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Testimony of a Marine

Cerveny.jpgU.S. Marine Sergeant Heather N. Cerveny, Regional Defense Counsel Chief for the Marine Corps' Western Region, Camp Pendleton, California, was in Guantanamo from September 20-27, 2006 on official duties. On September 23, 2006, she spent an hour-long conversation at a bar with sailors working for the Joint Task Force at the Naval Detention Facility. In the course of this conversation, the guards described to Sgt. Cerveny routine mental and physical abuse of detainees. Acting on instructions from her superiors, Sgt. Cerveny signed a two-page sworn affidavit detailing this abuse on October 7, 2006 and submitted it to the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General. This affidavit was made public by ABC News on October 13, 2006.

The same day Sgt. Cerveny's affidavit was made public, the DoD Inspector General directed U. S. Southern Command, which oversees the base at Guantánamo, to conduct an investigation into the allegations in the affidavit. Ten days later, the investigation expanded to include further allegations of prisoner abuse at the base, this time filed by a civilian employee who recounted a conversation between a female guard and a male interrogator at the base.

On February 7, 2007, U.S. Southern Command issued a press release announcing that the investigation found that "insufficient evidence exists to substantiate [Sgt. Cerveny's] allegations", and that the conversation recounted by the civilian employee was "a fictitious account of abuse". Sgt. Cerveny was then accused of filing a false statement and the female guard mentioned in the allegation made by the civilian employee was to receive a letter of counseling for initiating a fictitious account of abuse.

Sgt. Cerveny's interview for the investigation lasted about five minutes. At her interview Sgt. Cerveny was confronted about her allegations, accused of making false statements, and read her rights. No prisoners were interviewed for the investigation.

Two years later, the Associated Press announced it had obtained a copy of the report of this investigation (The Bassett Report). According to the Bassett Report, one of the guards had told military officials he had abused detainees in the past, while the other had attacked a man posing as a detainee in a training exercise before being deployed to Cuba. Click here for a redacted version of the Bassett Report.

The UCDavis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas has analyzed Sgt. Cerveny's affidavit below, and calls for a full, open, and independent investigation into these allegations.


Physical Abuse

(HC1) During my conversations with this these [sic] people, one Sailor who called himself Bo (rank and last name unknown) told the group about stories involving detainees. Bo was 19 years old and had been working at Guantanamo Bay for almost one year. He was about 5'10'' and 180 pounds. He was Caucasian, with blond hair and blue eyes. Bo told the other guards and me about him beating different detainees being held in the prison. One such story Bo told involved him taking a detainee by the head and hitting the detainee's head into the cell door. Bo said that his actions were known by others. I asked him if he had been charged with an offense for beating and abusing this detainee. He told me nothing happened to him. He received neither nonjudicial punishment nor court-martial. And he never even received formal counseling. He was eventually moved to the maintenance section but this did not occur until some time after the incident where he slammed the detainee's head into the cell door (Cerveny 2006, 1).

(HC2) After Bo finished telling his stories of beating detainees, some of the other guards also told their own stories of abuse towards the detainees. Examples of this abuse including hitting detainees, denying them water, and removal of privileges for no reason. I recall speaking with a guard named Steven. Steven was a Caucasian male, about 5'8'', 170 pounds, with brown eyes. He stated that he used to work in Camp 5 but now works in Camp 6. He works on one of the "blocks" as a guard. He told me that even when a detainee is being good, they will take their personal items away. He said they do this to anger the detainees so that they can punish them when they object or complain. I asked Steven why he treats the detainees in this way. He said it is because he hates the detainees and that they are bad people. And he stated that he doesn't like having to take care of them or be nice to them. Steven also added that his "only job was to keep the detainees alive." I understood this to mean that as long as the detainees were kept alive, he didn't care what happened to them (Cerveny 2006, 1f).

(HC4) In addition to the above incidents, about 5 others in the group admitted hitting detainees, to include "punching in the face." From the whole conversation, I understood that striking detainees was a common practice. Everyone in the group laughed at the others stories of beating detainees. Most in group were in early 20's. Shawn was oldest. All except Shawn and Nicole were guards or escorts. Nicole was in intelligence (Cerveny 2006, 1).

Legal Abuse

See HC1.

Psychological Abuse

(HC3) I then started talking to a Sailor named Shawn. Shawn was the petty officer who worked in the mailroom for the detainees. Shawn is African-American, about 6'4", 210 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. He said that his job included looking through and screening the detainees' mail. He was just finishing a year of service in Guantanamo Bay. I asked Shawn why it often takes 6 months or so for them to get their mail. Shawn replied that there is often delays because the mailroom personnel have to look through everything and get it translated prior to the mail being forwarded to the detainees. I then asked why is would possibly still take 6 months if the mail matter was printed in English. Shawn said there wouldn't really be a reason and it was not uncommon for them to withhold the mail of detainees until they, the mailroom clerks, decided to forward the mail (Cerveny 2006, 2).

See also HC2.