To Run Guantanamo, No Experience Necessary

To Run Guantanamo, No Experience NecessaryTo Run Guantanamo, No Experience Necessary

No one in charge of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility has had a background in detention. Why? Joseph Hickman, a former noncommissioned officer who served at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility wrote for Al-Jazeera.

Thirteen years ago, the United States started taking detainees who were captured in the global “war on terrorism” to its detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nine months after the first detainees arrived at Guantanamo, the Department of Defense created the Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). Its stated mission is to maintain safe, humane, legal and transparent detention operations.

In the intervening years, detainees and human rights watchdog groups have filed hundreds of complaints and allegations of mistreatment and abuse against JTF-GTMO. Since its inception, 11 commanders have led JTF-GTMO. They are responsible for creating, approving and ensuring the enforcement of all operational procedures for the guard force and for the proper care and well-being of the detainees. Interestingly, not a single one of those commanders had any experience or training in detention operations before arriving at Guantanamo.

  No Room for Experts

Nine months before the creation of JTF-GTMO, detainees were arriving at Guantanamo by the hundreds. At that time, there were two separate commands at the facility overseeing detention operations. Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus led the task force responsible for the care and well-being of the detainees, and Major Gen. Michael Dunleavey commanded the task force responsible for interrogations and gathering intelligence.

Almost immediately, the two generals collided on the issue of how the detainees should be treated. Baccus was an experienced military police commander who believed in firm yet humane tactics. While he expected the detainees to obey his guard forces, he also wanted to ensure that the detainees were allowed certain religious freedoms. He wanted them to be fed according to their religious diets, and to allow them to pray at the proper times of day. He also wanted the detainees to know their rights as enemy combatants. Dunleavey disagreed and complained up the chain of command that Baccus was too soft on the detainees and his procedures were interfering with interrogations.

In October 2002, just seven months after Baccus took command of JTF-160, he was relieved of his duties. It appears Dunleavey knew that in order for the government’s harsh new interrogation methods to be effective, another well-trained military officer schooled in proper detention operations could not be put in charge at Guantanamo. Almost immediately after Baccus was relieved of his duties, the two commands were dissolved, and JTF-GTMO was created in their place. Its first commander was Maj. From November 2002 until now, countless US intelligence agencies have sent interrogators to Guantanamo. Those interrogators often send requests to the JTF-GTMO commander on how they would like the detainee they plan to interrogate to be treated, what camp he should be housed in and how the guard force should handle him.

As long as the United States keeps putting commanders with no training or experience in detention operations in charge of JTF-GTMO, we can be sure the complaints about detainee abuse will continue.


  A Guantanamo Diary

The first book published by a longtime Guantanamo Bay inmate that describes torture, humiliation and despair during 13 years in captivity is drawing hard-won attention to his case. Mohamedou Ould Slahi – or prisoner 760 – wrote an account from the US naval base in Cuba, “Guantanamo Diary” which was published in January after a seven-year legal battle.

The 44-year-old’s book is the only account written by a detainee still held in the controversial American military prison in Cuba. He describes being subjected to brutal treatment that included being kept in a “frozen room” for hours on end, forced to drink salt water, and being repeatedly beaten.

“I started to hallucinate and hear voices as clear as crystal. I heard my family in a casual familial conversation. I heard music from my country. Later on the guards used these hallucinations and started talking with funny voices through the plumbing, encouraging me to hurt the guard and plot an escape. I was on the edge of losing my mind.”

Slahi’s 466-page handwritten manuscript was initially classified by the US government and heavily redacted before publication. As Slahi concludes, “Crisis always brings out the best and worst in people – and in countries, too … So has the American democracy passed the test it was subjected to with the 2001 terrorist attacks?”