Testimony of Mr. Alfred A. Souza
Mr. Alfred A. Souza joined the U.S. Navy in 1999. Corpsman Souza served as a Biomedical Equipment Repair Technician in the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base from July to December 2004. On April 27, 2010 Mr. Souza approached the Guantanamo Testimonials Project with testimony about his experiences in the Cuban base. He was interviewed via email from that date to May 11, 2010. The stateside incident about the metal tool that had collected water was added on August 18, 2011.
There were men in very small cells
that were hunkered down in various ways.
People in misery. Many of the men seemed in agony, hiding their heads. It
felt like they were on the edge of animal. Like unhappy zoo animals. Kind of
slow moving. Perhaps they were on medication for depression.
Mr. Alfred A. Souza
Why don't you begin by telling us a bit about yourself? I graduated high school in California in 1990. I attended Whittier College for one semester, and worked in a couple of radio stations also in California until 1999. By then, I had blown through most of my twenties and was wondering what I was going to do with the tons of money in school loans I owed. I felt that I was too soft and had never accomplished anything of importance. A friend suggested I try joining the Air Force. I was denied because of my age (27), but then we went to the Navy recruiter, which was eager to sign me up. My philosophy is that I am pro-life, anti-death-penalty, and I knew I could never kill anyone without my own life being in danger, so I insisted on the career field of Hospital Corpsman.
How was your basic training like? I spent five weeks in basic training at Great Lakes, Illinois, and then four months of basic hospital corps training (also in Great Lakes). I remember the day of my graduation and the caduceus on my arm. A Navy Chief (anybody with the rank of E-7 is called a “Chief” in the Navy) walked by and said "Good morning, Doc!" I could have flown with those wings. During our graduation ceremony we took an oath to never do harm to any patient.
HOSPITAL CORPSMAN'S PLEDGE. I solemnly place myself before God and these witnesses to faithfully perform all of my duties as a member of the Hospital Corps. I hold the care of the sick and injured to be a privilege and a sacred trust, and will assist the Medical Department Officer with loyalty and honesty. I will not knowingly permit harm to come to any patient. I will not partake of or administer any unauthorized medication. I will hold all personal matters pertaining to the private life of patients in strictest confidence. I dedicate my heart, mind and strength to the work before me. I shall do all within my power to show in myself an example of all that is honorable and good throughout my Naval career.
I take oaths and pledges very seriously, I feel it on an emotional level. My word is my bond. (It sounds dramatic and maybe hokey but it's truth).
Where were you on September 11, 2001? Upon completion of my “A” school in April 2000 I was sent to Yokosuka, Japan to serve at the Naval Hospital. My job assignment there was administrative, and anything I learned of medicine was slowly drained away. One night—or rather one early morning—someone came down the barracks hallways knocking on the doors telling everyone to get up. I thought it was some kind of fire drill. I went out, stood outside, and asked "What's going on?" One kid was talking so fast he just said, "They hit us man! They hit us! They attacked New York and the Pentagon!" Since I grew up in the 80's, I knew what this meant. It was nuclear war with the Russians! My heart was pounding! Then they explained that it was a couple of planes flown into the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon. I hope people can forgive me that my first reaction was one of relief. We were all put on high alert and stood watches for weeks on end.
Anything else before being assigned to Guantanamo? While in Yokosuka, I learned about a specialization school of Equipment Repair. I applied and was selected to go. In January of 2003 I went to “Biomed Repair School”. The school is “Tri-Service” (Army, Navy, and Air Force) and is 12 months long. It is located at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. While there, the Second Iraq war began. I was very surprised. I had followed things on the news and it didn't feel like the right steps were being taken. I felt like we were getting pushed into this. When it started, I turned to my friend and said "He (George W. Bush) must know something we don't know. I'm going to have to just trust he's doing all this on something he can't say right now."
