Patterico’s Exclusive Interview with a Man Who Has Spoken to the Terrorists at Guantánamo (Part Four: The Treatment of the Detainees)
[This is Part Four 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 can be accessed here. Part Two is available here. Part Three is here.
As before, these posts represent Stashiu's opinions and experiences, and are not meant to represent anything or anyone else, including the opinions of the U.S. Army. Stashiu wants me to make it clear that nearly everything discussed here has been officially released. As to those parts that are based on his personal experience, he has been careful to respect operational security and confidentiality.
In today's entry, Stashiu talks about the United States' treatment of the detainees at Guantánamo -- and the detainees' treatment of U.S. personnel. If you read to the end, you might also learn who has been abusing Korans at Gitmo.]
I asked Stashiu how he felt detainees at Gitmo were treated. He said:
As humanely as possible. Many times with more respect than was deserved based on their behavior. Taking things personally or retaliating against something a detainee did was not only against the rules, it was frowned upon.
Stashiu added that in that setting, there was strong peer pressure not to be the guy who made everyone else look like monsters, so most people took special care to behave in a professional manner.
I asked if he was aware of any abuses.
There were occasions when a guard lost his cool and overstepped… every one I heard about resulted in a courts-martial or other punishment, but there weren’t that many overall (maybe 4 or 5).
Detainee Attacks on Guards
Indeed, it sounded like a great deal of the violence and brutality came from the detainees, not the guards:
Consider that flinging “cocktails” of urine, feces, saliva, sperm, vomitus, and combinations thereof was threatened daily by detainees and performed several times each week. Also, verbal abuse from detainees was very common. . . . This was in addition to physical assaults on guards with everything from shanks, kicks, elbows, and a variety of rather clever makeshift weapons.
(All emphasis in this post is mine.)
Despite these attacks, Stashiu said, guards behaved professionally:
I was always impressed with the professionalism and restraint shown by a very (chronologically) young guard force.
The attacks on military personnel could be brutal, he explained:
We were told about one female medic who had to have major reconstructive surgery on her face following a detainee assault. She was too close to the beanhole (door opening) and the detainee was able to reach out, grab her head, and pull her face-first into the steel frame of the door, shattering most of the facial bone structure.
As medical personnel we would occasionally forget that these were detainees and treat them as we would regular patients. The guard force was usually very alert and prevented us from inadvertently risking ourselves, but this happened too quickly for anyone to prevent. Of course, we were all very careful about proximity for a long time after that.
To answer what I feel is the intent of your question, the primary goal of every leader, subordinate, and camp policy was to treat detainees as humanely as possible, while protecting everyone’s safety. Intel and all that was secondary.
My standard answer to family and friends is, “I did my job in a way that would make you proud and protected our country and way of life.” I don’t burden them with any details beyond that.
I pressed for more detail on incidents of excessive force against, or mistreatment of, the detainees. How many such incidents occurred while Stashiu was there? Were the detainees injured badly? Were the offenders court-martialed? What happened to them?
There were maybe 4 or 5 incidents that I heard of. At least one resulted in a courts-martial. The rest were punished because no matter how provoked you were, that was the job. I am not aware of anyone who messed with a detainee without being struck first, but being struck was not a license to retaliate. We were only allowed enough of a response to defend ourselves and disengage or contain the detainee. Any gratuitous response was worth at least a field-grade level non-judicial punishment (fairly harsh and pretty damaging to a career, but not necessarily a career-killer).
Did Stashiu do physical exams in any way as part of his examinations? Did he ever see signs of physical abuse?
We did physical assessments at admission (short of what most would consider a physical exam, but relatively thorough and included vital signs, visual inspection, and questions about history and what brought them in to us.) I saw one injured detainee from a forced cell extraction who had vigorously resisted because he was paranoid and delusional (definitely not faking). He later explained to me how the minor injury happened and told me he didn’t blame the guards. He did remember the incident, but was not in complete control of his behavior at the time. Nothing broken or sutured and quickly treated. No indications of abuse ever came to my attention or I would have reported it.
I asked if any detainees had just disappeared while Stashiu was stationed at Guantánamo? To his knowledge, did any die under suspicious circumstances?
None disappeared or were otherwise unaccounted for to the best of my knowledge. Nobody died under any circumstances, suspicious or otherwise, while I was there.
A Terrorist’s Complaints
One of the men who has notoriously attempted suicide many times — and who has registered numerous complaints about mistreatment — is Juma Al Dossary, who reportedly has 13 suicide attempts and is still being held at Guantánamo.
I looked up Juma Al Dossary’s Wikipedia entry, linked immediately above, and learned that Al Dossary had written a letter protesting his innocence and claiming that he had suffered the following indignities:
- cigarettes being extinguished on his body
- being made to walk on barbed wire
- being urinated on by GI’s
I knew that I couldn’t ask Stashiu about his specific conversations with specific inmates, but I did ask him whether he had ever heard any inmates claiming to have suffered any of the above-listed indignities while Stashiu was stationed at Guantánamo. He replied that he had not heard of any happening while he was there, from detainees or anyone else.
Inmates did sometimes complain of past indignities that occurred when the Army ran Guantánamo:
They really talk bad about the Army guys who opened the camp. Most say it got better after they left and the Navy took over most things. Others claim they continue to be tortured and treated as less than human because they weren’t given a second cup of coffee with breakfast.
