03 Oct 2006

Interviews with a Guantanamo Staff Nurse

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Patterico has published the first two parts of a series of five interviews with “Stashiu,” a 23-year veteran US Army nurse who was stationed at the Guantánamo detention facility, working in its Behavioral Health Services department with inmates with psychological and/or behavioral problems.

We will be linking the later parts of the series as they appear.

Part One: Introduction.

I know Zarqawi,” the terrorist said to the American. “I am going to have Zarqawi cut off your family’s head while you watch. Then he will cut off your head.”

The terrorist said it all in a matter-of-fact way, looking the American straight in the eye.

The American was not frightened. There was little danger that the terrorist was going to carry out his threat . . . at least any time soon.

The terrorist was a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the American was an Army nurse who worked with Guantánamo detainees with psychological and/or behavioral problems. For six months, he spoke with detainees on a daily basis, and built a rapport of sorts with some of the most troublesome terrorists at Guantánamo.

He spoke with me recently, and I will be telling his story in several posts over the coming days.

Part Two: Stashiu arrives at GTMO, and tells us what the terrorists are like.

Stashiu is not able to share specific details of conversations he had with specific individuals, for reasons having to do principally with patient confidentiality, and in part with operational security. But he can give you, the reader, a good overview of what types of human beings are being detained at Guantánamo Bay.

I asked him that very question: what are the detainees like? Stashiu said:

For many of them, think Ted Bundy. Educated, charming, and without conscience for those they consider infidels. Some are truly ill and were taken advantage of because of it. For example, one routinely asked us for an explosive suicide vest so he could assassinate Osama Bin Laden or George Bush for us, whoever he could find first (he was completely serious).

Part Three: Hunger strikes, suicides and suicide attempts, and mental illness.

Detainees Take Advantage of Concessions and Spread False Propaganda

I asked about the recent New York Times Magazine article about Guantánamo, which provided an in-depth look at the hunger strikes and suicide attempts. (I linked to and excerpted heavily from that article in this post.) The article, which was based on interviews with numerous people at Guantánamo, made several points, including these:

The Colonel in charge made numerous concessions to the terrorists in terms of living conditions.
Intelligence officials resisted the Colonel’s changes because they made interrogation more difficult, as the interrogators could not use promises of better living conditions as a carrot.

The suicide attempts and three successful suicides were an organized event designed to create worldwide sympathy for the detainees’ plight — and the detainees who committed suicide did so in part by taking advantage of the Colonel’s measures to improve living conditions.
Of the article, Stashiu said:

The article is amazingly accurate and even-handed. The things that COL Bumgarner tried were good-faith efforts to make the best of the situation. Many of the detainees also made good-faith efforts to improve things, but I believe that any concessions were hijacked by the extremists and used against everyone else’s efforts. For example, the lights being dimmed, extra bedding, etc… were all used to facilitate the successful suicides. But, before those changes had not been at least tried, the extremists escalated the rhetoric against us saying, “See? They will not do anything to make things better!”

As the article explains, there were competing objectives among the detainees. Simply, we were in a Catch-22. If concessions were made, one group would say that they could get even more by continuing to cause problems. If concessions weren’t made, the reasoning was that they just weren’t applying enough pressure. There is a hardcore group of AQ there that will try to turn everything they can to their advantage. They circulate untrue stories of torture, poisoned food, desecrated Korans, and many other things. This keeps the tensions high and then they find a way to light the match.

Part Four: Treatment of the detainees

The attacks on military personnel could be brutal, he explained:

We were told about one female medic who had to have major reconstructive surgery on her face following a detainee assault. She was too close to the beanhole (door opening) and the detainee was able to reach out, grab her head, and pull her face-first into the steel frame of the door, shattering most of the facial bone structure.

As medical personnel we would occasionally forget that these were detainees and treat them as we would regular patients. The guard force was usually very alert and prevented us from inadvertently risking ourselves, but this happened too quickly for anyone to prevent. Of course, we were all very careful about proximity for a long time after that…

I asked Stashiu: what was the most surprising thing about your life at GTMO? He replied that, while you might think it would be something about the detainees, to him the most surprising thing was actually the behavior of the Navy Master-at-Arms — the guard force for Guantánamo. Stashiu said that these guards are generally 18 to 20 years old, and are consistently showered with human waste products thrown at them by detainees — yet as a general rule, they stay remarkably professional and do not allow themselves to be antagonized. Stashiu found their behavior the most impressive part of his stay at Guantánamo.

Part Five: Stashiu reacts to Big Media pieces about GTMO.

Stashiu confirmed something not everyone realizes: detainees are still being interrogated at GTMO — and are apparently still giving up good information.

What harsh techniques are being used to extract this information? The answer to that question will shock you.

A couple of recent pieces in the media have suggested that some of the detainees actually enjoy their interrogations. For example, in a passage that reminded me of Monty Python’s “Comfy Chair” sketch (from the show about the Spanish Inquisition), Rich Lowry said this:

Interrogators rely on the soft sell. Detainees sit in a La-Z-Boy chair during interrogations, and beverages and movies are available to put them at ease. The most effective interrogator is said to be an older woman who adopts a nurturing attitude…

So I asked Stashiu: are the detainees really pampered in interrogations? He said:

For some, they eagerly await days until “reservation” (interrogation) and there are frequently requests to see their interrogator. This is why I said that some fear to return home or they would be killed as traitors. They get to smoke (sometimes 4 or 5 packs at once, uggh!), watch new-release DVDs that have been screened by Intel so they don’t get current events, eat pizza or fast-food, listen to music, smoke a hooka, etc…. The better stuff they give up, the more the interrogators get for them. All of this has been previously released to the public, but you never hear about it in the MSM.

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