How were you assigned to Guantanamo? I passed my school and graduated in November of 2003. For my first duty station as a BMET (Bio-Medical Equipment Technician) I was sent to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. I was soon stuck working on contract repair compliance. This involved lots of paperwork. It was a job that, like the one in Yokosuka, was nothing that I trained for. I didn't want to again lose the knowledge I had worked so hard to gain behind a desk calling contractors and filing paperwork. So when one of our techs was about to return from GTMO there was an open discussion in the shop about who to send (I am not sure why our shop had to send personnel twice to GTMO, but it did). I of course jumped at the chance. It is an environment where you are the only guy responsible for your own shop, doing things your own way on your own time. The assignment for GTMO was for a six-month tour. I thought here was my chance to (a) do something "real" for my country, and (b) finally get a chance to look in the face of the enemy. It turned out that, of all the guys in our shop, I was the only American born, and therefore the only one that could get a security clearance to work at the camp. So I was the only choice. I was excited; my own shop! I was scared also, a whole facility would be depending on me and what I can do. But I started looking at as much as I could about Cuba and the history of Guantanamo Bay.
Did you have any preconceptions about Guantanamo. I was, as I was saying, excited and nervous. What Guantanamo meant didn't occur to me at that time. At that time it was
where "the enemy" was. For the first time in my life I was going to
get to see these people that want us "dead". Ask yourself, have you
ever met or saw somebody that would kill you as easily as just look at you?
Can you describe your trip into Guantanamo? I left on the Fourth of July 2004 and flew to Norfolk, Virginia. There I stayed the night and then flew to Jacksonville, Florida. From Jacksonville I got a plane to Guantanamo. What was different about my trip—and that I didn't know at the time—was that I was traveling alone. I was coming from a completely different part of the country than the rest of the hospital staff. They had been there for several months already and were all from around the Florida area. I was the outsider coming into a situation (normally a group all travel and assemble together for their assignment increasing the feelings of camaraderie etc.)
So you arrive in Guantanamo. . . I arrived in Guantanamo on 5 July. Once I got there I didn't know anyone, and was immediately put through security check-in. I was given a map of the island in general without any reference to the prison camp. I was repeatedly told that any pictures or maps that I tried to take off the island would get me in big trouble. Furthermore, there would be NO pictures out at the camp and I would be allowed to travel to only a few areas within the prison unescorted. When someone finally did come to pick me up it was the head chief for the hospital group (not the Guantanamo Bay Medical facility but the detention facility medical group; these two groups are both Navy and both Corpsman, but the two groups didn't have a lot of interaction). The Chief immediately asked “Where the hell have you been? You are AWOL! You'd better have a good excuse!" I was very puzzled because I left and arrived on the days my orders said. I gave him the orders and he started to calm down.
What were your first impressions of the island? From the airstrip I took a ride on a ferry to the main part of the base. It was soooo interesting and sooooo hot. Wonderful warm blue water and a craggy rocky desert landscape, the scuba diver in me and rock-hound rejoiced! This was probably the furthest South I'd ever been, and the humidity was something new. I got dropped off at a house where I was senior in rank. The house had five guys to a two bedroom house. Because of my rank I got to have one of the upstairs rooms to myself. The house was divided two people living downstairs in the living room/dining room with a big blanket strung up to separate the two, and two rooms upstairs one of which was shared and the other I got to myself. The house was on a tiny street on the base. It was formerly part of regular base housing, but the houses had all been condemned. Once they opened the detention camp they reopened the houses, but things rarely worked. We babied the air conditioner as much as possible and wanted to keep it ready for the really hot days. My roommates immediately took me in and made me feel welcome. Everyone had a beer in hand and the barbecues were going. One of my roommates was from Louisiana (and definitely hard-core Louisiana; I could never understand a word he said) and the others from various areas of Florida. What I did understand was that the beer in the fridge was for everyone, we were going to barbecue a lot, and that the communal pornography was upstairs under the sink in the bathroom we all shared.
What were your first impressions of the camps? On day one I got on the bus at 5:30 and rode off to the camp. There is a holding area where everyone waits while Army guards go through all of your stuff looking for cameras, floppy disks, MP3 players, anything that might hold information. We checked each other to make sure there was tape concealing our names. Here are some of the camp rules:
1. Don't bring in unauthorized items.
2. Do not talk to the prisoners (We were told that these people are killers and murderers; if you let your guard down, they could kill you—or worse, get information about your home and family.)
