This is our first interview in a series of interviews with former Guantanamo Bay detention camp guards and detainees.
Several current and former U.S. soldiers have expressed interest in speaking publicly about their experience at Guantanamo: including a CIA psychologist, interrogators, guards, and medical personnel. They are disgusted with what they witnessed or took part in at Guantanamo, but declined my request for an interview, because they fear opening themselves up to prosecution by the US government, which required them to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement .
I was also told that many are afraid of being prosecuted for war crimes, since low level soldiers are often the ones who shoulder the brunt of punishment and backlash; whereas higher ranking officials seem to escape scrutiny completely.
Brandon Neely, has been a vocal critic of both Guantanamo Bay, and the war in Iraq. And he speaks from experience, since he was both a guard at Guantanamo during the the first six months the camp was open, and served in Iraq during the US invasion. In the course of his advocacy, he has offered testimony to the Center for Human Rights in the Americas, and appeared in numerous articles and on television programs, including a BBC program that recounts how he contacted two of his former prisoners on Facebook to express remorse for what he did. You can also find him, where I did, on twitter, @BrandonTXNeely.
*Apologies for the first seconds of poor audio quality.
Listen to Part 1 of 8 here
Hi Brandon, how are you?
Good. How ‘bout yourself?
Pretty good. Thank you. So, tell me a little bit about yourself?
Well, I grew up in a regular household. Grew up with a mom and a sister. My dad was in the military, and he's retired. Grew up in a military household my whole life. Graduated high school. Didn't do too much for ‘bout a year, and decided to join the military year after that. August of 2000. Got out August of 2005.
What was your experience of the military like?
It was good, overall. I joined the military to give back to my country, patriotic, all the right reasons. I didn't need money for college. My parents could afford college and stuff, but I wasn't ready at the time to go. My overall experience of the military was great. The military was a good place. It helped me a lot. I grew a lot. I got trained, I just didn’t agree with a lot of the policies that were going on, so that was the whole reason I got out.
What were some of those policies you disagreed with?
After 9/11 happened, the military kind of changed. It went from a very family oriented place, to a…not stressful, but always on the go. Went from spending time with your family to staying deployed all the time.
But you know, I was as gung ho as anybody, if not more. I was ready to go to the front lines, and I did, you know, when 9/11 happened, I was ready to go. I thought, you know people really needed to pay for what happened, but then when I went to Guantanamo in June 2002, I was there for the first six months there at Camp X-Ray and then Camp Delta.
You know, being involved or seeing some of the stuff that I did see there, even at the time I thought, "Wow, this isn't quite right." But at the same time I kept thinking to myself, cause we were told everyday. "These guys are the worst of the worst. They're going to kill you. And, these guys were planning 9/11. And, these are the guys we caught on the battlefield, you know, fighting and killing Americans. And then, it was like, "Okay, so maybe they're getting what they kinda deserve."
And towards the end of that deployment, we were just kinda like...me, and a couple of guys got together and was kinda like ah, you know, let's just put our heads down, go to work and when we leave there...when we leave Guantanamo we’re gonna just forget about this place and move on.
I came home in June 2002. Then a year later, little bit less than a year later, I ended up going to Iraq.
And the same thing. Okay, we're going to go into Iraq, and liberate this country...find all these weapons of mass destruction, do this great thing.
You know, we went there...was there for a year, then when no weapons of mass destruction. None of the stuff that we were told we were going to do, we did. And it was kinda of like, very disheartening...like I had lost...you know, just like, "Wow!" I was suprised. You never think that you'd be told to do something, and you find out...you know, it's pretty much a lie.
So, you know, when I was in Iraq, was when I really decided to get out of the military. My time's done. I'm not going keep spending a year away from home, doing something that, I can't get behind one hundred per cent. So, I left the military in August of 2005.
It's more than you just leaving the military, because you do go around...you do talk about your experience at Guantanamo Bay. So, obviously, something happened for you inside through that experience. Can you tell me a little bit about that? What happened for you?
Well, you know, there is a lot of Guantanamo. Most of the stuff that I know…that I took part in...I didn't have nothing to do with the interrogations. It was all basic stuff that happened on the blocks, or everyday dealing with detainees.
Cause, my primary job there...as an MP...was pretty much as a prison guard. Worked from 8 to 12 hours a day...interaction with the detainees all day. I’ve always been real open and public about it. I was involved in the first incident that ever happened there at Camp X-Ray on January 11, 2002.
