Reading the recent flood of New York Times coverage of leaked documents released regarding Guantanamo Bay brought back a lot of memories for me. In 2009, I worked as a Department of Defense contractor, in the capacity of an Arabic translator at a Top Secret unit in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The article brought to light some of the fundamental issues with the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, created by the Bush Administration specifically as a way in which to detain non-state sponsored agents mostly captured in the field of battle during operations in the "War on Terror." I cannot go into any detail about my responsibilities and work at Guantanamo, but I can tell you another story. A story that is often glossed over by the media.
Since its creation as a detention facility Guantanamo Bay, or "Gitmo," has been a source of controversy, especially after photos released taken during a prison riot showed orange jump-suit clad detainees bloody and handcuffed. And the world will not forget the controversy regarding the CIA's alleged waterboarding and "enhanced interrogation techniques." I will not comment on such issues.
I can tell you I was never privy to any abuse of detainees during the time that I worked at Guantanamo. And I was privy to almost everything that went on in that jail. But abuse was happening there. Abuse of the guards.
The New York Times article "Classified Files Offer New Insights Into Detainees," (April 24, 2011) states that "scores of detainees were given disciplinary citations for 'inappropriate use of bodily fluids' ... other files make clear that detainees on a fairly regular basis were accused by guards of throwing urine and feces."
What the piece glosses over is that these were not "accusations." It is a fact that guards at Gitmo get urine and feces thrown in their faces all the time. Working in such a place gives one an insight into the difficulties of managing a prison, nonetheless the most notorious U.S. prison in the world, under constant media scrutiny.
Detainees would refuse to return from recreation time and be allowed to stay in the recreation yard as much as they wanted. More intelligent and conniving detainees would bully, manipulate and seduce guards to gain their favor and control other detainees. One detainee would constantly spew racist and demeaning words at black guards. Detainees would bite and spit on guards regularly. They would also injure themselves in order to tell their lawyer they were tortured and help their case.
While the world condemned Gitmo as a cruel and unusual punishment, detainees were given full access to medical care, dental care and educational opportunities. Not to mention the droves of civil rights lawyers looking to put a Gitmo detainee on their CV of defendants. Many of these detainees have been returned to their countries without further issues. Others took a different path. Abdullah al-Ajmi (a.k.a. Abu Juhaiman al-Kuwaiti) was released from Gitmo and went to Iraq in 2008 to blow himself up in an attack on U.S. forces.
By no means am I defending the creation of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. I believe it was a terrible misstep made by a misguided administration bent on capturing and killing as many Islamic fundamentalists as possible, with no regards for the capacity of the facility or the possible political fall-out of putting prisoners of war on an isolated base to circumvent international laws on detention. Clearly, holding people without trial is a violation of their fundamental rights as human beings.
Nevertheless, as the United States rejoices at the killing of Osama Bin Laden, it is important to remember the people that made real sacrifices in our war against Al-Qaeda. Detainees at Gitmo are not the only people that suffer. The men and women that serve our country in uniform also endure adversity and abuse.