In a column titled "Gitmo Grovel: Enough Already," syndicated Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer cited a Navy report that determined that detainee abuse at the Pentagon's detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has been "relatively minor," to suggest that allegations of abuse there are little more than "rumor." Several days earlier, on the May 31 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity claimed that "we didn't hurt anybody" at Guantánamo.
But first-hand accounts by FBI agents and humanitarian workers for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) contradict the assessment that abuse at Guantánamo is "minor" or mere "rumor." Moreover, the Navy report accounted for less than 60 percent of alleged cases of detainee abuse, while investigations into other abuses at Guantánamo and other U.S. detention facilities are ongoing.
Referring to a report by Navy inspector general Albert T. Church on U.S. interrogation and detention operations in Guantánamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Krauthammer wrote in his June 3 column: "In March the Navy inspector general reported that, out of about 24,000 interrogations at Guantánamo, there were seven confirmed cases of abuse, 'all of which were relatively minor.' "
Yet a series of FBI emails released in late 2004 and early 2005 under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that for longer than a year "top FBI officials were strongly objecting to unorthodox practices -- such as hooding and slapping prisoners, sleep deprivation and the use of dogs for intimidation by U.S. military interrogators at Guantánamo Bay," according to Newsweek's summary of the documents, which are all publicly available on the American Civil Liberties Union's website. Newsweek also highlighted a letter by deputy assistant FBI director for counterterrorism T.J. Harrington urging the Pentagon to investigate an incident in which "a female U.S. military interrogator stroked and applied lotion to a shackled male prisoner, yanked his thumbs back, causing him to grimace in pain and then 'grabbed his genitals.' " Other examples of abuse detailed in the FBI reports included the use of extreme temperatures, glaring light, deprivation of food and water, and gagging a prisoner with duct tape. One FBI email described abuse in graphic terms:
On a couple of occassions [sic], I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they had urinated or defacated [sic] on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more. On one occassion [sic], the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. When I asked the [military police guards] what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment, and the detainee was not to be moved. On another occassion [sic], the A/C had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.
Though Krauthammer noted the full number of interrogations that the Church report documented, he did not mention the report's acknowledgment that it only "examined the 187 DoD [Department of Defense] investigations of alleged detainee abuse that had been closed as of September 30, 2004," excluding "[a]nother 130 cases [that] remained open ... with investigations ongoing."
In light of this shortcoming and the revelations in the FBI memos, the Pentagon has apparently recognized that the Church report did not fully address concerns about detainee abuse. The Washington Post reported on May 27: "A broader investigation by the U.S. Southern Command into allegations of abuse and mistreatment contained in memos written by FBI personnel stationed at Guantánamo Bay is continuing."
The ICRC has also described severe abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo. The New York Times reported on November 30, 2004, that confidential ICRC reports to the U.S. government noted that a Red Cross inspection team in Guantánamo witnessed physical abuse "tantamount to torture," including temperature extremes, persistent noise, and "some beatings."
Though their accounts have not been confirmed, numerous detainees have also complained of severe abuse at Guantánamo. For example, The Washington Post reported on April 14 that one Guantánamo detainee "alleges that U.S. military guards jumped on his head until he had a stroke that paralyzed his face, nearly drowned him in a toilet and later broke several of his fingers." Lawyers for this detainee have sued the Defense and Justice departments, demanding the release of a video recording of this treatment that they believe the government has. The detainee is one of six who are suing these departments to obtain information on alleged torture.
The New York Times highlighted the underreporting of abuses in the Church report on March 16, 2005: "A Pentagon report sent to Congress last week cited only six prisoner deaths caused by abuse, but that partial tally was limited to what the author, Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III of the Navy, called ''closed, substantiated abuse cases'' as of last September. The new figure of 26 was provided by the Army and Navy this week after repeated inquiries."
In separate March 11 editorials upon the release of the Church report, both The New York Times and The Washington Post referred to the report as a "whitewash," primarily because it failed to implicate senior military or civilian officials for any of the abuses that have occurred in Guantánamo, Iraq, or Afghanistan.
HANNITY: How many -- how many -- how many were murdered in the gulags by estimates, do you know? Millions, though.
RATNER: I don't know the answer, but a lot of people were murdered.
HANNITY: Millions and millions were murdered. How many people do we know that were murdered in the camps that we're talking about here at Guantánamo Bay?
RATNER: We don't know of anybody that I know of that was murdered in Guantánamo Bay.
HANNITY: We don't know [inaudible].
RATNER: In other U.S. detention facilities, there have been people murdered that we know, all over the world.
HANNITY: Yes. But we -- but we estimate that 20 million people were murdered in Stalin's gulags. About that --
HANNITY: Hang on a second. Here's the point. There is no comparison. Amnesty International is a radical left-wing group. For them to make such a comparison is irresponsible, and it gives propaganda excuses to Al Qaeda, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out. Isn't that true?
RATNER: Let me tell you what I know about Guantánamo. I've been representing Guantánamo detainees --
HANNITY: I don't want to hear about Guantánamo.
RATNER: But that's the only way we can compare. We've picked up people. We've held them there now for three and a half years without any trials at all.
HANNITY: We didn't hurt anybody, didn't we? Not one person, by your own admission.