Where me and my escorting partner were escorting a detainee to Alpha Block, and he wouldn't move...like he was like just frozen...and, you could tell he was real tense.
And, we took him inside the cell. Put him on his knees. Took off his leg shackles. And, when we started taking off his hand cuffs my escort partner went in to take one off and he jerked. I was standing to the left of him, had control of his elbow and his shoulder, and he jerked towards me. And. we started yelling at him, "Don't move! Don't move! Don't move!"
Then our are interpreters yelling at him, "Don't move! Don't move!" He did it two or three times, and the last time he jerked to the left, like it's hard to explain, but he just like jerked, and when he did...it was like out of reaction, I just slammed him face first, and got on top of him...and as he was trying to get up...just kept pushing his head down on the cement, until the five man internal reaction force team came in the cell, and pulled me off.
And, they hog tied him, and left him there for...I couldn’t even tell you how long...I know it was a couple of hours 'cause when I left that day, he was still there.
And, I can remember coming back the next day. The next day, we were walking down the block, alpha block, and the side of his face was all scraped up. And one of the detainees on the alpha block was telling me, “Hey man you know the reason he kinda didn't listen to y’all because when we put him on his knees"...because at that time he still had their goggles on...goggles were the the last piece of equipment we took off him before we backed out of the cell...plus he was like, "he thought he was going to be executed."
"When you put him on his knees, and he couldn't see, he thought you were going to shoot him, because in his country he'd known or had seen people that had been executed that way" So that's what happened.
And, I felt bad about it, but at the same time people that night...or during the actual incident happening...people were like, "Yeah, dude, you know,"...cause the guy I was with when it happened left the cell, and they were kinda, like, "Yeah, you did a good job, man. You got your peace (piece), kinda thing."
I was like, "Yeah. Yeah." But I never really settled with it...like felt good about it. I was just whatever, kinda, went on with it.
There was a lot of other incidents, and one that really, really sticks out to me was...there was an incident on bravo block with a detainee named Juma.
He had I guess, he made a comment to one of the female MP's...I'm not exactly sure what was said...but, Jumo was kind of...I wouldn't say slow, I would say. Kinda didn't get everything going in. Actually, later I found out he had some mental issues that later have been dealt with since he's been released.
But he made a comment. I was in the back doing...hanging out with the internal reaction force team. I wasn't doing nothing. It was kind of a slow period in the day, and I was on escorting duties, and they got called to bravo block.
So me being nosy, and hanging out with these guys, I decided to go and see what was happening.
So they get there. And, they get briefed about a detainee refusing to comply. He made a comment to one of the female MP's, who were in here.
We're going to restrain him. And, we going to take out his goods. Like, they were going to take out his mat...and stuff like that. Just leave him with basic stuff, like the water bucket and the restroom bucket, and stuff like that...and his Koran.
Well they get there. They tell Juma to turn around and get on your knees. He kind of looks at them like...I'm not sure if he didn't understand or what.
The officer in charge of the block with the internal reaction force team... unlocked the padlock on the cell door...and didn't take it off. But when he unlocked it, Juma turned around, got on his hands and knees. And, when got on his knees and put his hands on his head like he was told to...but when he had opened the cell door...number one man, who carried a riot shield...threw the riot shield to the side, about three or four feet in between them...and he kinda like did a little gallop...and jumped up in the air and came back...on the back of Juma with his knee.
The other four guys came in there, and got on top of him...was punching him and kicking him, and while they were holding him down, they called the female MP to come in there, and they told her to hit him.
She hit him twice. And, then they tied him up, and then they stood up. There was just like blood all over the...on the cement of the cell.
Then the medics came in. They put him on a gurney and they ended up taking him to hospital that night, and he didn't come back for a day or two.
But, I can remember the irked internal reaction force team had to go with him. And, when we went back to our tents that night, and they didn't come back 'til late. I can remember them talking, we're all rounding them...talking and one of the guys made the comment, one of the higher ranked guys that was involved made the comment of, "I never heard my name and war crimes mentioned in the same sentence so many times."
And, somebody said, "Well, what about the video tape?" And, they were like, "Well don't worry about the video tape. It's taken care of. It's been destroyed."
That incident right there was really...No matter how gung ho I was and whatever...I was like that was truly, truly uncalled for. You know, and especially now that this guy is, you know, he was innocent. He's living a life now, you know, he's got a wife and he's got a kid. He was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Even that much. That was one of the things that really made...that was when I started seriously thinking about what was going on there.
Brandon Neely Interview: