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The Rachel Maddow Show, February 18, 2009

The Rachel Maddow Show
February 18, 2009

MADDOW: Tonight, you are going to hear a very different story about Guantanamo from someone who was there. The very second prisoner to get dumped off a bus at the foot at Camp X-ray Guantanamo, the second prisoner to arrive there, was transferred immediately into then Private Brandon Neely‘s custody. What happened next is in part what led Mr. Neely to go public with his story.

He has not been subpoenaed. Nobody is demanding he give this testimony. He‘s doing it because of the callings of his own conscience.

After serving as guard at Guantanamo for the first six months of its existence as a “war on terror” prison camp, Brandon Neely now says that he is ashamed by some of what he did there and he‘s still haunted by some things that he witnessed. Moved by conscience, Mr. Neely has come forward. He came forward first to the University of California at Davis Guantanamo Testimonials Project. He described incidents to them in quite graphic detail. You can read that testimony at our Web site:

And tonight, for the first time in any broadcast interview, he is here exclusively to describe what he witnessed and what he personally took part in.

Joining us now is U.S. Army Specialist Brandon Neely. His service in the Army included guarding prisoners at the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, beginning when the very first prisoners arrived in January 2002. Mr. Neely was honorably discharged from the Army last year, he‘s now president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Brandon Neely, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

SPC. BRANDON NEELY, FMR. GUANTANAMO PRISON GUARD: Thank you very much for having me on the show.

MADDOW: Because you were at Guantanamo from the beginning, you are one of the first—one of the first people we‘ve had a chance to ask what it was like. I was hoping that you could just describe that very first day that the prisoners arrived there. What you were told to expect and what the scene was like when they got brought into the camp?

NEELY: Well, we were just told from the get-go, you know, right after 9/11, the country‘s very upset about what happened. We were just told from the get-go that these were the guys who planned 9/11, that these are the worst people in the world, that the world had to offer and we are fixing to deal with.

The very fist day, I was there, you know, when they first came in. The marines have the Humvees with 50 cals escorting the bus unto the Camp X-ray at the time. And you could really hear a pin drop when the bus has started to come up. Everybody was quiet. Most people were nervous. We didn‘t know what to expect.

I mean, I‘ve never seen a terrorist. I didn‘t know what one would look like. The bus came on and you could hear the marines yelling at them. The next thing you know, the detainees just started coming off the bus, we‘re just picking them up. We were taking them, control of them, and taking them to the in-processing station.

MADDOW: Brandon, you have talked about a physical incident between you and an older prisoner on that very first day that the detainees arrived at Guantanamo. Could you describe what happened with that older man?

NEELY: What happened was we took custody of the man, the detainee, we took him to in-processing situation. We came up in the other side of the tent, me and my escort partner grabbed him and we could tell at that time he was literally shaking. You could you see his hands moving.

He was very tense. He didn‘t want to walk. So, we started screaming at him to walk. We made it over to Alpha block and we put him in his cage. And he was just real nervous, real tense.

We put him on his knees. My partner took off his leg irons and put the leg irons outside. And he was still shaking real bad and he still has his goggles on. My partner went in with the key to take the handcuffs off. He moved away. We started yelling at him, “Don‘t move, don‘t move.”

Interpreter was yelling at him not to move.

My partner went in to take the handcuffs off and when he did, the detainee moved, go straight, real fast to the left. And I was on the left side. And just out of reaction, I slammed him to the ground, I got on top of him. He was trying to get up and the whole time when he was trying to get up, I was holding him down by the head, and couple of seconds later, I was pulled out of the cage by the other soldiers that came to help.

They went ahead and hog-tied him, which he stayed there for—I really couldn‘t tell you how long. But next day, we arrived at the camp. I was walking by and I could see on the side of his—side of his face, he was all scraped up and bruised. And I later learned from other detainees the reason that he moved and he jerked away from us was when we placed him on his knees, he thought we were going to execute him.

MADDOW: Did you witness other incidents of detainees being beaten up or punched, any other sort of physical abuse of prisoners there?

NEELY: Yes. There is another incident. There was an accident on Charlie block, I remember, because I was working in the block. And I happened to be working night shift for about a week or two and I can‘t remember why.

But the medic was making rounds to give out medication, and there was a detainee that was supposed to take Ensure, a lot of them take Ensure because they were very malnutritioned when they showed up. And he just plain refused and this went on for a while. They finally called the internal reaction force. They came in and they briefed them on what was going on. So, me working on the block, went ahead and walked over there to see what was going to happen.

When they got there, they opened the cage. The IRF team went in. They took him down. They cuffed him. They picked him up and cuffed him to the cage. And then medic walked in.

And when the medic walked in, he looked up and saw me. And then he kind of motioned for me to move over to my left a little bit. I didn‘t know what he was doing. So, I would have to move over. So, they were holding him by face and Medic open an Ensure can and started pouring in his mouth. And he wasn‘t taking—the whole Ensure was just running down his face.

So, the medic looked up and the medic struck him one time on the side of the face. And they got out of the cage, put him back on the floor and they left. I turned around. And when I turned around, the first thing I noticed was that the guard tower was directly behind me, so, I, automatically, thought over time that he positioned me in front of that guard tower so they couldn‘t see what he was doing.

MADDOW: So, it was the medic himself that punched the detainee in the face with you in the way so that it couldn‘t be seen from the guard tower?

NEELY: Correct.

MADDOW: How much do you think that a lack of structural—lack of instruction, a lack of training about how to deal with prisoners contributed to some of these incidents that you saw that you think are now quite troubling?

NEELY: Well, I think—I think it could be a lot because nobody really knew what was going on. There was no standard operating procedures as far as how a detainee camp was supposed to be run. There was kind of like a trial-and-error period, if this didn‘t work, we‘ll try this way one day—you know, just everyday was something different until they thought it was right.

MADDOW: Why are you talking about this publicly now?

NEELY: You know, I have been to Guantanamo and I have been to Iraq. When you return from places like that, it‘s not just something you just shut off overnight. It‘s just something that you relive every day of your life. It‘s nothing you‘ll forget.

And for me, over time, it just really builds up. And every day I think about it and I relive those situations, and it gets the best of me. And the best way for me to deal with this is speak out. And around December, it just—everything just really hit me. And I just knew I had to talk. I knew I needed to speak about Guantanamo.

MADDOW: Do you think that more people should come forward to tell their stories? Obviously, you think that it has helped you personally. Do you think that it helps the country?

NEELY: I think it does. I think people have the right to know what‘s going on everywhere. You know, this helps me in an aspect to get it out. But, also, you know, you got a lot of detainees that were innocent and had proven innocent. And they are trying to tell their stories and people don‘t believe them.

I think more people do need to speak out because I think the public has the right to know what went really on. You know, whether their time there was positive or negative, the people have a right to know what‘s going on and what happened there.

MADDOW: Brandon Neely was a guard at Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Brandon, thank you for coming on and telling your story publicly. Thank you for spending time telling us about it tonight. I‘ll mention again that you are the head of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Brandon, thank you.

NEELY: Thank you very much for having me.

MADDOW: Brandon Neely told his entire story to the University of California Davis Guantanamo Testimonials Project, which is online and it‘s pretty incredible. If there is anybody else watching this show tonight who was also at Guantanamo, who wants to tell their story, they want to hear from you at UC Davis. You can e-mail them at

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