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Testimony of a Translator


CSHRA has gone over the 2005 book by Erik Saar and Viveca Novak entitled
Inside the Wire: A Military Intelligence Soldier’s Eyewitness Account of Life at Guantanamo (New York, Penguin) and has identified the testimonies of abuse detailed below. Subsequent to the publication of this book, Erik Saar has given interviews to 60 Minutes, Mother Jones Magazine, and The Talking Dog.

Physical Abuse

(ES1) [Camp X-Ray] was a jumble of razor wire, with cells open to the elements and buckets in place of toilets. It looked more like an animal shelter in a bad neighborhood than a place to keep people.” (Saar and Novak 2005, 42).

(ES2) The guards did have one weapon in their small arsenal. If a detainee was adamantly resisting a command, they could go to their nuclear option and summon a squad of five MPs—called and IRF team, for Initial Reaction Force—which would subdue the captive with brute strength (Saar and Novak 2005, 72).

(ES3) All five MPs swarmed over him. One was responsible for securing his head, and the other four were supposed to take one limb each. The detainee was kicking and squirming, fueled by his hostility. One of the stronger soldiers who had a grip on one of his arms was punching him in the ribs (Saar and Novak, 2005, 95).

(ES4) The IRF process was a little more ad hoc then [= in the days of Camp X-ray], Vanessa explained. Getting IRFed at X-ray meant receiving a good old-fashioned ass whipping, after which the lucky detainee would be hogtied—made to kneel with his hands behind his back and his hand and foot shackles bound together—for four hours. Apparently the Red Cross had complained about this to the highest levels of the military command (Saar and Novak 2005, 101f).

(ES5) Halim didn’t speak in the following weeks. He just stared straight ahead. But the day that the MPs were transferring detainees from X-ray to the newly built Camp Delta, Halim received another beating. Vanessa saw him two days after the move and noticed that his face was black and blue. A psych told him that he was vastly better than he had been two days earlier […] there had not been a linguist present and […] the MPs had somehow lost the videotape of that particular IRF action (Saar and Novak 2005, 102).

(ES6) The treatment of the detainees by the MPs had been degenerating. The IRF process had evolved over time with the help of the Connecticut 902nd. It was widely known that IRFs now were being used punitively, not just as a way to get detainees to comply with commands, which was their original purpose. Now, if an MP walked down the cellblock and someone threw a cup of water or urine on him, he’d report it to the NCOIC, who would request an IRF team. And the IRF team would cast its net wide, going into the cells of three or four men nearest to where the incident had occurred (Saar and Novak 2005, 134).

(ES7) I watched as the team knocked the detainee to the ground and swarmed him to put on the shackles. The detainees shouted obscenities at the guards, calling them American dogs and bastards. This guy was as thin as a rail but had decided to throw himself into resisting and screaming at the top of his lungs. Hatred bred disproportionate strength, and his shrieks only fueled the chaos inside the cellblock. As the guards struggled to make the detainee’s arms conform to the shackles, I heard the unmistakable crack of a bone shattering […] His scream was ear-piercing […] When I asked Mo, who’d been at the camp a good deal longer than me, if he thought the guards would get in trouble once the leadership saw the videotape of the IRFing, he shrugged his shoulders. “The tape will disappear,” he said. That’s what usually happens when things turn out like this. I never found out if that tape vanished (Saar and Novak 2005, 135f).

(ES8) Things were turning more and more to the liking of Ed Pagnotti, the tough-talking New York City cop and self-described Tony Soprano of the 902nd who believed in payback, ordered up good old-fashioned beatings, and did what he could to hide the evidence (Saar and Novak 2005, 136).

(ES9) The man in shackles was already waiting for us in the interrogation booth, a bare room with a couple of folding chairs and a D ring on the linoleum floor […] The air-conditioning was turned up too high. The captive’s ankle chains had been shortened and attached to the ring so there was no play in his feet, and a short chain connected his handcuffs to the ring as well. The arrangement forced him to hunch over, partially squatting. He appeared to have been there a while (Saar and Novak 2005, 172).

