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.
You said you reached out to someone on Facebook? Can you tell me what that was?
Yes. Shafiq Rasul. One of the guys who got shipped in through me. Actually, I found him on Facebook one day. I've been on Facebook since '07 or '08 or something. And, I sent him a message on Facebook, and we started having conversations on Facebook, which is quite weird.
Was there a social life between prisoners and the soldiers? I mean, you said, you talked to them. So obviously, you had casual conversations with them. Did you develop relationship with them?
Like, you know, we would work different blocks...like different duties at the camp, so if I was on alpha block...like, I knew who spoke English. And, you know you'd like speak to those guys in passing...having a conversations with.
I mean if I worked on another block, and knew who spoke English, and you would joke around with them and the guys. It wasn't just like me or two...it was pretty much everybody that worked at the camp. Even the Marine General at time the camp spoke to them.
But it wasn't like you were sharing, you know...at the time I know I wasn't... most people were still kind of cautious. You didn't tell them, "yeah, I'm from Houston, Texas or something." We didn't say anything like that. But, you know, we would talk. We would just talk about like I said, women, food, cars...whatever it was. We would have just any conversations, that, you know, a lot of 20 years old would have. But, you know, it was just casual conversations.
You talked about two experiences where you found yourself feeling...I am not going to put words in your mouth...but it sounds to me like basically your conscience...it didn't sit right with what was going on, and you're in this position of the perpetrator and not the victim. So would that be a correct characterization?
Yeah. Exactly. It just weighed on me. You know, it just some of those incidents that you just don't forget about. It's just stayed with me.
Were there other incidences? Did you find yourself having to conceal how you felt...or where you able to express it...I'm trying to just...sort of...understand...I don't know...the kind of circumstances inside and outside for you as a soldier.
Yeah. You know, there were incidences early on too on charlie block, where a detainee refused to drink his Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink]. You know, the little carton of Ensure. So, I was working the block and it was the night. I happened to being working nights that night, cause we were still the only MP company there. So they called the Officer in charge of the camp at the time. I think it was the E-7 Star First Class with loops in it. And, then they came over there.
Well, they were like, "This detainee refuses to drink his Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink] can." The medic called them over there. So, what this guy can't refuse...
At the time...well at Camp X-Ray...I don't know how it is now...but back then if they refuse to take medication the internal reaction force team would come in and force the guy to take the medication or drink their Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink].
So they called the internal reaction force team...
That is so crazy by the way...
And they have the interpreter tell the detainee to take his Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink]...
It's like some kind of totalitarian brand awareness campaign...
Yeah. Well it's true. It's so true.
Well this guy he's shaking his head, "No." Like, he doesn't want drink his Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink]. So, the internal reaction force team goes in there. And, I'm like sitting there watching.
So, I'm on the block and I'm acting like I'm walking around. And, they go in there and, man, "POOW!" They hit the guy with the shield? "BOOM"
They push him up against in the corner of the cage...and they kind like...I'm trying to think of the best way to describe it, like...his right hand is handcuffed to one side of the cage, and his left hand is up there. He was kind of like, spread-eagled on the cage...if you can picture that. Kind of like he's on a cross, but he's against the cage.
And, the one man grabs his face, and the medic opens the can of Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink], and shoves it down his throat...like, pouring it in his throat. But, you know, the guy is moving his head...and its not even going on down his throat. It's going all over his chest.
Well, the detainee...or the medic looks around, looks at me starts pointing at me to move over to the right. I'm like, "What’s he doing?" So, he's like, "Move over to the right."
So, I move over to right. Well, I'm like, "What is this guy doing?" He hits the detainee twice...right in the mouth. "BOOM! BOOM!"
They take the guy down, hog-tie him and leave him in there.
So, I turned around. I realized that what happened was...he kind of position me and another guy I was standing with...positioned us so we were right in front of the Marine guard tower.
So, I guess, since we moved over he...I guess we were blocking for him punching the guy in the face.
Yeah, that was another incident I..and that was early on in the camp...within the first two weeks. I said, "Wow! Do you seriously have to do that? When this guy didn't even drink the Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink] can, anyways.
And, then later we found out, on talking to another detainee in bravo block...it was weeks and weeks later: "So, hey man...you know the whole reason he didn't drink that? He didn't know what it was. They didn't explain to him what it was. He thought he was getting poisoned."
The whole thing was that it could never happened, if they had the interpreter to explain to him exactly what it was.
Brandon Neely Interview: