Testimony of a Civilian Contractor
On February 15, 2009, a civilian contractor who worked at Guantánamo approached CSHRA willing to describe his experiences in the construction of Camp X-Ray. Here is the interview he gave us. The contractor wishes to remain anonymous.
Can you tell us how you began working for the military and how you ended up in Guantánamo?
I am a civilian, and have worked in a civilian capacity on government contracts since October 1990. I began working as a planner/estimator at a sub-post to West Point in New York and in the Johnston Atoll--a coral atoll about 800 miles southwest of Hawaii. Then, in December of 1999, I transferred to a U.S. Naval Base in Singapore, where I oversaw about ten departments as a second level manager for the Base Operations Support (BOS) contract. In June 2000 I was transferred from Singapore to Guantanamo Bay to work as a Construction Superintendent and subsequently worked in their Engineering Department as well.
So you were in Guantánamo before September 11, 2001! How did your job change after that date?
When 9/11 happened, security on the base began to tighten up, with increased random security checkpoints throughout the base. One day in December 2001, while working on a renovation project on the leeward side, I received a phone call from our Department Manager, who instructed me to close my project down and come to the main office on the windward side. During the meeting I was informed that we will be starting a project to renovate and build up the area which came to be known as Camp X-Ray. I was asked to conduct a tour of the site and brief my assessment of what will be required to staff up to meet the established deadline of January 31, 2002 or thereabouts. From that point on it was the total focus for our company to have the camp built up to receive the first detainee arrivals.
You certainly weren't given much time to build Camp X-Ray! What did you have to build on? Guantanamo used to house Haitian refugees. Could you build on these facilities?
For the most part there were about forty or so cells that were already in place at the camp. The real estate was plentiful for the area of GTMO the camp was built up on. We had increased the capacity from the original 40 cells (more or less) to about 320 or so. The existing cells did however require extensive renovation and repairs before they were to be considered to house the detainees. Eventually those cells just "blended" into the rest of the camp once we completed all of the pods.
Anything memorable about building Camp X-Ray?
What was interesting about the project was when we first started, we had next to zero new materials available. So the various departments of the company I worked for were tasked with collecting and gathering whatever we could find throughout the island. We even had crews going around the base removing old chainlink fencing and fence posts that were no longer being used for anything--this, so we could start building the frames for the cells, and using old chainlink fencing material.
How does Camp X-Ray compare to other detention facilities you know or have built?
I participated in the construction of a state-of-the-art detention facility. It was intended for individuals deemed to be a threat for society. This would be the last place they lived until their demise. Camp X-Ray, on the other hand, was only intended to temporarily house the detainees for processing. Just until the main detention facilities were constructed and ready to receive them more permanently--like Camp Delta. Indeed, last time I visited GTMO, 2007, Camp X-Ray was a ghost town overgrown with brush.
Anything else you can tell us about Camp X-Ray?
The showers we built there were the same as their cells; galvanized pipe frames with chainlink fencing at the sides and tops. These were also constructed outside. They were about 36" x 36" x 6' or 7' high. The shower heads were just outside of the shower stall so they couldn't access anything that could have been used as a weapon. The valves for the showers were also on the outside of the stalls to eliminate access. There was no hot water, but the temperature wasn't all that cold for that time of year, cool yes, but not cold. There was no cover around the shower stalls, so when the men took their showers, they were in full view of anyone present to include the female guards.
Did you witness the arrival of the first batches of detainees?
Yes. They came in two separate buses, eight per bus. All in all, I recall about 35 detainees being brought to the camp prior to us completing our portion of the project over the next two or three weeks.
Did you witness any forms of abuse while you were there?
During that time I really hadn't witnessed anything out in the open, but we would watch as detainees were led down the gravel walkways to the wood structures that we believed were used as interrogation rooms. The only physical abuse I witnessed was when the first detainee arrivals were literally carried off the buses by two guards, one on each side of the detainee, and taken to the holding pen where they were forced to kneel down on gravel surface with their foreheads forced to the gravel as if they were in a praying position.
Their hands and ankles were shackled and they were wearing the blackout goggles. One by one they were led through the showers, into the medical tent for an examination, and then into the individual pods where they were placed into their "cells". As we were building the cells, I thought to myself "these are nothing but dog kennels where these men are being housed in." The detainees were afforded a mat for sleeping, a bucket for whatever, and some miscellaneous articles. They were to stay in the center of their cells and would be yelled at for going near the chainlink fence. The guards would come up to their cells and yell at them: "move away from the fence and get to the center!".
Did you hear of any forms of abuse?
As for treatment of detainees outside of what I had witnessed firsthand, the night shift Construction Superintendent would tell me during the shift change, from night to day, that there were times in the evening when one of the detainees would start to get loud or unruly. The response team would go into their cell, force the detainee on the ground face down and "hog tie" him as punishment. Or haul them away to who knows where within the camp.
But I would venture to say that the guards were more or less instructed to treat the detainees humanely during civilian contractors presence.
Sounds like the response teams were more active in the evenings than in the day. Is that right?
One might say that. Prior to the arrival of the first detainees, I remember one day hearing a sound similar to that of African drums in the distance. When we looked to see where the sound was coming from, we observed the military team, known as the Quick Response Force (QRF), I believe--or something to that effect--rehearsing how they were to perform in the event of a disturbance in the camp. This practice was repeated on several more occasions prior to us finishing the construction of the camp.
They were dressed out in full riot gear, complete with shields, batons, knee pads, and so forth, shoulder to shoulder, marching a slow march while striking their batons across their shields for sound effect. We were told that this was meant to intimidate and deliver a psychological impact on all of the detainees that the guards would use force to squash any disturbances.
Anything else you remember?
One of the things that still stays with me is when the rest of the world could only watch on TV what the media was able to put out, the few of us who were on the inside of the camp would watch all of the TV news crews way outside the camp with their hi-powered cameras and what have you, trying to capture whatever images they could from the distance. I remember telling my crew of Filipino workers that they were actually witnessing and living history in the making by their being there. It really made them proud to be able tell their families that they were the very first Filipinos to witness the history as it unfolded before their very eyes.
But let it be remembered, for those who have never witnessed this sort of event, it will stay with me forever. I have kept these memories and thoughts with me since the time we first built the camp. I just wanted to unload my thoughts in writing for anyone who would care to read them.