(ES10) “Mo, I can help you if you will only cooperate.” Mohammed spoke, only to say, “Your guards have no respect for Islam. I have no reason to talk to you.” “We need to move past that, Mohammed,” Mike said. “I need you to cooperate with me. Did you know Fareed Mahmoud?” Silence. We played that game for about a half an hour, with Mohammed hunched over in his orange suit, shackled to the floor and staring at the wall (Saar and Novak 2005, 181).

(ES11) It looked as though even the mock IRFs, the ones done for training, had been stepped up. According to the camp grapevine, an MP had been badly hurt playing the part of a detainee during a practice IRF […] Sean Barker’s IRF had happened in the middle of the night, in a cell. He’d been asked to wear a detainee’s orange uniform, which wasn’t the norm, and apparently the IRF team wasn’t told he was really a fellow soldier. The team didn’t realize it until after his head had been slammed against the floor a couple of times. He was airlifted to the mainland for treatment, returning to Gitmo after four days, but he had been having regular seizures. He obviously had some kind of brain injury (Saar and Novak 2005, 190). [see Testimony of a Military Policeman]

(ES12) As soon as they arrived, the detainees were put through the usual rigors—kneeling in a rocky courtyard in the Cuban sun with their backs ramrod straight, being processed one by one through medical exams, cavity searches, showers, photos and fingerprinting, donning their first orange prison garb, and being hauled off to interrogation booths.” (Saar and Novak 2005, 207).

See also: ES14, ES22, ES30, ES39, ES40, ES42.

Sexual Abuse

See: ES38, ES39, ES42.

Medical Abuse

(ES13) Vanessa said she’d sometimes complained to an NCOIC, the enlisted officer who took care of the day-to-day, on-the-ground business for each MP unit’s commander, about the guards’ lack of attention to the detainees’ medical problems. He didn’t want to hear it. She cited the case of a captive on Sierra block who had complained of back pain each time she saw him and asked to see a doctor. Each time, she’d told the MPs responsible for the block. They were supposed to put the request for a doctor in their daily log. | After three weeks of this, she finally asked the NCOIC why the detainee hadn’t seen a doctor yet. He told her the detainee’s welfare was none of her concern. She responded that it might be of more concern to some of his superiors and said further, “I want to know if these complaints have ever been logged.” | “Listen, bitch,” he responded, “I run this cellblock the way I see fit. If I think a detainee is complaining about back pain just to get to walk across the camp to the medical clinic one sunny afternoon, then I’m not going to put it in my log. Now leave my block and next time, stay in your lane (Saar and Novak 2005, 73f).

(ES14) I heard him telling the captive, a Bahraini named Halim, that he was going to be all right. […] On the ground outside the shower I noticed a pool of dark blood; the detainee had apparently cut his wrists with a razor […] An MP summoned me over to the shower. There was another puddle of blood, with more smeared on the wall—a river seemed to have spilled from this man’s veins. I realized that the blood on the wall was writing: “Intahart min shiddat althulun” […] ‘I committed suicide because of the brutality of my oppressors’ […] Halim survived, remarkably […] He always had a dazed look, as if he didn’t know where he was […] Eventually the camp psychologist put the Bahraini on some heavy meds, which gave him his first opportunity to kill himself. Halim would fake taking his medication each day and hide the pills in his cell, planning to store up enough so he could take them all at once and end his life. But one of his cellmates ratted him out, and the MP introduced him to the IRF […] Soon after Halim got to Camp Delta, he tried another way to end his life. He thought he could scrape enough paint off the cells to eat all at once and do himself in. It seemed insane to me that a detainee who had twice previously tried to kill himself would be allowed to take a razor into the shower (Saar and Novak 2005, 100ff).

(ES15) Over time, I realized that some of the men on Delta Block were truly mentally disturbed […] some of them were just flat out crazy and belonged in a mental institution. I heard that one former Delta resident used to eat his own feces (Saar and Novak 2005, 111f).

