Videotapes of riot squads subduing troublesome terror suspects at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, show the guards punching some detainees, tying one to a gurney for questioning and forcing a dozen to strip from the waist down, according to a secret report. One squad was all-female, traumatizing some Muslim prisoners.
Investigators from U.S. Southern Command in Miami, which oversees the camp in Cuba, wrote the report that was obtained by The Associated Press after spending a little over a week in June reviewing 20 of some 500 hours of videotapes involving “Immediate Reaction Forces.”
The camp’s layout prevented videotaping in all the cells where the five-person teams — also known as “Immediate Response Forces” — operated, the report said.
Although the report cited several cases of physical force, reviewers said they found no evidence of systemic detainee abuse, according to the six-page summary dated June 19, 2004. An official familiar with the report authenticated it, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity. AP also reviewed an unclassified log of the videotape footage.
Possible mistreatment, misconduct
The tapes raised questions about mistreatment and misconduct, however, said the investigators, who suggested some clips needed more scrutiny to rule out abuse. The military has cited 10 substantiated cases of abuse at Guantanamo, and announced Tuesday an extension would be granted for an investigation to interview witnesses in the United States and abroad.
One such clip the investigators flagged was from Feb. 17, 2004. It showed “one or more” team members punching a detainee “on an area of his body that seemingly would be inconsistent with striking a pressure point,” which is a sanctioned tactic for subduing prisoners.
In five other clips showing detainees who appeared to have been punched by team members, the investigators said: “The punching was in line with accepted law enforcement practice of striking the pressure point on the back of the thigh to temporarily distract the detainee.”
In other “questionable” cases, reviewers said a video showed a guard kneeing a detainee in the head, while another showed a team securing a detainee to a gurney for an interrogation.
A separate clip captured a platoon leader taunting a detainee with pepper spray and repeatedly spraying him before letting the reaction team enter the cell, reviewers wrote.
Investigators also noted about a dozen cases where detainees were stripped from the waist down and taken to the “Romeo block” of the camp. No female guards were involved, they said.
Romeo block is a camp section where prisoners were often left naked for days, according to two former detainees, Britons Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, who were released last year.
Caution on using all-female teams
Although no female guards were videotaped in any of the stripping cases, investigators cautioned the U.S. government about using the all-female team to handle disruptive detainees, citing religious and cultural issues. Many of the prisoners are Muslim men and under strict interpretations of Islam view contact with other women other than their wives as taboo.
“Several detainees express displeasure about female MPs either escorting them, or touching them as members of an IRF team,” the report says. “Because some have questioned our sensitivity to the detainees’ religion and culture, we believe that talking points are appropriate to address incorporation of female soldiers into the guard force.”
In one video clip of the reaction teams, the memo says, “A detainee appears to be genuinely traumatized by a female escort securing the detainee’s leg irons. In another video, inexplicably an all-female IRF team forcibly extracts a detainee from his cell.”
While stating that female troops have a right to serve as equals alongside their male counterparts, investigators warned the all-female team could create the perception that the gender of the squad was taken into consideration for the Muslim population.
“By forming an all-female IRF team for use with one detainee we potentially undercut our position that we do not distinguish between male and female soldiers. Clearly, the soldiers’ gender did play a role in forming the all-female IRF team,” the memo says.
The memo suggests that military “personnel showing the IRF videos outside of (Defense Department) channels should be prepared with talking points to refute or diminish the charge that we use women (against) the detainees’ culture or religion.”
No comment on composition of squads
The U.S. military wouldn’t comment on whether there’s a specific strategy involved in using an all-female response force but said female guards — who serve on mixed reaction teams as well — comprise about 20 percent of the guard force.
“As a matter of policy, we do not discuss specific Immediate Response Force composition or methods, but they are consistent with those used in the corrections profession and are always carried out with the security and safety of detainees and troopers in mind,” said Lt. Col. James Marshall, a spokesman at U.S. Southern Command.
Prisoners released from Guantanamo have accused the extraction teams of abuse and one former U.S. National Guardsman received brain damage after posing undercover as a rowdy detainee and being beaten by teammates.
“The obvious problem with our armed forces is their inability to comply with international law,” said Arsalan T. Iftikhar, national legal director for the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Many of us thought that the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq was going to shake us into awakening but it seems like the things we keep learning about Guantanamo indicate there was, in fact, systematic abuse.”
‘The military has been cavalier’
Joe Navarro, a former FBI interrogator who has taught questioning methods and is familiar with Guantanamo, said treating prisoners poorly makes them more stubborn and unwilling to talk.
“The military has been cavalier in their attitudes toward these individuals to the point that it has been detrimental to the overall mission,” Navarro told AP.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for all photographs and videotapes depicting the treatment of the detainees.
Although a court ordered the government to comply with the ACLU request and turn over documents — thousands of which the ACLU has received — the government has refused to provide videos, citing privacy concerns, said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU attorney.
Although the extraction team actions are videotaped, interrogations with detainees aren’t.
The use of female guards and interrogators has created controversy.
A former Army linguist who served at Guantanamo as an Arabic translator from December 2002 to June 2003 wrote in a draft manuscript that female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man’s face with fake menstrual blood. The draft written by former Army Sgt. Erik R. Saar was obtained by AP, which reported on its contents last week.
About 545 prisoners from some 40 countries are being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, most accused of links to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime or al-Qaida terror network.
Associated Press Writer Paisley Dodds is based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and has been covering the U.S. detention mission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since it began in 2002.