Monday, June 27, 2005
What I Saw at Gitmo.
Last week, I was privileged to be part of a Department of Defense trip to the Joint Task Force - Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I got to see the operations of this “controversial” facility up-close – something particularly important after Sen. Richard Durbin’s comparison of its guard to Nazi stormtroopers and calls of leftists to shut the center down. Our group went to GITMO to check out tales that the military was being too tough on these terrorist detainees. We left convinced that America is being extraordinarily lenient – far too lenient.
After speaking with soldiers, sailors, and civilians who collectively staff Gitmo, I left convinced that abuse definitely exists at the detention facilities, and it typically fails to receive the press attention it deserves: it’s the relentless, merciless attacks on American servicemen and women by these terrorist thugs. Many of the orange jumpsuit-clad detainees fight their captors at every opportunity, openly bragging of their desire to kill Americans. One has promised that, if released, he would find MPs in their homes through the internet, break into their houses at night, and “cut the throats of them and their families like sheep.” Others claim authority and vindication to kill women, children, and other innocents who oppose their jihadist mission authorized by the Koran (the same one that hangs in every cell from a specially-designed holder intended to protect it from a touching the cell floor – all provided at U.S. taxpayer expense). One detainee was heard to tell another: “One day I will enjoy sucking American blood, although their blood is bitter, undrinkable….” These recalcitrant detainees are known euphemistically as being “non-compliant.” They attack guards whenever the soldiers enter their cells, trying to reach up under protective facemasks to gouge eyes and tear mouths. They make weapons and try to stab the guards or grab and break limbs as the guards pass them food.
We dined with the soldiers, toured several of the individual holding camps, observed interrogations, and inspected cells. We were impressed by the universally high quality of the cadre and the facilities. While it may not be exactly “Club GITMO,” as Rush Limbaugh uses to tweak the hard-Left critics who haven’t a clue about reality here, GITMO is a far cry from the harshness experienced even by maximum security prisoners in the U.S.
Meals for detainees are ample: we lunched on what several thought was an accumulated single day’s ration for detainees. “No,” the contract food service manager said with a laugh, “what you’re looking at there is today’s lunch. A single meal. They get three a day like that.” The vegetables, pita bread, and other well-prepared food filled two of the large Styrofoam take-home containers we see in restaurants. Several prisoners have special meal orders like “no tomatoes” or “no peanut products” depending on taste or allergies. “One prisoner,” General Hood said, “throws back his food tray if it contains things he has specifically said he doesn’t want.” How is he punished for this outrageous behavior? His tray is numbered, the food he requested is put on it, and the corrected “order” is delivered to his cell.
The detainees are similarly catered to medically. Almost every one arrived at GITMO with some sort of battlefield trauma. After all, the majority were captured in combat. Today they are healthy, immunized, and well cared for. At a visit to the modern hospital facility – dedicated solely to the detainees and comparable to a well-equipped and staffed small-town hospital with operating, dental, routine facilities – the doctor in charge confirmed that the caloric count for the detainees was so high that while “most detainees arrived undernourished,” medics now watch for issues stemming from high cholesterol and being overweight. Each of approximately 520 terrorists currently held in confinement averages about four medical visits monthly, something one would expect from only a dedicated American hypochondriac. Welcome to the rigors of detention under American supervision.
Of the estimated 70,000 battlefield captures that were made in Afghanistan, only a tiny percentage, something on the order of 800-plus, were eventually evacuated to GITMO. These were the worst of the worst. More than 200 have been released back to their home country – if the U.S. is assured that the detainees would not be tortured by local authorities upon return. These men were freed because they were deemed by ongoing official military review processes to no longer pose a threat, or to possess no useful intelligence. And this process has proven too generous at times: more than 10 released GITMO detainees have been killed or recaptured fighting Americans or have been identified as resuming terrorist activities. Still, the process is up and running for review of cases, and if a Washington DC circuit court approves a government appeal, the system for military tribunals will get started. All mechanisms are in place and ready to go as soon as DoD gets a green light.
There is a good reason these unlawful combatants are being confined. They are evil and dangerous individuals. Yet these thugs are treated with an amazing degree of compassion: They are given ice cream treats and recreational time. They live in clean facilities, and receive a full Muslim religious package of Koran, prayer rug, beads, and prayer oils. An arrow in every cell points to Mecca. The call to prayer is played five times daily. They are not abused, hanged, tortured, beheaded, raped, mutilated, or in any way treated the way that they once treated their own captives – or now treat their guards.
Some questioned whether it were wise to give these radical Islamic fundamentalists the religious supplies that ended up landing them in Gitmo in the first place. “Giving them the Koran is simply something that we think we ought to do as a humane gesture,” said second-in-command Brigadier General Gong. “We’re Americans. That’s how we operate.”
When we challenged military authorities about the seemingly plush environs these would-be murderers receive, the commanding officers stated this was the most productive course. JTF-GITMO commanding officer Brigadier General Jay Hood radiated confidence and determination when fielding challenges from our group about his overly lenient treatment. “It works,” he says simply. “We do not allow torture or mistreatment, period.” How to they guarantee this? By rigorous, on-going training and constant oversight up and down the supervisory chain. As proof that “establishing rapport” with the detainees is far more effective than coercive techniques, General Hood refers skeptics to the massive amount of usable intelligence information JTF-GITMO continues to produce even three years into the program.
You are right to worry about inhumane treatment taking place at GITMO. But your concern should be for the dedicated, well-trained, highly professional American men and women who are subjected to a daily barrage of feces, urine, semen, and spit hurled at them along with vile invective as they implement a humane, enlightened system of confinement on men who want nothing more than to kill Americans. These quiet professional Americans, who live under the motto “Honor Bound for Defense of Freedom,” deserve our utmost respect and concern. Shame on anyone who slanders or disrespects them for short-term and short-sighted political advantage.