(ES16) The same elderly man from the previous day was curled up on the table moaning loudly and complaining of chest pains. The physician’s assistant treating him was the skeptical type when it came to detainees’ complaints. She told Mo to tell the patient they had checked his vital signs and he should be fine. Mo relayed the message, but the man was shouting in Arabic that he was having a heart attack. Impatiently, the physician’s assistant said, “Tell him he is not having a heart attack and he’ll be fine.” Mo asked her if the doctor from the day before was around. She barked back “No, he is not here, and we no longer need your help. The patient will be fine without you.” | Mo tried top explain that the doctor had wanted to perform an EKG when the detainee was feeling the chest pains he’d experienced yesterday. “The patient will be okay,” she insisted, and ripped Mo a new one for telling her now to do her job. | Just as we were leaving, the doctor from the day before walked in, saw the man on the table, and immediately asked if an EKG had been done, as he had requested in his notes. The lower-ranking navy woman had indeed screwed up (Saar and Novak 2005, 125f).

See also: ES42.

Legal Abuse

(ES17) As I hopped into the backseat, Mo threw me a roll of green duct tape and told Mark and me to use it to cover the names on our uniforms. It hit me that I was about to enter a place where I wouldn’t want anyone to know who I was (Saar and Novak 2005, 41).

(ES18) One question the detainees repeated almost manically that day, and as I’d soon learn, every day, was “Why am I here?” (Saar and Novak 2005, 53f).

(ES19) In November 2001, President Bush had signed a controversial order establishing a whole new system of justice for charging, prosecuting, and punishing non-U.S. citizens he was calling enemy combatants. Yet none of the detainees had yet been charged or allowed to see a lawyer, and the open-endedness of their detention was without question the hardest thing for them to take (Saar and Novak 2005, 89f).

(ES20) I was amazed that some of the files [of the detainees] I was looking were so thin—sometimes just a mug shot, and ID number from Bagram, and a summary of the detainee’s initial interrogation, which might say that he had maintained he was a farmer, that he denied any connection to terrorism, and claimed to have been picked up by the Northern Alliance or the Pakistanis. (Saar and Novak 2005, 149).

(ES21) In my time at Gitmo, I hadn’t once heard the term prisoner used. The captives were detainees, a word that had seemed stiff and unnatural when I’d arrived. This was why. To call them prisoners would be too close to calling them POW’s, which would be akin to saying they were protected by international law. It was a game of semantics (Saar and Novak 2005, 162).

(ES22) Pagnotti also helped improvise a new finale for IRFs […] to shave the heads of IRFed captives. We began to notice that the detainee in question was a special favorite, the razor might “slip” and eliminate his eyebrows as well. The missing eyebrow trick made some camp officials nervous because of the potential for the Red Cross to take note, so on occasion these detainees were slapped in a special isolation cell, hidden away from Red Cross scrutiny (Saar and Novak 2005, 189f).

See also: ES5, ES7, ES8, ES37, ES39, ES42, ES4.

Psychological Abuse

(ES23) Later that afternoon Vanessa stormed into the room saying […] “One of those assholes crushed a detainee’s cookies again before passing him his MRE. All that shit does is make both our jobs harder.” Generally the detainees got MREs—meals ready to eat—for their midday chow, like the ones that troops deployed to war zones often lived on, but with the heating devices removed” (Saar and Novak 2005, 54f).

(ES24) After a few days, I could tell when detainees had just returned from a tough interrogation. They often had a defeated look: head held low and eyes lifeless. Sometimes it was more obvious; they’d sit huddled in a fetal position in the corner of their cells, staring off into space or even quietly crying (Saar and Novak 2005, 65).

(ES25) I’d already heard that there were lots of suicide attempts among the detainees, maybe as many as one a week, and a linguist was usually called to the scene (Saar and Novak 2005, 66).

