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16 May

Torture Continues at Guantánamo Bay

The “Black Shirts” of Guantanamo routinely terrorize prisoners, breaking bones, gouging eyes, squeezing testicles, and “dousing” them with chemicals

As the Obama administration continues to fight the release of some 2,000 photos that graphically document U.S. military abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, an ongoing Spanish investigation is adding harrowing details to the ever-emerging portrait of the torture inside and outside Guantánamo. Among them: “blows to [the] testicles;” “detention underground in total darkness for three weeks with deprivation of food and sleep;” being “inoculated … through injection with ‘a disease for dog cysts;'” the smearing of feces on prisoners; and waterboarding. The torture, according to the Spanish investigation, all occurred “under the authority of American military personnel” and was sometimes conducted in the presence of medical professionals.

More significantly, however, the investigation could for the first time place an intense focus on a notorious, but seldom discussed, thug squad deployed by the U.S. military to retaliate with excessive violence to the slightest resistance by prisoners at Guantánamo.

The force is officially known as the the Immediate Reaction Force or Emergency Reaction Force, but inside the walls of Guantánamo, it is known to the prisoners as the Extreme Repression Force. Despite President Barack Obama’s publicized pledge to close the prison camp and end torture – and analysis from human rights lawyers who call these forces’ actions illegal – IRFs remain very much active at Guantánamo.

An Extrajudicial Terror Squad

The existence of these forces has been documented since the early days of Guantánamo, but it has rarely been mentioned in the U.S. media or in congressional inquiries into torture. On paper, IRF teams are made up of five military police officers who are on constant stand-by to respond to emergencies. “The IRF team is intended to be used primarily as a forced-extraction team, specializing in the extraction of a detainee who is combative, resistive, or if the possibility of a weapon is in the cell at the time of the extraction,” according to a declassified copy of the Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta at Guantánamo. The document was signed on March 27, 2003, by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the man credited with eventually “Gitmoizing” Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons and who reportedly ordered subordinates to treat prisoners “like dogs.” Gen. Miller ran Guantánamo from November 2002 until August 2003 before moving to Iraq in 2004.

When an IRF team is called in, its members are dressed in full riot gear, which some prisoners and their attorneys have compared to “Darth Vader” suits. Each officer is assigned a body part of the prisoner to restrain: head, right arm, left arm, left leg, right leg. According to the SOP memo, the teams are to give verbal warnings to prisoners before storming the cell: “Prior to the use of the IRF team, an interpreter will be used to tell the detainee of the discipline measures to be taken against him and ask whether he intends to resist. Regardless of his answer, his recent behavior and demeanor should be taken into account in determining the validity of his answer.”The IRF team is authorized to spray the detainee in the face with mace twice before entering the cell.

According to Gen. Miller’s memo: “The physical security of U.S. forces and detainees in U.S. care is paramount. Use the minimum force necessary for mission accomplishment and force protection … Use of the IRF team and levels of force are not to be used as a method of punishment.”

But human rights lawyers, former prisoners and former IRF team members with extensive experience at Guantánamo paint a very different picture of the role these teams played. “They are the Black Shirts of Guantánamo,” says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented the most Guantánamo prisoners. “IRFs can’t be separated from torture. They are a part of the brutalization of humans treated as less than human.”

Clive Stafford Smith, who has represented 50 Guantánamo prisoners, including 31 still imprisoned there, has seen the IRF teams up close. “They’re goons,” he says. “They’ve played a huge role.”

While much of the “torture debate” has emphasized the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” defined by the twisted legal framework of the Office of Legal Council memos, IRF teams in effect operate at Guantánamo as an extrajudicial terror squad that has regularly brutalized prisoners outside of the interrogation room, gang beating them, forcing their heads into toilets, breaking bones, gouging their eyes, squeezing their testicles, urinating on a prisoner’s head, banging their heads on concrete floors and hog-tying them – sometimes leaving prisoners tied in excruciating positions for hours on end.

