Cal Study Finds Ex-Guantanamo Prisoners Broken

Published on
by
The San Francisco Chronicle

Cal Study Finds Ex-Guantanamo Prisoners Broken

by
Bob Egelko

BERKELEY, California - The first extensive study of prisoners
released from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, finds
that many of them are physically and psychologically traumatized,
debt-ridden and shunned in their communities as terrorist suspects.

"I've lost my property. I've lost my job. I've lost my will," said
an Afghan man, one of 62 former inmates in nine countries interviewed
anonymously by UC Berkeley researchers for a newly released report.

Another man, jobless and destitute, said his family kicked him out
after he returned, and his wife went to live with her relatives. "I
have a plastic bag holding my belongings that I carry with me all the
time," he said. "And I sleep every night in a different mosque."

The report, "Guantanamo and its Aftermath," also found that
two-thirds of former prisoners interviewed between July 2007 and July
2008 suffered from psychological problems, including nightmares, angry
outbursts, withdrawal and depression.

Many also reported recurring or constant pain from their treatment
in captivity. Six men said that for them, the treatment included being
suspended from the ceiling in chains at a U.S. air base.

Investigation urged

The authors called for a commission to investigate conditions at
Guantanamo and other prisons where terrorist suspects are held and, if
warranted, recommend criminal investigations "at all levels of the
civilian and military command."

"We cannot sweep this dark chapter in our nation's history under the
rug by simply closing the Guantanamo prison camp," said Eric Stover,
director of UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center. "The new administration
must investigate what went wrong and who should be held accountable."

Other co-authors are Laurel Fletcher, director of UC Berkeley's
International Human Rights Law Clinic, and Vincent Warren, executive
director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal
group representing some Guantanamo inmates.

President-elect Barack Obama has said he plans to close Guantanamo.
During the campaign, he criticized the military commissions that
President Bush established to try a small number of prisoners at the
base and said he preferred regular civilian or military courts, where
defendants have more rights. But Obama has not yet announced his plans
for the trials or for the majority of inmates who are being held
without charges.

Asked for comment on the report, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, the
government's spokesman on Guantanamo, said, "Our policy is, and always
has been, to treat detainees humanely."

A few former inmates, their lawyers and interrogators have given
personal accounts of Guantanamo and other prisons in memoirs and court
affidavits. The 136-page UC Berkeley report is the first to examine the
fate of large numbers of released prisoners.

The report acknowledged that the inmates' narratives often lack
independent confirmation. But it said they can be considered credible
because they're consistent with other accounts - by other former
prisoners, and by 50 past and present U.S. officials, lawyers and
others with firsthand knowledge of Guantanamo who were interviewed for
the survey.

The 62 men in the study spent an average of three years at
Guantanamo. Most were classified as enemy combatants before being
released without charges, like two-thirds of the 775 men who have been
held at the naval base. Of the 255 remaining prisoners, 23 have been
charged with war crimes.

More than one-third of the 62 said they had been turned over to U.S.
authorities in Pakistan for a bounty; one man described standing
outside an airplane with other detainees, hooded and shackled, and
hearing an American voice tell the Pakistanis, "Each person is $5,000."

Others said they had been arrested on flimsy grounds - for carrying
guns that they used for personal protection, for possessing binoculars
that one man used for hunting birds, or for failing to pay bribes to
local officials.

According to the men's accounts, their most brutal treatment
occurred at a U.S. air base in Bagram, Afghanistan, where half of them
were held before being flown to Guantanamo. The men said American
guards regularly beat them, left them in freezing temperatures with
thin blankets, used dogs to terrorize them, and, in the cases of six
men, hung them from ceilings by chains for hours.

At Guantanamo, 24 of the 55 men who were willing to discuss their
interrogations reported no problems, and a few described their
questioners as "very nice." But others said they had been shackled in
contorted positions and subjected to extreme heat or cold, both during
interrogation and afterward.

Chained and cold

Eight men said their worst ordeal was being chained to the floor in
a refrigerated isolation room, unable to move without being cut by the
shackles. The report quoted a former U.S. military guard as saying
prisoners were sometimes kept in such rooms in cramped positions for
more than 10 hours.

Other men described sexual humiliation and barrages of loud music and strobe lights for extensive periods.

The cumulative effect of such treatment over time, combined with the
prospect of indefinite confinement, would "in some cases clearly rise
to the level of torture," the report said.

Warren, the Center for Constitutional Rights director and attorney,
said the nation owes the men an apology, compensation and a chance to
clear their names.

Read the report

To read "Guantanamo and its Aftermath," go to:

links.sfgate.com/ZFJQ

 

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