(ES26) Seemed to me that asking these men if they were feeling hopeless was a little absurd, given their situation. That’s exactly what the interrogators wanted them to feel. It was a little ridiculous that the psych team was trying to conduct damage control for everything the interrogators were trying to do, and I found that, in fact, there were certain detainees the psych techs didn’t see because the interrogators wanted those guys depressed and dejected (Saar and Novak 2005, 67).

(ES27) Within my first few days I heard a detainee say he was falling in love with his interrogator, and he sounded so sincere that it was impossible to tell whether he was being sarcastic. I also overheard a detainee complain about how his interrogator was trying to “spiritually manipulate him.” At the time I didn’t really understand what that meant (Saar and Novak, 2005, 70)

(ES28) Of course, this sense of hopelessness was created by design. The captives were supposed to believe that the only way to end their internment was through complete cooperation with their interrogators, the only catch being that some of those who seemed most tormented by their indefinite stay were those who weren’t being interrogated (Saar and Novak 2005, 90).

(ES29) The mental health personnel and the guards always had to be on the watch for detainees who might try to harm themselves […] Even with all that awareness, suicide attempts were much too frequent (Saar and Novak 2005, 103).

(ES30) Mo had heard a lot about these trips [= round-trip flights from Guantanamo to Afghanistan to pick up captured terrorist suspects of high enough interest to send to Guantanamo], and he said they were extremely intense. “Every single aspect of the mission is meant to intimidate the detainees,” he told me. “Even the linguists are supposed to treat the detainees like shit and get them scared out of their minds.” Not long before my arrival, an air force linguist who had gone on one of the missions took photos, which found their way onto television. The bound captives wore dark goggles, headphones, and paper masks like those used by health care workers. During portions of the transfer, they were hooded, and they were laced down to the floor of the C-130 with black straps for the more than twenty hour flight. Some thought they were being sent to their deaths, and nobody disabused them of that notion. They were screamed at constantly during the trip. On the ground in Cuba, they were immediately thrown into interrogation booths for sessions that could last up to two days (Saar and Novak 2005, 117f).

(ES31) An army linguist who had participated in questioning the so-called twentieth hijacker told me that military dogs were use to intimidate him. Our psy-ops people—the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, called Biscuit—plastered the walls of his interrogation booth with pictures of those who were killed on 9/11; the interrogator asked him if this was what his religion was all about. He was subjected to strobe lights; a loud, insistent tape of cats meowing (from a cat food commercial) interspersed with babies crying; and deafening loud music […] Those procedures had been approved for Mohamed al Qahtani by Donald Rumsfeld (Saar and Novak 2005, 164).

(ES32) When I left the building, I noticed a shackled detainee walking over near the clinic, being led by an MP. I had seen this on a couple of other occasions when I’d been at the camp late at night. These walkabouts in the small hours were used to keep detainees awake, sometimes in preparation for an interrogation that would take place even later (Saar and Novak 2005, 174).

(ES33) But at one point, the interrogators told the night shift MPs and linguist to start moving certain detainees to different cells each night to interrupt their sleep and keep them off balance (Saar and Novak 2005, 217).

(ES34) By the time of the [October 2003] Red Cross’s statement, the official number of suicide attempts was 32, though I knew it was actually far higher. The device of labeling most attempted suicides as “manipulative self-injurious behavior” kept the numbers low, and Camp Delta’s command seemed to be using that designation more often. The military’s count of these fake “manipulative” suicides attempts wasn’t released until January 2005, when it was disclosed that a mass attempt by 23 detainees had taken place in August 2003. The Pentagon said that 350 “self-harm” incidents occurred that year, including 120 “hanging gestures” (Saar and Novak 2005, 243).

See also ES39.

Age Abuse

(ES35) I’d learned we were holding a group of Afghani teenagers who ranged from about twelve to fourteen years old and were kept in a separate facility called Camp Iguana (Saar and Novak 2005, 114).

Religious Abuse

(ES36) Mark described a near riot in the cellblocks earlier that day, instigated when one of the MPs had dropped a Koran and the detainees went nuts (Saar and Novak 2005, 171).

