Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, Gitmo Decorum
Once upon a time, our offshore prison at Guantanamo was the sort of place where even an American National Guardsman, only pretending to be a recalcitrant prisoner “extracted” from a cell for training purposes, could be beaten almost senseless. This actually happened to 35 year-old “model soldier” Sean Baker, who had been in Gulf War I and signed on again immediately after the World Trade Center went down. His unit was assigned to Guantanamo and he volunteered to be just such a “prisoner,” donning the requisite orange uniform on January 24, 2003. As a result of his “extraction” and brutal beating, he was left experiencing regular epileptic-style seizures ten to twelve times a day. (And remember the Immediate Reaction Force team of MPs that seized him, on finally realizing that he wasn’t a genuine prisoner, broke off their assault before finishing the job.)
If you happened to be an actual prisoner — putting aside the female interrogators who smeared red paint (meant to mimic menstrual blood) on Arab detainees as a form of humiliation — you might end up like this:
“The A/C had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.”
”I saw another detainee sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played, and a strobe light flashing.”
“On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more.”
These were, in fact, descriptions provided by outraged FBI agents assigned to Guantanamo in 2004 in memos or emails to their bosses back on the mainland. They confirmed prisoner claims that “military personnel beat and kicked them while they had hoods on their heads and tight shackles on their legs, left them in freezing temperatures and stifling heat, subjected them to repeated, prolonged rectal exams and paraded them naked around the prison as military police snapped pictures,” and so on.
Ah, but those were the good old days when Guantanamo was the real “24” — the only problem being that there wasn’t a “ticking bomb” prisoner in sight, just a former Australian professional kangaroo skinner, who had joined the Taliban before September 11, 2001 and never fired a shot at American forces, as well as a man who was supposedly Osama bin Laden’s chauffeur. That was kind of top o’ the line for the prisoners Guantanamo held until, last September, the real bad guys — 14 of them – were transferred there from the CIA’s secret prisons and torture chambers elsewhere on the planet.
Now, Karen Greenberg, Tomdispatch regular and co-editor of The Torture Papers, has visited the new Guantanamo and she offers us an up-to-date lesson in Gitmo decorum. Tom
Guantanamo Is Not a Prison
11 Ways to Report on Gitmo without Upsetting the Pentagon
By Karen J. Greenberg
Several weeks ago, I took the infamous media tour of the facilities at Guantanamo. From the moment I arrived on a dilapidated Air Sunshine plane to the time I boarded it heading home, I had no doubt that I was on a foreign planet or, at the very least, visiting an impeccably constructed movie set. Along with two European colleagues, I was treated to two-days-plus of a military-tour schedule packed with site visits and interviews (none with actual prisoners) designed to “make transparent” the base, its facilities, and its manifold contributions to our country’s national security.
The multi-storied, maximum security complexes, rimmed in concertina wire, set off from the road by high wire-mesh fences, and the armed tower guards at Camp Delta, present a daunting sight. Even the less restrictive quarters for “compliant” inmates belied any notion that Guantanamo is merely a holding facility for those awaiting charges or possessing useful information.
In the course of my brief stay, thanks to my military handlers, I learned a great deal about Gitmo decorum, as the military would like us to practice it. My escorts told me how best to describe the goings-on at Guantanamo, regardless of what my own eyes and prior knowledge told me.
Here, in a nutshell, is what I picked up. Consider this a guide of sorts to what the officially sanctioned report on Guantanamo would look like, wrapped in the proper decorum and befitting the jewel-in-the-crown of American offshore prisons… or, to be Pentagon-accurate, “detention facilities.”
1. Guantanamo is not a prison. According to the military handlers who accompanied us everywhere, Guantanamo is officially a “detention facility.” Although the two most recently built complexes, Camps Five and Six, were actually modeled on maximum and medium security prisons in Indiana and Michigan respectively, and although the use of feeding tubes and the handling of prisoners now take into account the guidelines of the American Corrections Association (and increasingly those of the Bureau of Prisons as well), it is not acceptable to use the word “prison” while at Gitmo.
2. Consistent with not being a prison, Guantanamo has no prisoners, only enemies, specifically, “unlawful enemy combatants.” One of my colleagues was even chastised for using the word “detainee.” “Detained enemy combatants” or “unlawful enemy combatants,” we learned, were the proper terms.
Read the rest here.