Pillbox

Gruesome stories from Guantanamo

Specialist Sean Baker, a soldier stationed at the United States? Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base, was dressed as a detainee for a practice drill one day late last year. The drill was supposed to train soldiers how to extract uncooperative prisoners; but on this day, the sergeant in charge didn?t indicate it was a drill at all.

Baker, who said he was beaten and slammed against a steel floor before the drill was halted, was soon sent to a military hospital with seizures resulting from a traumatic brain injury. His story was reported on 60 Minutes II last November.

Washington lawyer Brent Mickum brought this first-hand perspective of conditions and operations at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to CMU last week. Mickum, who has served as the American attorney for three detainees held at the base, gave a two-hour presentation to an attentive audience. He reviewed his background defending the Guantanamo detainees, the history of the development of the U.S. detention center there, allegations of torture being used against prisoners, and the military tribunals at which prisoners are tried.

A senior partner in the law firm of Keller and Heckman, Mickum was only the second attorney to visit Guantanamo when he joined the case in March 2004. ?At the front end of this case I can?t impress on you enough how tough it was, because when I first started the case it was an extraordinarily unpopular thing to be doing.... I got a lot of hate mail,? he said. ?Gradually, as the allegations of torture came out, it loosened up and my firm actually agreed to start paying my expenses.?

?The government set out to create a jail that was beyond the law.... They decided that if it wasn?t sovereign United States territory they could hold [the suspects] indefinitely and the court had no jurisdiction.? The government wanted a place where it would be impossible for the public to understand what was going on behind the screen.

?The fact of the matter is they wanted a place where they knew they could use brutal interrogation techniques,? Mickum went on. ?Guantanamo had been used before for [holding refugees, including] the Haitians and Jamaicans, so they had a kind of skeletal structure that was already in place.?

One specific charge of torture at the naval base came from a report compiled in April 2004 by three British men who spent more than two years in U.S. custody at Guantanamo. ?When it first came out, the government completely denied everything that was in here,? Mickum said, waving a copy of the report. ?[The prisoners] describe how people were being short-shackled for 18 to 24 hours in the freezing cold or the extreme heat, and they also mention the use of prostitutes.?

Mickum also cited the case of Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen who was detained by the U.S. in Pakistan in October 2001, then sent to Egypt for six months before ending up at Guantanamo Bay. ?He arrived at Gitmo without his fingernails, bleeding from his nose and ears. He was bleeding from his ears because they had systematically put out cigarettes in his ears over about four months,? Mickum recounted. ?[In Egypt] they hung him by his wrists above a steel metal drum, and he would just stand on it, and then they electrified the drum so that essentially he was given the choice between standing on the electrified drum or keeping his feet up.?

Mickum explained his views on the Guantanamo situation in general: ?I fervently believe that [the case] is about American values; it?s not about politics. It?s not about the President?s ability to wage war anywhere in the world against terrorism. I think it?s more about the President?s ability ? the executive?s ability ? to imprison anyone anywhere indefinitely, and torture them, even if they?re innocent.?

He also commented on how difficult it is for the detainees to defend themselves or refute charges placed against them at a tribunal. ?What we need here is some process by which someone has the ability in some sort of open way to say ?I?m not the guy you say I am.? They deserve some sort of hearing at the front end to determine if there?s any reason to hold these people.?