3. Do not talk to people outside the wire about what we see or hear inside the wire (there were stories that the press was hanging around the nightclub area trying to get info from personnel who were drunk and off their guard).
Once we are cleared we are let into the main area and we all walk down the gravel to the clinic or down to the main hospital section. There are guard towers every so often with guys and guns watching in and outwards. We pass the lower level offender area where people are held and given more privileges because they are deemed as cooperative. The men were out hanging their clothing, some kicking around a soccer ball, while others sat talking. When we came by many would stop and watch. I noticed they were given plastic bins of fruit and the facilities were a bit like a simple mobile home on a cement slab. I never saw the inside of these (I will continue with things that I personally saw but there were many things I was told about. Many of the things seemed a little far-fetched, other things seem like they could be true, but I want to be honest, I can't personally vouch for the accuracy of what I did not actually witness).
Can you describe the detainee medical facility? When we got to the medical facility we had to make a formation in an assembly room within the hospital "tin shed". Yep, the hospital itself wasn't more than a large tin shed. I was introduced to the group there and then we all went outside and stood in formation. We did our morning colors routine with the star spangled banner blaring loudly in the early morning sun. Fairly close to us another fence with "detainees" looked on. I think they were amused at our seriousness. They jokingly saluted as we did. The setup of the hospital was such that I had to walk down one of the two aisles of cots with prisoners cuffed to them. There was an army guard there the whole time. My door was on the opposite wall not six feet from one of these cots. At first I remember I tried not to look at them. They knew immediately I was a new guy. In some ways this was their territory, their prison camp. They knew the rules better than we did at first and because of the lack of mental stimulation, their minds were able to quickly pick up on things out of place. All down the row they tried to chat me up but I pretended like they weren't even there. I got inside my shop, locked the door and sighed a sigh of relief. I was here. Now what? I looked around the shop. I had some pretty expensive (but unneeded) test equipment. I looked at all the tools… I kept thinking “Oh my God; what would happen if I forgot a tool laying out and someone got stabbed. I'd be in such trouble! I'm often forgetful, so I knew I'd have to be very, very conscientious.
Here's what I knew: I was afraid of the detainees. I was afraid of screwing up my job. I couldn't find anything in the shop to tell me where the last person had left off. There was a small laptop, but no internet. I spent most of the day looking through things. I knew I'd probably have to just start from scratch, and that meant a wall-to-wall inventory of everything. I was responsible for the "Hospital", the clinic inside the wire, and the two clinics outside the wire that were for the soldiers. Plus there were rumors of some other facilities with small dispensaries. I was going to need a vehicle. There were only three of them available. The bus? Not going to happen! And two trucks coveted by the upper level officers at the hospital. Yeah! Not getting that one either. I did however manage to hitch a ride to the MAIN GTMO medical facility. I wanted to drop in on my fellow biomedical repair brothers and introduce myself.
How about your co-workers? As I have just said, I got a ride to the main Hospital at Guantanamo to pay a visit to my biomedical repair brothers. That meeting went so well… They were so helpful and willing to be supportive. I was asked to dinner and to meet their families. The Chief told me that he was my chief, and if I had any kind of problems with my group he would take care of it. Like I said: instant brotherhood and family.