Whenever any inmate complained of any mistreatment to Stashiu, even when it was in the past, Stashiu always checked to see whether it had been reported before. In every case but one, it had been. The one time he encountered a new complaint of mistreatment, it was reported and later ruled to be unfounded.
Medical Treatment Better Than Our Own Soldiers Receive
I asked Stashiu to tell me about the medical treatment the U.S. provides to the detainees. He said:
The medical care available and given exceeds what the active-duty get. Dental care is same-day or next-day (deployed personnel can’t get dental except for emergencies). The smallest complaint is assessed immediately, frequently with a transport to the detainee clinic or hospital (they have both immediately available) for a thorough evaluation and comprehensive treatment if needed.
Anyone needing care beyond the camp’s ability (which was extensive) would immediately be transported by ambulance to the Naval Hospital. I did not witness a single ambulance run for anyone besides a detainee.
Religious and Cultural Desires Respected
I asked Stashiu about the United States’ accommodation of the detainees’ religious and cultural desires:
Their religious and cultural desires are met if at all possible. (We did refuse to loan a detainee a helicopter because he wanted to complete Hadj, his spiritual walk to Mecca, even though he promised to return… but short of that, I believe most accom[m]odations were made). Korans in the language of their choice, reading materials, three meals each day (about 4200 available calories when you include snacks) that took into account cultural norms, food preferences, and medical requirements, all of which has been repeatedly reported in the media. GTMO was the first time I ever heard someone claim that they could only eat hamburger buns and not regular bread.
I asked Stashiu to respond to a recent L.A. Times article about Guantánamo, available here, which claims that some recent disturbances are attributable to guards’ insensitivity to the detainees’ religious beliefs. The article also suggested that the lack of Muslim chaplains is a problem. He said:
[P]eople go above and beyond to try and avoid even the perception of disrespecting the Muslim faith. Unfortunately, no matter what you do, some accusations are going to be made. My personal opinion is that it is usually an attempt to manipulate the guards or follow the Manchester Document, not out of any real belief that anyone did anything wrong. How many accusations are sincere? Very few (again, IMO).
As far as having Muslim chaplains goes, I don’t believe it would help much in the long run, or even the short. I believe it’s just another attempt to use up resources and manpower that wouldn’t dissuade any of the detainees from disrupting everything they possibly could. But that is just my opinion. You remember we spoke in very general terms about when Camp X-ray was started and how disruptive things were? I’m almost certain there was a Muslim chaplain there at that time.
Yes, Virginia . . . Detainees Really Do Abuse the Holy Koran
I asked Stashiu if he had ever flushed a Koran. I meant it in jest, but he answered seriously — and provided one of the more interesting tidbits of all our conversations:
The only Korans I saw, or even heard about, being placed in toilets, torn, or thrown onto the tier were done by detainees. The guards and medical staff never even touched the Koran if at all possible. We always called for an interpreter (a Muslim one, not all were) or the camp librarian to handle any Koran. The only times I witnessed a guard touch a Koran was during a search for contraband where there was probable cause that some would be found. Those were witnessed by an interpreter or the Cultural Advisor. Even when a detainee threw their Koran onto the tier, it stayed until we could get an appropriate person to collect it. We were always cautioned to be exceptionally careful about Korans because of the previous (and subsequently disproved) accusations.
Whoa. The part I have bolded above caught me by surprise. Stashiu saw detainees mistreating the Koran? I followed up with a question about that, and he replied:
Saw Korans thrown on the tier or torn, but these were by individuals without complete control of their behavior, such as a psychotic episode. Heard about two Korans in toilets by the same type of detainee prior to being admitted for psychiatric restabilization. We were very careful about Korans because of the previous media reports, even though they had been discredited.
I trust Stashiu and see him as a very honorable and trustworthy guy. When he says he saw an inmate mistreating a Koran — regardless of whether that inmate was mentally ill — that gives me confidence that similar stories I had read in the media are true. It’s not propaganda being pushed by the government, folks. Detainees at Guantánamo do indeed abuse the Koran at times.
I asked Stashiu what the biggest inaccuracies are in the press coverage (and public discussion in the U.S.) of what goes on at Gitmo. He said:
I believe the biggest one is obviously the alleged torture and abuse. If anything, we were hypersensitive to even giving the appearance of abuse and this was taken advantage of time and time again.
I asked Stashiu if there were any changes that he would make regarding prisoner treatment. He said:
Echelons above reality to my pay grade, but I would actually like to see things become stricter across the board. Set a fair policy and don’t make exceptions for anyone. I think the population would test limits at first, but once things became routine, there would be far fewer problems in the future.
What Surprised Stashiu About GTMO?
I think it’s appropriate to end with this. I asked Stashiu: what was the most surprising thing about your life at GTMO? He replied that, while you might think it would be something about the detainees, to him the most surprising thing was actually the behavior of the Navy Master-at-Arms — the guard force for Guantánamo. Stashiu said that these guards are generally 18 to 20 years old, and are consistently showered with human waste products thrown at them by detainees — yet as a general rule, they stay remarkably professional and do not allow themselves to be antagonized. Stashiu found their behavior the most impressive part of his stay at Guantánamo.
Tomorrow: Stashiu responds to press descriptions of GTMO, and answers your questions. Also: he describes interrogation techniques so coercive and cruel, detainees request them by name!