(ES37) “Adib, how have you been treated since you’ve been in American custody?” she [= Michelle] asked. “I have lost a great deal of respect for Americans since I’ve been held,” he said. “I am astonished at the guards’ complete disrespect for our religion. And I don’t think I’m the only innocent man here” (Saar and Novak 2005, 180).

(ES38) The outfit [= a microscopic dress with a sheer top, along with some thong underwear], it turned out, belonged to one of the contract interrogators. Her team worked in the middle of the night questioning Saudis who were refusing to talk. The theory was that these men were leaning on their faith and gaining strength from that connection. Her strategy was to be sexually provocative to try to make the detainee feel impure and unworthy of going before his God in prayer and thereby gaining strength. A linguist who once accompanied her in the booth told me that she had taken off her dress during the questioning and was wearing just a bra and a thong (Saar and Novak 2005, 191f).

(ES39) The detainee [a young Saudi named Fareek] had already been in the booth, alone and in chains, for an hour; she [female Army interrogator ‘Brooke’] told me to grab some coffee because she’d decided to make him sit for another hour […] “I believe the problem here is that its too easy for him to regain strength when he returns to his cell,” Brooke noted. “We’ve gotta find a way to break that, and I’m thinking that humiliation may be the way to go. I just need to make him feel that he absolutely must cooperate with me and has no other options. I think we should make him feel so fucking dirty that he can’t go back to his cell and spend the night praying. We have to put a barrier between him and his God” | We opened the door to the booth and saw the Saudi, who was wearing ankle shackles and handcuffs with an additional chain connecting all his restraints to the D ring in the floor. The chain was again intentionally made too short, forcing him to hunch over in the thoroughly uncomfortable position that I’d seen quite often by that time. Two MPs were with him. The air-conditioning was turned way up […] Brooke said, “Erik, I’m going to work on making him feel like he can’t pray.” | We returned to the booth. Brooke and I were both in our sanitized (our names were taped over) BDUs. To my surprise, she started to unbutton her top slowly, teasingly, almost like a stripper, revealing a skin-tight brown Army T-shirt stretching over her chest. | Fareek wouldn’t look at her. “What is the matter, Fareek? Don’t you like women?” As she said this, she stood in front of him and tried to make him look at her body. She walked slowly behind him and began rubbing her breasts against his back. “Do you like these big American tits, Fareek?” she said. “I can see that you are starting to get hard. How do you think Allah feels about that?” The detainee was visibly bothered but still didn’t speak. She moved in front of him and took a seat. “What do you think, Fareek?” she said, placing her hands on her breasts. “Don’t you like these big tits?” He glanced, saw what she was doing, and immediately looked away. | “Are you gay? Why do you keep looking at him?” Brooke asked, referring to me. “He thinks I have great tits! Don’t you?” Caught off guard, I just nodded as I kept translating, which had gotten uncomfortable enough for me; I didn’t want to be drawn in further. “This is all your choice, Fareek, we can go on like this all night or you can start to answer my questions,” she said. “Who sent you to flight school?” […] | She [= Brooke] had a high-priority uncooperative detainee, she explained [to 'Adel', a Muslim translator], and she wanted to find a way to break him from his reliance on God, his source of strength. He suggested that she tell the Saudi that she was having her period and then touch him. That could make him feel too dirty and ashamed to go before God later, he said, adding that she should have the MPs turn off his water so he couldn’t wash later. | I thought it was odd that a devout Muslim would suggest this treatment for a fellow believer, but Brooke seized Adel’s idea and built on it. She grabbed a red marker and disappeared into the ladies’ room. “Let’s go,” she said when she returned […] We sat across from the detainee […] “How do you think [, Fareek,] he [= God] feels about your being attracted to this infidel American woman?” | As she said this, she stood and moved her chair out of the way. She started unbuttoning her BDU pants. “Fareek, did you know that I’m having my period?” she said. She placed her hands in her pants as she started to circle behind the detainee. “How do you feel about me touching you now?” | Fareek’s spine shot straight as a steel rod. As I translated, he looked at me as if my death was his most profound desire. | Brooke came back around his other side, and he could see that she was beginning to withdraw her hand from her pants. As it became visible, the Saudi saw what looked like red blood on her hand. “Who told you to learn to fly, Fareek?” she demanded. He glared at her with vengeance, refusing to give in. “You fuck,” she hissed, wiping what he believed was menstrual blood on his face […] Fareek was screaming at the top of his lungs, rattling the flimsy trailer, body shaking, beginning to sob. He kept yanking his arms apart, as if he could somehow wrest himself out of his handcuffs. | “How do you like this?” she asked, holding open the palm of her hand to show him her blood. | […] The MPs rushed into the room and Brooke said to the lower-ranking one, “Fix the fucking shackles, leave him lying on the floor, and get the fuck out!” […] Brooke got down to her knees next to him. I followed suit. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” she said. “You have choices, Fareek. Who sent you to flight school?” He began to cry like a baby, sobbing and mumbling in Arabic too indistinct for me to understand. The only thing I picked out was, “You American whore.” | “What do you think your brothers will think of you in the morning when they see an American woman’s menstrual blood on your face?” Brooke said, standing up. “By the way, we’ve shut off the water to your cell for tonight, so the blood will still be there tomorrow,” she tossed out as we left the booth. There was no honor in what we had just done […] There wasn’t enough hot water in all of Cuba to make me feel clean (Saar and Novak 2005, 221-229).