I forgot to mention that I found out I knew one of the guys at the hospital. One of the general corpsmen was a guy I knew from boot camp and then had also been a friend in my first corpsman school. In any event, his wife had a friend that had a car I could use “but,” he told me, “you may not want to drive it.” “Seriously, I need a vehicle.” I thought. So I was introduced to Captain America. Captain America is a Datsun B210 of indeterminate year that has been kept running over the years by the ingenuity of the Haitian workers on the island, who can form car parts out of anything. The outside was painted, in regular wall paint, with a crude American flag over the entire body. The front driver side door was barely hanging on as the supports for the hinge had mostly rusted through. You got in supporting the weight of the door and then lifted the door to slam it shut once you aimed it properly into the latch. You then used a bungee cord to tie it up and put the hook into a hole in the roof. This supported the frame and kept the door from accidentally swinging open around curves. The front seat had the highly stylish albino tiger furry seat cover. While going through the contents of the vehicle in the "turn over" I discovered a trophy. The car had won "commander’s most original" award in one of the GTMO car shows. I immediately attached it proudly to the hood. A blue and gold rhinoceros horn on the car’s nose. Needless to say, I got noticed. A lot of the guards around the perimeter thought it was hilarious and I eventually got through faster as they got to recognize the car. One of the guards told me they didn’t know whether to salute it or laugh. Driving the roads I could see through parts of the floor boards and wood that had been used in many places to bridge the gaps.
Some thoughts as you began to settle? As I was able to begin to settle in I could start to think about what was going on, what forces there were acting on me. Maybe it was because I had a "normal" place to retreat to. I could go be around non-detention facility people and their families that allowed me a perspective outside of the wire while still being "in" the wire. I hated being afraid, I knew that I had certain duties to my coworkers, and I had made a pledge about the caring for patients being a sacred trust. As far as I was concerned, anyone my equipment was used on was MY patient. Since the day I landed in Guantanamo I was told “these people are dangerous,” and “we are watching you”. Everything was a threat. There was always some kind of dire consequence for stepping outside the rules. You could be sent home in disgrace. We were told our emails were monitored as well as our regular mail. In some ways we were prisoners too.
In any case, I thought about these "unseen powers" that were supposedly watching us waiting for us to screw something up or say the wrong thing, and it kind of ticked me off. One day I was walking the line toward my shop within the detention hospital and when one of the detainees tried to talk to me I stopped, turned towards him and tried to understand what he was saying. I don't remember, to be honest, what he wanted but I went to the block sergeant and said, "The gentleman down the row over there would like…" I was interrupted by the sergeant, "the detainee?", "the prisoner?", "number xxx?" (I can't remember what it was but every one of these guys had a number). They insisted that I use terms that did not bestow any sort of human recognition. I really had to sit down and think about this. I saw then and there that this dehumanization was a BIG problem. We of the United States, we who are health care providers, we who are given the responsibility for the welfare and care of other human beings should NOT be dehumanizing those in our care. I made a conscious decision to do what I could within the scope of my work, to do as much as I could humanely and civilly.
I have to be fully honest, I'm not above the "wanting to fit in" group. There were sometimes I'd say something derogatory about detainees in general to another guard. I had to carry a huge tool case in and out of the wire to do my work. Needless to say, this was always the subject of much interest by the inspectors at the gate. Usually I'd just open up the case and tell them what I did and they'd all say how cool this tool box was. One time as I was coming into the camp I was asked again routinely what's in the box. I told them "interrogation tools" and then opened the box. The young guard looked at me and said "Good. Give ‘em an extra twist for me". I laughed. But this was something that I have since been ashamed of having said. I had perpetuated the atmosphere of hostility in the mind of at least one young man.
Any other incidents that stands out in your mind? Another time I had to bring a spare part for a piece of equipment into the wire. I hand-carried it as I walked and one of the detainees shouted to me. "What is that for?" I shouted back, "It's a circuit board!" Then I heard a loud shout from the guard tower. "Don't talk to the detainees! Move along!!!" I wonder what those guys thought it was for. It was for an ultrasonic water bath that cleans medical instruments, but I wonder what they thought it might be for.
