Videotapes of riot squads subduing troublesome terror suspects at the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, show the guards...
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Videotapes of riot squads subduing troublesome terror suspects at the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, show the guards punching some detainees, tying one to a gurney for questioning and forcing a dozen to strip from the waist down, according to a secret report. One squad was all-female, upsetting some Muslim prisoners.
Investigators from the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, which oversees the camp, wrote the report after spending a little over a week in June reviewing 20 hours of videotapes involving “Immediate Reaction Forces.”
The camp’s layout prevented videotaping in all the cells where the five-person teams — also known as “Immediate Response Forces” — operated, said the report, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
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Questions of misconduct
Although the report cited several cases of physical force, reviewers said they found no evidence of systematic abuse of detainees, according to the six-page summary dated June 19, 2004. An official familiar with the report authenticated it, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The tapes raised questions about mistreatment and misconduct, however, said the investigators, who suggested that some clips needed more scrutiny to rule out abuse. The military has cited 10 substantiated cases of abuse at Guantánamo, and announced yesterday that an extension would be granted for an investigation to interview witnesses in the United States and abroad.
One such clip the investigators flagged was from Feb. 17, 2004. It showed “one or more” team members punching a detainee “on an area of his body that seemingly would be inconsistent with striking a pressure point,” which is a sanctioned tactic for subduing prisoners.
In five other clips showing detainees who appeared to have been punched by team members, the investigators said: “The punching was in line with accepted law enforcement practice of striking the pressure point on the back of the thigh to temporarily distract the detainee.”
In other “questionable” cases, reviewers said a video showed a guard kneeing a detainee in the head, while another showed a team securing a detainee to a gurney for an interrogation.
A separate clip captured a platoon leader taunting a detainee with pepper spray and repeatedly spraying him before letting the reaction team enter the cell, reviewers wrote.
Left naked for days
Investigators also noted about a dozen cases where detainees were stripped from the waist down and taken to the “Romeo block,” of the camp. No female guards were involved, they said.
Romeo block is a camp section where prisoners were often left naked for days, according to two former detainees, Britons Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, who were released last year.
Although no female guards were videotaped in any of the stripping cases, investigators cautioned the U.S. government about using the all-female team to handle disruptive detainees, citing religious and cultural issues. Many of the prisoners are Muslim men and under strict interpretations of Islam view contact with women other than their wives as taboo.
“Several detainees express displeasure about female MPs either escorting them, or touching them as members of an IRF team,” the report says. “Because some have questioned our sensitivity to the detainees’ religion and culture, we believe that talking points are appropriate to address incorporation of female soldiers into the guard force.”
In one video clip of the reaction teams, the memo says, “A detainee appears to be genuinely traumatized by a female escort securing the detainee’s leg irons.”
All-female team caution
While stating that female troops have a right to serve as equals alongside their male counterparts, investigators warned the all-female team could create the perception that the gender of the squad was taken into consideration for the Muslim population.
The U.S. military wouldn’t comment on whether there is a specific strategy involved in using an all-female response force but said women, who serve on mixed reaction teams as well, make up about 20 percent of the guard force.
Prisoners released from Guantánamo have accused the extraction teams of abuse and one former U.S. National Guardsman suffered brain damage after posing undercover as a rowdy detainee and being beaten by teammates.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for all photographs and videotapes depicting the treatment of the detainees.
Although a court ordered the government to comply with the ACLU request and turn over documents, the government has refused to provide videos, citing privacy concerns, said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU attorney.
About 545 prisoners from some 40 countries are being held at Guantánamo Bay, most accused of links to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime or al-Qaida terror network.