the most disruptive detainees could control their behavior if they chose to, we could intervene at times and de-escalate situations.
He explained to me that the military staff also avoided using their own real names, for obvious reasons of safety. As I mentioned in the first post in this series, “Stashiu” is not only the name used in this post, it is also the name by which the detainees knew him.
Think Ted Bundy
Stashiu is not able to share specific details of conversations he had with specific individuals, for reasons having to do principally with patient confidentiality, and in part with operational security. But he can give you, the reader, a good overview of what types of human beings are being detained at Guantánamo Bay.
I asked him that very question: what are the detainees like? Stashiu said:
For many of them, think Ted Bundy. Educated, charming, and without conscience for those they consider infidels. Some are truly ill and were taken advantage of because of it. For example, one routinely asked us for an explosive suicide vest so he could assassinate Osama Bin Laden or George Bush for us, whoever he could find first (he was completely serious).
But we’ve heard that many of the detainees at GTMO were innocent, I said. Does Stashiu believe that — and does he have a basis to know one way or the other?
I didn’t see any that I believe were totally innocent, although it wasn’t my call and it really didn’t matter to their care. We got how much I could know about their history changed because I contended that if I couldn’t validate their history as given to us, my staff couldn’t give adequate treatment. It would be too easy for detainees to lie about the presence or absence of a family history. If they told us the truth about some of the circumstances relating to their capture, we could have some confidence in other information they gave. And they almost always tried to tell that part of their story. The biggest rule we had to follow in guiding staff was to never share any specific intel so that intel and therapy were as separated as possible while still providing good care.
There were a few detainees there who weren’t actually fighting against the Coalition, but they were fighting their own government and would have been executed if we returned them there. Since we are not allowed to ship someone where we have reason to believe they would face torture or death, they are stuck at GTMO until we can find a country to accept them without killing them. But they were combatants of some sort.
The Manchester Document
But, as someone who is familiar with the backgrounds of many of the detainees, does Stashiu think the majority are really terrorists, or just folks who have been scooped up by accident? He said:
I believe that the majority of the guys there are true terrorists, and they follow the Manchester Document to the letter.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Manchester Document, it is an official Al Qaeda training manual that was discovered by British police in Manchester, England while searching the computer of a known Al Qaeda terrorist. You can read it here. An article posted on the Defense Department’s web site explains that, according to the manual:
If you’re a Muslim extremist captured while fighting your holy war against “infidels,” avoid revealing information at all costs, don’t give your real name and claim that you were mistreated or tortured during your detention.
As Stashiu explained it, the mission was: “deny, deny, deny.” A recent article in the New York Times Magazine says of the Manchester Document:
Officials at the detention facility at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, say they see clear evidence that detainees are well-versed in its contents.
Stashiu agrees with this wholeheartedly.
What Drives the Terrorists?
I asked Stashiu what motivated the terrorists incarcerated at Guantánamo to join Al Qaeda, or whatever terrorist group they were members of. He said that the reasons varied.
That’s why you can’t really profile within the Muslim countries. They come from all backgrounds, classes, and income levels. Some had servants, some were servants, some of everything.
There was, however, a common and obvious thread: they fought against the United States due to religious zeal and hatred of Americans.
Most detainees were quite up front about this hatred, and some were also very forthright about their actions and intentions — like the detainee who said:
I am part of Al Qaeda. I want to kill an American before I leave Cuba. I will do whatever it takes.
Stashiu met many of the men quoted in the New York Times Magazine article. One of them was quoted in the article as fully admitting at his military tribunal that he had fought against the United States. Stashiu told me he had heard the man say identical things, like:
I will make this easy for you, I fought against American troops.
The man also spoke of having built an explosive device to attack Americans.
Building a Rapport . . . Of Sorts
Of course, such admissions were not part of the protocol set forth in the Manchester Document, which calls for detainees to deny, deny, deny. (Recall that even Osama bin Laden initially denied any involvement in 9/11.)
So why would a detainee break protocol? Stashiu explained to me that when you talk to someone for hours and hours, you can sometimes build a rapport with them.
He cautioned that the psych personnel never interrogated the detainees:
They were questioned by military intelligence folks and we kept a strict separation from them to avoid any appearance that our knowledge of their medical and psychiatric background could be used to exploit weaknesses. There were psych personnel there to advise intel on avenues to explore, but they did not have access to medical or psychiatric histories. . . . We just avoided getting into things that interrogators were seeking. We were never to actively gather intelligence and could have gotten in trouble if we were trying to be James Bond or something.