It was often said that guards were subject to attack by various bodily fluids thrown by detainees. All the Corpsmen talked about it, but not in a way that indicated any direct experience. I had heard that Corpsmen were somewhat appreciated by the detainees because they could get "Ensure" drinks and in different flavors so they claimed that they treated Corpsmen nicer than the guards. Anyways, I was asked by the physical therapist to help out with the fittings and such for different orthotics. Many of the prisoners had injuries or amputations and the Corpsman Ortho technician would ask me to help make the devices more comfortable. I was happy to help. I was once asked to cut down a toilet stool for a man that had lost both his legs so it would be easier for him to climb on and use. There were collapsing legs with holes to set the stool to various heights and rubber stoppers on the feet. I went about cutting down the legs with a hacksaw. I had taken care to clean and sterilize the whole thing before work and I had ripped through my rubber gloves and had several cuts on my hand when I finally cut through the first leg. Black liquid poured out of the leg all over my hands and knuckles. It smelled like excrement. I pretty much lost it. I threw the chair outside cussing up a storm. I believe this was a storage space for some of these vile excrement attacks on guards. Taking the rubber caps off the bottom of the legs left a nice hole that could be pushed into excrement and it would advance up the leg as more was pushed in. It would be fairly undetectable and could cook nicely in the sun. I was gagging and really pissed off. I didn't have a sink so I had to go through the hospital to the bathroom to clean my hands. I was so angry at all the detainees for that… I am asked, do I think this had any bearing on my attitude towards detainees after this event. I’m not sure. I was already wary. I was certainly more careful with what I touched and worked on. I think I was always going back and forth. You hear a story of some inmate misdeed and you get mad, a little while later you think about their situation or see some petty cruelty directed at them and you swing the other way.
Many years later I realized that this could all have been a misinterpretation on my part. When I came back to the States I decided to do some cleaning around my house. I picked up a metal handle to a tool I had left out over the winter. I tipped it up and water that had leaked into it and sat came pouring out. Though it was more watery it had a similar look and horrible putrid fecal smell I remembered experiencing in Cuba. It made me realize that this could have been what I had experienced then. Maybe the guards had left the toilet chair outside and rain had gotten inside creating putrefaction and rust. But then I was somewhat ashamed and amazed that I had jumped to the worst conclusion possible at the time. I guess I had a realization moment that if you are primed for the worst already in your mind you will jump to that supposition. I wondered if that is maybe why some people see racism everywhere as well?
We were told that the prisoners were doing this kind of thing. I became paranoid to a degree by the conditions and environment of the place. So when I experienced this brownish sludge that smelled horrible I immediately decided I knew what it was and why it was. It took this experience to realize that what I was so sure of may not have been the case. When your expectations are primed you will easily misread a situation to fit with those expectations.
Any other incidents come to mind? I had been observing one of the detainees outside my door for a while as I came back and forth throughout the day. I knew he'd had some kind of surgery and he was peeing a lot. Guards refuse to empty urine containers and if they take someone to the bathroom they have to get them up and uncuffed from the cot and walk them to the bathroom and stand there while they pee. I guess they had decided that he was taking advantage of them and started to refuse his request to go to the bathroom. The whole row of prisoners kind of appealed to me to help but I was unsure of what was going on. So I started trying to communicate to find out. This pissed off one of the guards who told me to go about my business and not talk to the prisoners. I ignored him and was able to understand that the doctor told him to go to the bathroom as often as possible. I told him that there wasn’t much I could do, I'd go tell the nurse but he needed to tell the doctor when he did rounds because he had interpreters with him. The guard started yelling at me and I started yelling back before I realized we were doing this in front of the prisoners. I had them step into my office where we continued our shouting match. The Army doesn't understand that a guy with a tool bag can also be a medic. It doesn't work that way in the Army. I don't remember how that all turned out but the block sergeant basically told us that as NCO's (i.e. Non Commissioned Officers) we should be able to work out our problems
It was the first time I stood my ground and knew I was in the right no matter what the rules were. I had a real empathy and right and wrong seemed clarified in that one moment. For me it was a little victory. Maybe it’s me trying to say “look how I was different”. Army and Navy didn’t share the same camaraderie. In fact we were often at heads because of the differences in our services and the difference in our missions.
