Testimony of Chris Arendt

Chris Arendt Photo
Chris Arendt testifying at the
2008 Winter Soldier Hearings
Photo Credit: Alternet

Winter Soldier Hearings
Racism and War: The Dehumanization of the Enemy: Part 2
March 15, 2008

My name is Christopher Arendt and I would like to share with you how one goes about becoming a concentration camp guard without ever having really made many decisions.

I was 17 years old when I joined the United States Army National Guard in Michigan. My family had been displaced and I was living with friends and I decided to join the military because I had no other options. My family was poor, I was poor, and I wanted to go to school. I was promised a significant amount of money for this purpose--which I have yet to receive.

And I joined the Field Artillery. Charley 1st in the 119th Field Artillery, where I served quite happily for… No. That's a lie. I was miserable. I hated it. But I served nonetheless.

I was usually at drill. And my uniform was usually... well, it was on. And it didn't really seem--Oh, I joined November 20th of 2001, which was after September 11th, though I lied about it later and said that I joined before September 11th.

And we got the orders in October of 2003 that we would be deploying to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Artillery men would be deploying to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba to be prison guards in a prison camp.

In our mobilization process, which lasted the period of one month in Fort Dixon, New Jersey, we were taught how to put shackles on other people. I remember: it feels so ridiculous when you are practicing how to put shackles on another human being. You realize how absurd it is. You are putting them on somebody's hands and it's just awkward. It's just an awkward thing. And it hurts, it's uncomfortable, it feels dehumanizing. This is just practice. This is just to warm up for the big game. It just felt so silly. The whole thing.

And we left for Guantánamo Bay early in January [2004] and got there safely. It was hot. It was uncomfortable. And we slept in these awful little houses. But at least we had houses. I mean, from the rest of the testimonies you've heard here not [everyone] had it. Some of the luxuries that we were given in Guantánamo, but …

I served on the blocks for two months. As a prisoner guard my duties were to feed, properly dispense toilet paper, and occupy myself in some way, shape, or form to drive the boredom out.

That was the primary difficulty; keeping my humanity in touch with the boredom all of the time. One of the ways I dealt with this was talking with the detainees. Because an unfortunate consequence of having detainees is that they are human beings and also have stories. And I talked with them about those stories--which became an incredibly unpopular event (or series of events) which led to my being taken off the blocks to work in the detention operations center as the escort control for the next eight months of my tour.

And during that time I personally managed, as an E4, the movements of every detainee in Camp Delta for 12 to 14 hour shifts and rotated with a very small other crew of other E4s. […] I was 19 at the time. And just papers, numbers, shackles, keys. All of that had to be accounted for. It wasn't anything more than papers and shackles and numbers and keys.

And I'd call two people in, usually outranking me, and I'd have to tell them to do something that they hated doing. They hated me for telling them to do it. But that's the organization of the machine. We're just one ridiculous piece of meat in that plank-o machine of orders that comes down from God-knows-where. It just keeps coming down and it just keeps going through.

There are two specific things I would like to address about the operation of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. One is the issue of torture. I've heard a lot of speculation as to what torture is considered. First and foremost, I would like to ask of everyone (well, I don't really expect an answer, but I just, for your own considerations) whether or not living inside of a cell for five years, away from your family and your friends, without ever been given any answers as to why you're there, asking 19-year old boys that don't have any idea about the policy of our government and the politics that make these things happen why they're there. And the answers that we weren't able to give. I consider that torture [APPLAUSE].

But if that weren't enough (if that wasn't enough), there were other methods as well to make certain that we got around to torturing these people. As I said earlier, I dispatched the detainee movements. I would come into the office at 4:30 in the morning and sometimes there would be a little paper in the wall with a number on it which represented a detainee --which represented a detainee inside of an interrogation room. An interrogation room which was anywhere from maybe 10, 20 degrees in temperature, with loud music playing, and that detainee had been there for an indeterminate amount of time. And sometimes that detainee would stay there for my entire 12 to 14 hour shifts. Shackled to the floor by his hands and his feet. With nothing to sit on. With loud music playing in the freezing cold. And I guess that's torture too.

Depends on who you ask. I hear that there is an official list of things that are and are not torture. Waterboarding is. This is not. If my recent example is not torture… I can't believe that a human being could even write a list like that, but [APPLAUSE].

The other issue I would like to address is the common usage of the instantaneous reactionary force [sic] which is a five-man team that is established on the day every day. It is a rotating force [over] whoever is on the camp at that time. They make the teams in the morning. If, by any chance the detainee is unsatisfied with his stay, and becomes rowdy, five grown men which have been all eating well--which is a privilege these detainees are usually not allowed--are fitted with riot gear and a shield and are lined up outside of a cell while the platoon leader of that particular camp sprays the detainee in the face with OC [Oleoresin Capsicum or pepper] spray. I don't know who in here has been sprayed with OC spray, but I'm positive that anybody that has would never want it to happen again. I had that happen to me, and I certainly feel that's probably been one of the worst moments of my life. It was an incredibly intensely painful experience, and I would never ever want anyone to have this happen again (have this happen to them, I'm sorry).

And after spraying the detainee with this (which put me on my knees for probably two to three hours afterwards, and in a great deal of pain for the next three days because it is oil-based and it's incredibly painful), these five men would rush in and take whatever opportunity as they could to--usually, they ought not, I have to state, because they did make a book about it; it is called the SOP [Standard Operating Procedures] and it does not state that you should beat the S-word out of detainees, but, I guess that some people just decided that that's what they were going to do anyway.

These are all on tape, by the way. The government has made sure that each one of these operations is taped. I taped several of them. And I would certainly be--I would be so happy to be able to show you those clips but I doubt that those would be released any time soon. After the detainee is taken forcibly from his cell (that is probably the first time he has left his cell in five, six, seven days)…I have to stop now. Thank you for listening to me [APPLAUSE].


Thank you guys very much. I’m sorry I didn’t thank you for listening. I didn’t really plan anything. And then I started rambling and I didn’t finish [OVERSPEAKING] So, like I was saying, after the detainees were beaten and pulled out to the back, they were shaved--all of their hair, their beard, and then they were taken to wherever they were supposed to go anyway and they continued on with their lives. Sorry. That was just the end of a story I forgot to finish because I got nervous.

And there is one other thing I wanted to address about issues in Guantánamo Bay. Something that you can pay attention to in the media, something that you can pay attention to in how people talk about these things--when and if they do. The usage of the term “detainee”, as we were told when we were deployed, had to be “detainee”. It had to be “detainee”. If it’s “prisoner,” then they would have to be prisoners of war, and they’re subject to entirely different laws. If they’re detainees, then they are subject to no law whatsoever, because there aren’t laws for detainees.

Because they are called “detainees” they don’t get trials, there is no pending code for how they’re treated. It’s semantics, and we need to pay attention. They are important. It’s the difference between calling something “a detention facility” and “a concentration camp”. Even if they are the same thing.

And that about finishes up my testimony. I would like to take up one opportunity to thank the gentleman in Motorcycle Awesome who kept me alive while I was in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Via our oath to one another to make sure that we pissed off as much brass as possible, I’d like to say that I think that I am in the lead now [LAUGHS, APPLAUSE].

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