2011-04-02 Interview with Brandon Neely, former Guantanamo prison guard and Iraq veteran. "Then Dave Hicks shows up...and you're like. 'Wow this is what a terrorist is?'" (Part 2 of 8)

ImageThis 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.

Did you find yourself talking with other soldiers about it, or was is a really solitary process?

Are you talking about during back then?


I had one guy I was real close with, because I was new to that company, because I actually volunteered to go to Guantanamo. So all the soldiers were there I was new with. A couple of us were.

So there was one guy in particular, we used to talk about...I used to talk to a lot. He had been in the Army about a year or two longer than I had.

He was actually the one that was like, "Hey man"...you know, cause they told us from before we even left the United States that the Geneva Convention was not going to be held in effect.

Well I didn't know about the Geneva Convention. I mean, they really don't give you this training on it. So it's something you think the higher-ups would, you know...

But, he starts telling me this stuff like, "Hey, this is the way it’s supposed to be. This is what you need to read.

This stuff," you know, "What's going on here is kinda wrong." You know, "It's messed up."

He was the guy that we, kinda like...okay...we should go to work, put our heads down, do our jobs, and when we leave Guantanamo we just gonna leave it like it is...like...we're never gonna talk about it. We ain't coming back...kinda deal.

So he was the only one I ever really talked to about it. We talked what the other detainees said to each other.

About what was going on...kinda like not...kinda talking with each other about what was going on and what we didn’t agree with...but as far as talking to other soldiers...it didn't...you know you would hear people say stuff but it wasn’t something everybody talked about...a lot of people, actually at the time a lot of people in

Guantanamo when they were off work were either drinking alcohol all day, or just staying away from the camp as much as they could...just to stay away from that environment in general.

Was there any particular reason why you had volunteered to go to Guantanamo?

Yeah, as a matter of a fact had just came off...I had went to Egypt right after 9/11 as part of a security detail, where we were doing like protection for this General. And, when we came back...I was actually kinda upset that I went to Egypt instead of going somewhere else...like you know, 9/11 just happened, I'm ready to go on the front lines and fight this war.

So, I end up going to Egypt it with like 15 other guys. Then...I was asleep one night in the barracks room, and they knocked on the door and said, "Hey, there’s a couple of deployments that are supposed to happen. Do you want to volunteer for one?"

I was like, "Yeah, sure." I wanted to go wherever I could go. I wanted. I figured, "Well we're fixing to go on the front lines. We're fixing to go do something." I mean, if we're going to deploy this fast.

I wanted to be of service. I really thought I was going gonna go out and fight this war. That's where I thought I was going. And, I ended up at Guantanamo. I was actually...when I found out where I was going...me I wasn't the only one...but a lot of us...especially me...I was mad. I was mad that we were going to Guantanamo. I thought at the time, to go and babysit a bunch of people, when I should be out of here fighting some war. But that was the main reason I volunteered to go.

There's a saying, "War is hell." There's an aspect of the warrior life which is...it's not civilized right? If you look at history?


So, you are in the army. You are a soldier. Did your understanding of the prisoners at Guantanamo change, and...can you tell me...if it did change...can you tell me how it change? What you thought of the prisoners prior to going down there? While you were first there? And, then as you gradually progressed to where you are at now, where you are actually speaking out against torture and Guantanamo Bay?

Yeah, you know...here I am 20...21 years old going to Guantanamo. Everybody...I am upset about 9/11...and I'm like, I don't know what a terrorist looks like. I've always said, like, "What does a terrorist look like?" And, I didn't know if was going to be like some little green Martian coming of this bus or what.

And then...you know these guys get off the bus...and you've got guys like Dave Hicks that shows up. This white Australian guy. That could just be my next-door neighbor. And, and you're like. "Wow this is what a terrorist is?"

But, you know, at the same time, you were told over and over that these are the hardened guys. But, once you would actually speak to the guys that spoke English...you would hear them talk...I spoke to like Ruhal Ahmed on alpha block because I was over there a lot.

A lot of us did. You know, the guards used to work the block spoke to the English speaking detainees because when nothing was going on...which was a lot of the time...when they were fed and watered and stuff. There was nothing to do but walk around. And, we would talk to them.

I was speaking to Ruhal [Ahmed]. We'd talk about...we would talk about anything...from, like, women to Eminem, to Dr. Dre...which was the big music back then...going out to nightclubs.

I'm sitting here thinking, like, "Wow, this guy...I'm a year older than he is. We're sitting here talking about the doing the same things." Then he goes into detail back then...which he's later said, you know, now I went to London...like, "Yeah, man. We went over, across the border from Pakistan. cause we was trying to buy pot. We were potheads. And we wanted to smoke pot and we were going to sell pot. This is what we were doing in there."

It was almost kind of funny. But, I didn't know. He was like, "Hey, you know, my buddy is on bravo block. Shafiq [Rasul]...he's like, he speaks English too. So we'll talk to him."

So, you know, you were speaking to a lot of these guys. And, you were hearing these stories of...you know...like some of the stories were like, "Man, I wasn't even in Afghanistan, I was in Pakistan and they come in and picked me up out of the house."

I'm like, "What?" They're telling us, they are getting them all from Afghanistan. Because you hear all these stories, and then it was kind of like you know, most of the time I would think like, "Well, man, these guys have got to be making these stories up." Because, there is no way that we are going to pick all these guys up and lock these guys up for no reason...if they're innocent.

So I started seeing them more...instead of hardened terrorist...I guess you start seeing them more a person.

Like, "Wow! These guys actually have families," Like, I can remember when Dave Hicks was telling me...talking about his little girl and his family. And I'm like, "Wow! You know, that was his main concern...was hearing from them...not when he was going to leave. He was like, "Man, you know, I hope my family finds out where I am at."

Then you realize that these guys have families. And especially when years later for me...when you go back and you look at it and you start reading about these guys and seeing where their at now, like you know these guys are innocent. They’re out now and they're free, and they have families and stuff. You're like, "Wow! I guess what they did tell me back in 2002 was right. And, they weren't these hardened criminals. And they're out living lives.

But they went through all this and look how their lives are.

And that's what kinda made me really angry. And made me really start, you know, kinda say anything. I didn't speak out for me to make any money or do anything like that. It was like, "Okay, maybe if some of us say something...maybe these guys...their story will be more believable. Maybe it gives them some kind of peace or closure for them. So they can be like, you know, not all the guys there, all the people there think or thought this way...or think this way now, you know, that some of these people are actually human.

You know it was one of the main reasons I said anything. That, that's what really got me going...when I reached out to Shafiq [Rasul] on the Internet...on Facebook...and, we just started having conversations back and forth.

You know. you find out a lot more about these detainees. They're innocent...that I remember.

There's been over 600 people released. It really made me mad that I was part of something that was so...wasn't ran the right way, because if you've got to do something with terrorism...and, you have to do something with it...you know I think everybody would agree on that...but you can't just pick up every person who fits a certain profile. It's wrong. But, you have to do it the right way. You can't pick these people up, and torture them or hold them without trials. You have to do it the right way. And that's the problem that I had with it: that it has never been done the right way and it's not being done the right way.

Continue to Part 3 of 8

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