Can you say something about the health facilities? I visited once or twice every area where there was medical equipment. This took me to the psych area where detainees are being held. I was very shocked. This was the first time I'd seen something that reminded me more of a dairy setup than a medical facility. You’ll know what I mean if you've ever been in a milking barn. There were men in very small cells that were hunkered down in various ways. People in misery. Many of the men seemed in agony, hiding their heads. It felt like they were on the edge of animal. Like unhappy zoo animals. Kind of slow moving. Perhaps they were on medication for depression.
I was told that the Psych Ward worked like this. If they are responsive to orders, they are given a reinforcement (a blanket, a mattress, etc.). If they misbehaved, these items and others were taken away. To the point of being left naked in an empty cell. I was shocked that educated people thought this was a good idea. But I'm not a psychologist.
One of the psych-techs who had been my roommate for a couple of days (he was put on a night shift and moved to a “night shift” house) passed me in the entryway of the hospital. I wasn't a fan of this guy because he was somewhat slovenly-looking all the time (and he had locked me out of the room once). He told me in a bragging kind of tone that he had stripped several prisoners naked that night. I was sickened and alarmed because I didn't trust this guy. I didn't know what authority such an act should come from, but it seemed to me not from him, not in the middle of the night, not without a doctor saying so. Yeah, it could have been the typical bravado of the military, and I could have just brushed it off, but I thought I should report it. I found the Head Nurse who was a commander and told him what I had been told. I don't know if it ever went anywhere.
Bragging about stripping prisoners? What I did notice was again a lack of appearance of outrage by others. The first time I'd seen this lack of patient concern was when I had discovered that preventative maintenance for the anesthesia machines had not been properly documented for the past three years. Typically it should be done every six months and a sticker placed on it indicating it had been done. I didn't have the knowledge to do proper maintenance on the machine and had to call in someone from the company. This would all take time. I informed the tech, the doctor, and the commanding officer that those anesthesia machines should not be used until proper work had been done. I discovered that they continued to schedule surgeries. I went to the head nurse equal in rank to the CO (Commanding Officer) I asked him what I should do. The medical equipment and its safety was my responsibility. If I couldn’t verify its proper working condition it should be considered unsafe and removed from service. Remember this is potentially life threatening equipment! An anesthesia machine fails and not only the patient dies but the entire OR (Operating Room) staff could die. That is perhaps unlikely, but in my experience, just when you say something can’t happen it comes and bites you in the ass. In any case it’s not good to have anesthesia leaking into the operating room or overdosing your patient. He told me that what the CO says is what goes and that I can only do my job up to that point. I asked him if he would let his child be operated on in such circumstances and he said "no". I went to the CO and asked him why he did that. I was told the head anesthesiologist thought it would be fine, and told to get the preventative maintenance done ASAP, but they would continue on. When I objected I was told to get out. I went back to my shop and drew up a document of what had happened and signed it then filed it away in case I was ever called up for negligence of duty.
Did you witness hunger strikes? During my time there I did not hear of any hunger striking or rumors of it.
What about forced feeding? I did not see any forced feeding. But I have no doubt it occurs. There was one guy, fairly young, that I believe had slashed his wrists. He had lost so much blood that he was in a semi-vegetative state. He could move and see and hear but it seemed he was reduced to the mental state of a child. Everyone referred to him as Timmy, a reference to the disabled child on the TV show South Park. I believe they fed him through a tube for a while. These people are not going to let anyone die on their watch if they can help it. If that means force feeding you, so be it. I'm sure it's better to have stories of forced feedings over stories of people starving to death and you did nothing about it. Career ender there…
Did you witness any IRFings? I never witnessed an IRFing. I heard a lot about it, though. My hospital was for longer term care. IRFed detainees that couldn’t be treated on the block would be taken to the clinic; that’s where immediate injuries were handled. I was not allowed there while detainees were present (I don't know why; perhaps because it was a fairly small trailer and I'd be getting in the way). I understood that 5 guys would get together with riot gear including shields. I was told that they would march in formation sort of a Greek phalanx shields together. Supposedly they wouldn’t go directly for the prisoner’s door but kind of draw out the marching to heighten the anticipation and anxiety of the detainees. Strictly a hearsay statement.
