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Mickum: CSHRA Statement

On April 4, 2007, I was asked to appear on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to discuss my experiences representing prisoners at Guantanamo. Among other things, I discussed the fact that two of my clients, Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, had been victims of the Central Intelligence Agency’s “Extraordinary Rendition” program. They were kidnapped in Africa while there on a legitimate business trip and flown aboard a CIA Gulfstream jet bearing tail numbers N379P. That flight refueled in Cairo, Egypt, and proceeded on to Kabul, Afghanistan. There, my clients were taken to the notorious “Dark Prison,” one of the early CIA dark sites.

I related my client’s experiences at the Dark Prison and Bagram Air Force Base, where both were tortured extensively. Subsequently, both were transferred to Guantanamo. At Guantanamo each was tortured, by being subjected to beatings, extreme temperatures, and sleep deprivation, among other things. While on the air, I produced some of the documents released by the FBI pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. In particular, I read a graphic memorandum authored by an FBI field agent who was at Guantanamo that described how US interrogators were torturing prisoners.

Following my appearance, I received a number of e-mails, some complementary, some not. Later that afternoon, I received a call from a former soldier in North Carolina, who would not identify himself. He told me that he had watched the C-SPAN interview and informed me that he had been among the original group of soldiers assigned to the prison in Guantanamo. He described how guards routinely brutalized prisoners, beginning with their arrival at the camp. This was done at the express direction of the first commander at the prison, Marine Brigadier General Michael Lehnert and his successor Brigadier General Rick Baccus. The soldier informed me that General Lehnert insisted on being present when prisoners were delivered to the prison.

Prisoners arrived at the prison aboard a bus. Soldiers immediately boarded the bus, shouting at the prisoners to turn their heads toward the window. Of course, all prisoners were blindfolded, masked, and had their ears covered to disorient them. Complicating the issue, most of the prisoners did not understand English. Those unfortunate prisoners who failed to turn their heads toward the window were struck in the face with rifle butts. The soldier described these beatings matter-of-factly, but I sensed he was troubled. In addition to the injuries that prisoners sustained at the hands of the guards at Guantanamo, the soldier told me that numerous prisoners arrived at the camp bearing the evidence of serious beatings. Once at the camp, all prisoners were photographed. My client Bisher al Rawi arrived at the prison having been severely beaten. At some point, Bisher’s photograph was shown to another prisoner during an interrogation. That prisoner later met Bisher in the prison and commented on how badly beaten he had appeared in his photograph.

But perhaps the most important thing the soldier told me was the fact that prisoners at Guantanamo were routinely waterboarded. The term “waterboarding” appears with some frequency in the press as one of the techniques approved by the Bush Administration for use in interrogations. Waterboarding is one of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved by the Bush Administration for use in the war on terror. It is a form of torture used by the Spanish Inquisition and the Khmer Rouge, to name a couple. When Vice President Cheney gave his imprimatur to using waterboarding, Human Rights Watch pointed out that prior to the Bush Administration, the US government had always considered waterboarding to be torture and a war crime: “As early as 1901, a US court martial sentenced Major Edwin Glenn to 10 years of hard labour for subjecting a suspected insurgent in the Philippines to the ‘water cure.’ After World War II, US military commissions successfully prosecuted as war criminals several Japanese soldiers who subjected American prisoners to waterboarding. A US army officer was court-martialled in February 1968 for helping to waterboard a prisoner in Vietnam.” Indeed, the US Army's use of torture in the Vietnam War was a factor that galvanized the American public against the war.

Although the Bush Administration does not believe waterboarding constitutes torture, it is an old and widely recognized form of torture. A victim is completely immobilized and strapped upside down to a board. Water is then forced directly into a victim’s lungs via tubes that are inserted into the victim’s nose until he begins to pass out from asphyxiation. The prisoner is then quickly revived. He vomits up the water in his lungs and the process is endlessly repeated. In other cases a towel is placed over the face of a victim and water is continuously poured over the towel with the exact same result.

When I asked the soldier whether prisoners were waterboarded, he told me he didn’t know what I was talking about. After I described the procedure, he confirmed that waterboarding was used routinely, but the soldiers referred to it by another name: “drown-proofing.” Former interrogators at Guantanamo also have confirmed that waterboarding was used at the prison. I have frequently stated that if I were given the choice of being waterboarded or electrocuted, I would reluctantly have to choose electrocution.

Brent Mickum
September 24, 2007

CSHRA Note

In a interview with the Savannah Morning News published on January 23, 2008, Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, commander of the Joint Task Force, Guantánamo stated that "[w]aterboarding, to the best of my knowledge, is not in accordance with the guidance of the Army field manual concerning interrogation - which is what I have to go by. So it would never be allowed and has never been allowed at Guantanamo and has never been done at Guantanamo. I have never had it done to me personally. The description of it sounds pretty gruesome, and it would not be something I would want to endure."


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