The IRF teams “were fully approved at the highest levels [of the Bush administration], including the Secretary of Defense and with outside consultation of the Justice Department,” says Scott Horton, one of the leading experts on U.S. Military and Constitutional law. This force “was designed to disabuse the prisoners of any idea that they would be free from physical assault while in U.S. custody,” he says. “They were trained to brutally punish prisoners in a brief period of time, and ridiculous pretexts were taken to justify” the beatings.

So notorious are these teams that a new lexicon was created and used by prisoners and guards alike to describe the beatings: IRF-ing prisoners or to be IRF-ed.

Former Guantánamo Army Chaplain James Yee, who witnessed IRFings, described “the seemingly harmless behaviors that brought it on [like] not responding when a guard spoke.” Yee said he believed that during daily cell sweeps, guards would intentionally do invasive searches of the Muslim prisoners’ “private areas” and Korans to “rile the detainees,” saying it “seemed like harassment for the sake of harassment, and the prisoners fought it. Those who did were always IRFed.”

“I’ll put it like this,” Stafford Smith says. “My clients are afraid of them.”

“Up to 15 people attempted to commit suicide at Camp Delta due to the abuses of the IRF officials,” according to the Spanish investigation. Combined with other documentation, including prisoner testimony and legal memos, the IRF teams appear to be one of the most significant forces in the abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo, worthy of an investigation by U.S. prosecutors in and of themselves.

Perhaps the worst abuses in the Spanish case involve Omar Deghayes, whose torture began long before he reached Guantánamo, and intensified upon his arrival.

A Libyan citizen who had lived in Britain since 1986, in the late 1990s, Deghayes was a law student when he traveled to Afghanistan, “for the simple reason that he is a Muslim and he wanted to see what it was like,” according to his lawyer, Stafford Smith. While there, he met and married an Afghan woman with whom he had a son.

After 9/11, Deghayes was detained in Lahore, Pakistan, for a month, where he allegedly was subjected to “systematic beatings” and “electric shocks done with a tool that looked like a small gun.”

He was then transferred to Islamabad, Pakistan,where he claims he was interrogated by both U.S. and British personnel. There, the torture continued; in a March 2005 memo written by a lawyer who later visited Deghayes at Guantánamo, he described a particularly ghoulish incident:

“One day they took me to a room that had very large snakes in glass boxes. The room was all painted black-and-white, with dim lights. They threatened to leave me there and let the snakes out with me in the room. This really got to me, as there were such sick people that they must have had this room specially made.”

Deghayes was eventually moved to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he was beaten and “kept nude, as part of the process of humiliation due to his religion.” U.S. personnel placed Deghayes “inside a closed box with a lock and limited air.” He also described seeing U.S. guards sodomize an African prisoner and alleged guards “forced petrol and benzene up the anuses of the prisoners.”

“The camp looked like the Nazi camps that I saw in films,” Deghayes said.

When Deghayes finally arrived at Guantánamo in September 2002, he found himself the target of the feared IRF teams.

“The IRF team sprayed Mr. Deghayes with mace; they threw him in the air and let him fall on his face … ” according to the Spanish investigation. Deghayes says he also endured a “sexual attack.” In March 2004, after being “sprayed in the eyes with mace,” Deghayes says authorities refused to provide him with medical attention, causing him to permanently lose sight in his right eye. Stafford Smith described the incident:

“They brought their pepper spray and held him down. They held both of his eyes open and sprayed it into his eyes and later took a towel soaked in pepper spray and rubbed it in his eyes.

“Omar could not see from either eye for two weeks, but he gradually got sight back in one eye.

“He’s totally blind in the right eye. I can report that his right eye is all white and milky – he can’t see out of it because he has been blinded by the U.S. in Guantánamo.”

In fact, Stafford Smith says his blindness was caused by a combination of the pepper spray and the fact that an IRF team member pushed his finger into Deghayes’ eye.

The Spanish investigation into Deghayes’ torture draws much from the March 2005 memo, which described several acts of abuse of Deghayes at the hands of the IRF teams. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist who reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” His writing and reporting is available at http://www.truthout.org/rebelreports.com

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One Response to “Torture Continues at Guantánamo Bay”

  1. 1
    mary Says:

    Obama now owns the torture mess. If this continues under his administration, he has lost all integrity. I am heartsick; where do we go now?

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