Did you know of abuse under the guise of rectal exams? Rectal exams are required. We even had them in boot camp. If the military is going to take custody of someone they are going to be very thorough in noting any conditions upon receipt. Rectal Exams are not pleasant under the best of conditions; definitely not fun if the guy or girl has a grudge against you. I know there were several cases of hemorrhoid surgeries occurred while I was there. You can't have people bleeding out their anus without treating it. I wouldn't think many of these detained men had ever had or known anything about a rectal exam before and I'm sure they were horrified and would think it abuse even if it was done as nicely as possible. None of the men I saw in the hospital bay seemed psychologically traumatized. Like I said, they are looking for hemorrhoids, rectal cancers, prostate cancers. All part of processing. The only thing I can think of [regarding abusive exams of the kind Specialist Neely detailed in his interview with you] is if they suspected he was hiding something. Then a more rigorous exam might ensue. I would be upset to learn one of my Corpsmen doing something like that maliciously.
What about abuse under the guise of physical therapy? I didn’t see any medical personnel causing discomfort or pain intentionally. All physical therapy seems like torture. The tech I worked with was a real stand-up guy that, as far as I knew, did his best for the patients. I can see that perhaps they pushed people to do painful things. They have to get better whether they want to or not. Someone that doesn't want to participate is probably made to. Again I didn't see or hear anything (it was right next door) that amounted to torture. I saw people in pain all the time there but it was a normal part of therapy. (Learning to walk on artificial limbs etc.)
We have testimony of a hospital corpsman beating a patient... I never heard of anyone of my group laying a hand on any prisoner (as described in Specialist Neely’s interview with you).
And the non-therapeutic use of mind-altering drugs? Of course I never read any of the prescription bottles, and only visited the Psych Ward once or twice. It wouldn't surprise me that they were giving out pretty heavy meds. Those detainees looked pretty.... sedated? Slow moving. I was told that many of the men on the Psych block were suicidal. If I was in their situation I'd be pretty damn suicidal as well. How anyone non medical can identify a given drug I don't know, and wouldn't necessarily trust their evaluation. If you get a doctor saying this, then I'd believe it. I mention this because of claims that “mind altering” drugs were used as well as “addictive” drugs. I worry that over-generalization of terms would lead people to think something was going on more sinister than the reality. Any drug used in psychiatry is “mind altering” by definition. Some of those drugs can be habit forming as well. Some sleeping pills are habit forming. The only people that will be able to set this right would be a doctor or interrogator.
There is also evidence of patient Information being shared with interrogators... Patient files were locked away in the administration building. The only non medical person I know of that attended the daily meetings regarding patients was the block sergeant. I was not allowed inside the admin office during these meetings. Nor do I know if they used the phone as a conference call with anyone. I should add that the block sergeant for the hospital was one of the fairest men in the Army I'd met there. He was completely willing to meet a detainee halfway. If he wanted to get off the cot to pray he'd let them do so one at a time. I never saw him do anything that seemed mean spirited or petty. I knew he was going to be there longer than us. I made a point of telling him that I had been watching him and that I was impressed by his fair attitude. I wanted to reinforce that in him as best as I could.
So what is your general assessment of allegations of medical abuse? I just read Mr. Neely's testimony so that I could better understand your questions. I remember all the anger after 9/11, so I guess a lot of what he says isn't surprising seeing the proximity in time. I think that there was a lot more SOP [i.e. Standard Operating Procedure] and people had a better handle on things by the time I arrived. Facilities were much improved and surveillance was very strict. I wonder if [the individuals he mentions] were Army medics or Navy Hospital Corpsmen, either way I think it was shameful. I think the grenade explanation was just some story passed on. A grenade in the rectum... would cause major distention of the abdomen as things backed up. They would have had to carry that thing through the whole journey to Guantanamo with the pin and everything intact. It sounds like something they were just told and it was probably a typical rectal exam though done in a mean spirited way. During my time whatever abuse there was probably occurring behind closed doors.