But, he explained, it was nevertheless his job to get detainees to open up and share their thoughts, simply for their psychological health. Stashiu did that in many ways, one of which was to appear to disclose things about himself. If you appear to share things about yourself, he told me, the human inclination is to reciprocate. This is something he was taught when he learned about human psychology, and it works.
This is the way Stashiu was able to build a rapport even with people who threatened his life — like the terrorist referenced at the beginning of my first post, who told Stashiu that he planned to have Zarqawi cut off the heads of Stashiu’s family, while Stashiu watched — and then Zarqawi would cut off Stashiu’s head.
Of that detainee, Stashiu said: “And I was one of the people he liked.”
“There Are Some Truly Evil People There . . .”
Stashiu was reluctant to go into detail about the murderous nature of the detainees.
Never heard anyone come out and admit to me that they had killed anyone. I intentionally avoided these types of topics as they were not of therapeutic benefit… nowhere to go with them. Talking about them would only interfere as they may start to think that I was trying to gather intel.
Stashiu is unable to discuss the details of specific information that is not in the public domain. I could get him to say only this:
I mentioned the guy who admitted making bombs, would it suffice to say that he had a lot of comrades?
Although he couldn’t discuss specifics, he said:
[M]y opinion is that there are some truly evil people there. To be fair, some honestly believe that what they do is right.
Of course, that is true of many evil people.
Stashiu learned many interesting stories about the detainees during the course of these conversations. Some of these were occasionally amusing.
One guy was living proof of Murphy’s Law… no matter what he did, it ended up turning to shit on him and he is lucky just to still be alive.
Can the detainees be reasoned with? I asked. Or is their indoctrination so complete that there’s just no reaching them? Are there any of them who are reasonable enough that Stashiu would feel safe if we were to let them go free?
I don’t know that anyone is beyond reason, but I also don’t know more than a couple who I think might be ok to release. “Might” being the operative word there, I wouldn’t give the go-ahead on my own for any of them. There I are couple I could understand and would not go out of my way to protest their release. I can tell you that if I ever saw a detainee face-to-face here in the States, I would immediately assume that I was targeted and do my best to kill them without further warning. If I turned out to be wrong about their intent, I could live with that.
How do officials decide who to release?
[T]he ARB (Annual Review Board) looks at the big picture and is very thorough. The conditions for release include, but are not limited to: 1) No longer a danger to the U.S. or its interests; 2) Not being returned to an accepting jurisdiction that the detainee would face the likelihood of torture or death; 3) Has convinced Intel that he has no further information of value. There are other considerations, but I didn’t deal with that side of the house much.
I asked what gives the detainees nightmares. Stashiu said:
Taking this question literally, the same things that give us nightmares. Many have been in combat and seen enough to have consequences, PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and the like. Concerns about their family while they are detained and plain homesickness are also significant stresses.
What do they think will happen to them?
Broad range of answers here. Many of the hardcore jihadists hope to be released and to rejoin the fight. Some believe they will never leave Cuba, others that when they do leave, they will be killed as traitors because they cooperated with interrogations.
I’ll end this part of the interview with a question I consider critical. Does the enemy think they are going to win this war?
Stashiu gave me a detailed answer, but made it clear that it is his opinion — not a statement of the beliefs of the detainees with whom he has spoken. Still, since he has talked to the detainees for hours, it is probably worth paying attention to his opinion. Stashiu’s view is this:
In my opinion, most of them are sincere in their belief they will win for the following reasons:
a. They are told they are assured of victory by their religion. They are raised with the belief that Islam is destined to become the dominant way of life for this planet. No matter how long it takes, it is inevitable. Once Islam is supreme, there will be no war, crime, poverty, or need. These are frequent talking points every Friday in the mosques.
b. Their leaders consistently stress that jihad is working and our culture is a hollow shell. They point to VietNam, Somalia, 9/11, Madrid (both the bombings and the elections immediately following), and the anti-war propagandists here in the United States. . . . The jihadists are constantly told that America is weak-willed and will turn and run if they can be inflicted with enough damage and peace can be delayed long enough.
c. They believe they are more committed to victory at any cost because it is all in God’s name and is the Will of God. They point to our efforts at minimizing both our own casualties and those of civilians. You never see them worry about collateral damage and destroying infrastructure. They see our compassion as weakness and our integrity as blindness to reality.
Tomorrow: Stashiu discusses the hunger strike, the suicide attempts, the suicides at Guantánamo, and the mental health of the detainees.