Media Reports Distort Reality of Generous Treatment Toward Gitmo Detainees, JAG Says
Contrary to what has been widely reported and suggested in the domestic and foreign media outlets the U.S. actually exceeds Geneva Convention requirements for detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, a former U.S. Army JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corps. captain informs readers in a recently released book.
Allegations of intense mistreatment and torture do not square with the reality Kyndra Miller Rotunda experienced during her deployment to the prison camp at the outset of the War on Terror. In fact, the privileges extended to prisoners are so generous to the point where they actually comprise the safety and security of U.S. guards working at the detention facility, Rotunda explained in an interview.
At one point the U.S. military even went so far as to consider sacrificing a goat for detainees at the end of Ramadan but decided against it only because officials did not want to upset animal rights groups such as PETA, she tells readers.
There are no legal stipulations enshrined in Geneva or any other treaty that compels the U.S. to furnish religious articles to prisoners, she points out. Even so, the U.S. provides each detainee with a Quran and other basic items such as a prayer cap, prayer beads and prayer oil at taxpayer expense, according to the book.
"I think we are right to accommodate the religion of detainees as best we can," Rotunda said. "But the Geneva Conventions do not require us to put soldier's lives at risk. This is what happens when you make any item and any area off limits to the guards."
"Honor Bound: Inside the Guantanamo Trials" describes previous security breeches Miller attributes to overly generous policies. This occurred, most notably, in Camp Bucca, a detention camp located in Southern Iraq near the Kuwait border.
Within the prison grounds the U.S. military set up a "makeshift mosque" that was declared off limits to U.S. personnel, Rotunda recounts. Instead of devoting their time to religious studies the prisoners dug out an escape tunnel that was detected just before a break out occurred, she tells readers.
Worse still, the prisoners had also built up a "primitive, but effective weapons cache" that was turned against U.S. officials during a riot that last for days before a Black Hawk helicopter was called in for backup, according to the book.
"The U.S. military did not mention the Camp Bucca debacle, and kept the American public in the dark," Rotunda wrote.
Remarkably, even in the aftermath of Camp Bucca certain items such as Qurans remained "off-limits, to guards in Guantanamo, she said in the interview. This policy should be changed to allow for guards to check Qurans for contraband and to check other "off limit" areas for possible weaponry, Rotunda argued.
By comparison the U.S. domestic prison system operates with more restrictions and provisos than what is currently in place in Guantanamo, she points out. In a 2005 Supreme Court case Rotunda cites in the book all nine justices ruled unanimously in favor of rigid, even harsh, conditions at an Ohio super-max prison.
Media critics who repeatedly describe Guantanamo as the "Gulag of our Time" would do well to take a careful look at a report filed in 2005 by an independent committee led by Vice Admiral Albert Church, Rotunda suggested. The committee was set up to examine interrogation techniques within the Defense Department.
"In our view it [Guantanamo] is a model that should be considered for use in other interrogation operations in the Global War on Terrorism."
The report investigators concluded there were a total of 71 cases of abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. But, at the same time, they could only identify three cases of abuse connected with interrogation at Guantanamo and even these were debatable, Rotunda maintains.
With so much focus and attention on the treatment of detainees very little is said and written about the mistreatment of U.S. soldiers on guard at Guantanamo. "What am I suppose to do when detainees throw urine on me and spit in my face?" one soldier asked Rotunda.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Army does not have a disciplinary system that holds prisoners accountable during their detention time, she explained. "There is no disciplinary system at Gitmo even though the Geneva Convention recognizes the need for prisoners to be subjected to military discipline," she said.
Rotunda's book also tells the story of Staff Sergeant Matt Maupin, an army reservist captured by terrorists when his convoy was attacked in April 2004. He was body was eventually discovered in March 2008.
"His should have been a household name," Miller said. "Where is the outrage from the international community for our service members when they are taken and held? My heart goes out to him. All Americans should know his story."
Instead of focusing attention on the mistreatment and abuse of its own the U.S. government has allowed media critics to shift attention over to Guantanamo Bay with misinformation, Rotunda argued.
The U.S. government experienced another significant setback last week when the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush Administration policy of holding military trials in Guantanamo. The case Boudmediene v. Bush (http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07slipopinion.html)"is a troubling decision," Rotunda said.
The majority opinion falls back on "flawed reasoning" that is not "cut and dry" and involves " a lot of acrobatics" as way of departing from a long line of legal precedents, she asserted.
Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent has it right in her estimation.
"It [Boudmediene v. Bush] breaks a chain of precedent as old as the common law that prohibits judicial inquiry into detentions of aliens abroad...And, most tragically, it sets our military commanders the impossible task of proving to a civilian court, under whatever standards this court devises in the future, that evidence supports the confinement of each and every enemy prisoner. The nation will live to regret what the court has done today," Scalia wrote.