In general, I would navigate somewhere in the middle of these medical testimonies in belief. Not because of people lying, but perhaps not understanding what was going on. And also remember, every group that comes in is going to be different. We had only one of our people sent home due to improper action on the block. According to him it was for thoughtlessly mimicking the sound the detainees made as they prayed. The detainees got pissed and started to riot. When I was in Kuwait I would sometimes listen to the call to prayer and vocally mimic the sound. Not because I was trying to be disrespectful, but I was intrigued by the sound and wondered if I could reproduce that sound. I did it without even thinking. So it's possible he had the same experience. MAYBE. Otherwise he was a decent person and always ready to help out a comrade.
Can you describe your last days in Guantanamo? I should point out this is the end of any serious occurrences I witnessed while at GTMO. I was awarded a Joint Task Force Commendation Medal for my work at the camp for which I am proud. In preparation to leave GTMO in December of 2004, we had a formation with the new guys on one side and those of us leaving on the other. When asked what advice one would give to those staying one of the nurses surprised me she told them. "There are many ways this place can turn you. You have to be true to yourself and your work." I was thinking this should be said every day like a mantra.
Some final remarks? I saw in and out of the wire great friendships, great immoralities, petty hatred, deep hatred, fear, the joy of accomplishment, beautiful scenery, ugly scenery, human misery, great barbeques, overcome crises together with Hurricane Ivan preparations, commiserated in our hardships, saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets, saw the amazing not often seen underwater world of GTMO Bay. If people ask me how GTMO was I am conflicted. It was the best of time it was the worst of times? I saw how men manipulate men in the overall atmosphere of Guantanamo, and how Psychology is used to force cooperation. I saw what power (even the little power) affects people as when the hospital guard tried to stop me from helping someone, and the Psych tech’s bragging story.
I feel sick in my heart and soul as I write this. No man should be put in control of another man, especially not the control of anyone under 40 years of age, certainly not hormone ridden 18-25 year olds. If any of these men were innocent I can't believe they aren't full-on Al Qaeda supporters now. Once someone instituted a money-for-prisoners scheme everything should have been suspect.In my view, once a combatant is removed from the theater of war they become entitled to the full benefits of any man under our Constitution. The access to the legal system is not just for citizens of the United States as I've read so often in blogs. If that were the case then why do we bother to try foreigners accused of murder in the US? Why? Because we believe that this ensures their human rights as well. I look no further than our Declaration of Independence when it declares men are endowed by their Creator certain inalienable rights. It is supposed to be this country's belief that these are God given and thus to deny someone the systems we have set up to ensure those rights is in my view, at the least an inconsistency in national philosophy and at the worst a sin against God. I hold our Congress and Senate primarily to blame for not insisting on a particular course of action to resolve this. I blame the Executive for getting us here in the first place and letting anger dictate action. As for the blame on the military? Each and every individual knows in their own heart what they did or in some cases did not do. I’m reminded that the Nuremburg defense is not accepted by the United States. My response is that I think the holocaust situation was a horror to such a magnitude that the Nuremberg judges refused the “following orders” defense. Individuals at the Guantanamo camp may be able to use a defense of "following orders" because the offense doesn't rise to the level of contributing to the death of someone. (At least there is no proof of that yet). I cannot say what the detainees claim happened to them is true or not nor can I say that what people bragged about was true. What I am attesting to here is my witness to the petty ugliness in men, and how policies of fear and intimidation as well as misinformation, fostered these attitudes. Perhaps they thought they were erring on the side of caution and protecting us. But I feel each individual was damaged in some way. On the other hand I want it clear that that there are very serious cultural and educational differences that can make innocent things look, and feel like torture and abuse. By the way, I never did get “tough”, but now I’m not so sorry about that.
Unless you have questions I think this about sums up everything in my heart. What I've wanted to shout out to everyone. Thank you for letting me say this out loud to someone. I'm considering going on to study law after my history degree, if I do I will seriously be looking at Constitutional Law.
I would like to thank Mr. Souza for his valuable perspective.
Captain America. Photo credit: Mr. Alfred A. Souza