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Statement to the Guantánamo Testimonials Project, November 15, 2011

by Terry Mustafa Holdbrooks
November 15, 2011

I have been to the interrogation shacks many times, either to deliver a detainee from his dorm or take a detainee to his dorm. At some point I noticed that there was a particular interrogator that was doing things a little differently. Most of the interrogators had an approach of good-cop/bad-cop. Or they tried to be friendly to gather information. Or perhaps played the mean role and stated that the detainee being interrogated was flat-out guilty, that they had evidence on him, and that he had just to confess. This particular interrogator had, however, a different approach. He was much more aggressive with detainees, verbally as well as physically. He would not be afraid to lay hands on detainees. Or use harsh words and harsh language. He was not the most morbid of interrogators I had seen, but he had awful practices.

As I said, he was not afraid to grab detainees by the collar, to hold them, to pull them up, to shake them, to smack them to get their attention, to loose-handedly punch a detainee or perhaps kick a detainee. These are not things he was afraid to do. He punched them commonly, slapping them, yelling at them, putting them down, dousing them in cold water in rooms that were only 40 degrees, and calling them little girls among other names, when they would wet or defecate on themselves. It would not be uncommon to see him kick a chair out from under a detainee or to leave detainees in stress positions for hours. The detainee is crying and just suffering in these positions, and he would just be sitting in the room next to them watching through the one-way glass taking notes and working on his laptop.

He would use harsh words and harsh language with them—like camel-jockey, sand-nigger,  or dirt-farmer. He would insult individuals asking them Do you shower? Do you bathe? You smell like a diaper. You smell awful. You smell like you haven’t taken a shower in years. You smell like a homeless man’s nutsack. Just bad things like that. That was the type of stuff that this man would do.

I suppose you just have to understand his general demeanor. He was a huge man; this guy literally looked like the man in Happy Gilmore—the construction worker who has the nail in his head. He had to have been in the high six-foot range. And that he was at least 250 pounds. He was a big, well-built man. He wasn’t fat, he was just a big ogre. So it was very scary; he scared anybody that was around. He didn’t have an interaction like that when he was talking with guards. But when he was talking to detainees, he was very much an ogre, so I will call him that.

In any event, it was early on in my time at Guantanamo when I saw a detainee in a stress position for the first time. And in a freezing room with a strobe light in front of his face and loud music playing. Playing at a deafening level; a level high enough that in a sound-proof room, we could still hear it outside. We could hear it in the room next; we could hear it in the hallway. For 6 to 10 hours. My heart went out to this detainee…

When I first saw this, and noticed that the detainee had defecated on himself, I felt bad for him. Not just due to the abuse he had to endure, but also because of the humiliation and emasculation that resulted from it. I do mean to use the word emasculation here. Because when the ogre would come in and see that a detainee had urinated or defecated on himself, he would call him a little boy, or a child, or a baby, or an infant. He would say, What happened? You’re not a man? A man doesn’t urinate on himself. A man doesn’t defecate on himself. This isn’t what a man does. You’re not a man. You’re a sissy; you’re a child. You’re a pussy.

But let's get back to the detainee in stress position: as it turned out, the soundtrack being played at a deafening volume was by the band Skinny Puppy. It bothered me greatly that they would use this music. Skinny Puppy was something that I always listened to growing up. I have memories of my life that I have assimilated to memories of the music of Skinny Puppy. Skinny Puppy has been the soundtrack to my life! So to hear something that was so personal to be used as a form of torture, that really hit home. That made it something that I was no longer able to turn a blind eye to. I really focused on it and it really bothered me.

Another time I walked in an interrogation shack and noticed that the ogre was playing TFWO—another Skinny Puppy song. I suspect it came from the Heaven's Trash album. But Heaven's Trash is a bootleg album, it is not a studio recording and it’s not available in stores (and you can tell because of the ambient distortion of the recording). You have to "torrent" it. It’s not something that you can purchase. I found it ironic that you had here an FBI agent using stolen, torrented music, to use as torture against Muslims. Although stealing from the internet is something you can prosecute a civilian for. Again, the song was playing at a level I wouldn’t be able to tolerate. Whether I was seeing it live or listening to it at home. Even being a huge Skinny Puppy fan, I wouldn’t want to hear this music at this level. It was awful. The detainee had fallen over from his stress position already. The agent would walk in probably every hour, he’d yell at a detainee, call him names, kick him and ask him if he was ready to talk, grab him by the shoulders tried to get his attention and yell at him, smack him around, call him names, the names that I’ve already mentioned, and see if he would comply. And, if he wouldn’t talk, he would just come back an hour later.

These were not the only time I saw this ogre do this; there were many times he used songs from Skinny Puppy for his soundtrack of torture.

Aladdin was a really fun movie when I was younger. I enjoyed it a great deal. But the song A Whole New World from Aladdin became something the ogre would often use. And it would become awful after the thirtieth time I’d heard it straight. Or Celine Dion. He used a lot of her music on repeat. He used Drowning Pool on repeat as well. There were also a few other bands like Slayer. But I was more offended by the use of Skinny Puppy because they are my all-time favorite band. I’ve always enjoyed them.

On another occasion, I was asked to take a detainee being interrogated by the ogre to the restroom. When we entered the room, the smell of sweat, fear, urine, feces, and tears was overpowering, and as we helped him to his feet, he could barely walk, not due to the muscle failure of the stress positions, but the heavy disorientation he had suffered from the strobe light in his face for hours (to the tune of another great song from Skinny Puppy: Hexonxonx).  The detainee stumbled out of the room, and fell while in the restroom, almost as if he had vertigo.  

I hated to walk into the interrogation shacks, as every time I did I saw something that would haunt me and contribute to my eventual alcoholism.  If the US government wanted to justify the existence of GTMO, it would be easy. All it would take is one false headline: Terrorist attack foiled by Guantanamo intelligence. This has never happened. And if it happened, there would be no argument at that point. Guantanamo would be justified. As it stands, I feel that Guantanamo serves as a reason for why groups like Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Al Shabbab and others can exist. They can exist because we are doing these horrible things to innocent Muslims. There is no justification for it. I honestly feel that Guantanamo is a skid-mark on the under-pants of American history. That’s the way that I look at it.

Interestingly, when we were interacting with the ogre outside of interrogation, it was obvious he was an intellectual man. He was obviously a college graduate. it was interesting to see the paradigm shift when he walked into an interrogation room and when he walked out. When he talked with us, he was a perfect gentleman. He was scholarly, intellectual, could articulate his sentences well. And it wasn’t as if you were talking to someone who thought that they were better than you or above you because they were an FBI agent or an interrogator. He treated you as an equal. He treated everybody with respect. Outside of interrogation, that is. And it was quite a paradigm shift to see him walk into interrogation and become this horrible beast or monster and to walk out of it and be a perfect gentleman. He would make small jokes in passing and he would laugh.