See also: ES10, ES27.

National/Ethnic Abuse


Verbal Abuse

(ES40) “Are you going to cooperate tonight?” Ben finally asked calmly. The detainee stared at the wall. “Why were you in Afghanistan?” Again nothing. “What the fuck are you looking at, asshole?” Answer the goddam question! Why were you in Kandahar, you terrorist fuck?” […] The conversation continued this way for a good half hour. Ben asked the detainee the same question again and again, and the detainee gave the same answer […] “Tell me why you were in Afghanistan.” Nothing. “What is your fucking problem?” Ben shouted as he stood up. “Do you want to stay here the rest of your life?” Nothing. Ben sat back down and tried to look the detainee in the eye, but he avoided Ben. “Listen to me you little bitch, I’m going to make you hate life! Do you understand? Start talking! Why were you in Afghanistan?” No response. Ben called the detainee a liar and every obscenity in the book. […] After a half hour of the same shit Ben got up, kicked his chair, and stormed out of the room […] Ben decided to take a break for about an hour while the detainee remained hunched in his exceedingly uncomfortable position in the booth. When we went back in around 2330 we replayed the previous questioning for another half an hour. Shortly after midnight Ben ended the interrogation. “We have all the time in the world,” he told the detainee. “We can do this every night if you want to.” (Saar and Novak 2005, 172ff).

(ES41) Translating interrogations could pose real conundrums. In a session with Ben I found myself puzzling over how to convey one of the many obscenities he was spewing at the latest uncooperative detainee. Ben kicked a chair in front of the guy and yelled, “You are going to rot in this place, you terrorist motherfucker!” | Motherfucker really doesn’t translate into Arabic very well (Saar and Novak 2005, 219).

Abuse en route to Guantanamo

(ES42) “I [= Wael] was living in a village outside Kandahar when we saw the large American planes flying in the area. We had no idea what was going on, no idea why the Americans were coming to take over. Days later the Northern Alliance moved in and took away every Arab man in the area in addition to some Afghanis of fighting age. They took us to their own prison for a few days, which made this place look like a palace. | “For three days they tortured us,” Wael continued. “I watched one man get sodomized. Another man got a beating that nearly killed him. They gave us very little water and very little food” (Saar and Novak 2005, 80).

(ES43) Recent press reports had indicated that the United States was paying bounties for terror suspects, and American officials had made reference to this happening as well. It was a troubling piece of information. We all knew people who would turn in their own grandmother for the right sum, and five thousand dollars went a long way in a place like Afghanistan (Saar and Novak 2005, 82).