Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama
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As the Obama administration continues to fight the release of some 2,000 photos that graphically document U.S. military abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, an ongoing Spanish investigation is adding harrowing details to the ever-emerging portrait of the torture inside and outside Guantánamo. Among them: "blows to [the] testicles;" "detention underground in total darkness for three weeks with deprivation of food and sleep;" being "inoculated … through injection with 'a disease for dog cysts;'" the smearing of feces on prisoners; and waterboarding. The torture, according to the Spanish investigation, all occurred "under the authority of American military personnel" and was sometimes conducted in the presence of medical professionals.
More significantly, however, the investigation could for the first time place an intense focus on a notorious, but seldom discussed, thug squad deployed by the U.S. military to retaliate with excessive violence to the slightest resistance by prisoners at Guantánamo.
The force is officially known as the the Immediate Reaction Force or Emergency Reaction Force, but inside the walls of Guantánamo, it is known to the prisoners as the Extreme Repression Force. Despite President Barack Obama's publicized pledge to close the prison camp and end torture -- and analysis from human rights lawyers who call these forces' actions illegal -- IRFs remain very much active at Guantánamo.
IRF: An Extrajudicial Terror Squad
The existence of these forces has been documented since the early days of Guantánamo, but it has rarely been mentioned in the U.S. media or in congressional inquiries into torture. On paper, IRF teams are made up of five military police officers who are on constant stand-by to respond to emergencies. "The IRF team is intended to be used primarily as a forced-extraction team, specializing in the extraction of a detainee who is combative, resistive, or if the possibility of a weapon is in the cell at the time of the extraction," according to a declassified copy of the Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta at Guantánamo. The document was signed on March 27, 2003, by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the man credited with eventually "Gitmoizing" Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons and who reportedly ordered subordinates to treat prisoners "like dogs." Gen. Miller ran Guantánamo from November 2002 until August 2003 before moving to Iraq in 2004.
When an IRF team is called in, its members are dressed in full riot gear, which some prisoners and their attorneys have compared to "Darth Vader" suits. Each officer is assigned a body part of the prisoner to restrain: head, right arm, left arm, left leg, right leg. According to the SOP memo, the teams are to give verbal warnings to prisoners before storming the cell: "Prior to the use of the IRF team, an interpreter will be used to tell the detainee of the discipline measures to be taken against him and ask whether he intends to resist. Regardless of his answer, his recent behavior and demeanor should be taken into account in determining the validity of his answer."The IRF team is authorized to spray the detainee in the face with mace twice before entering the cell.
According to Gen. Miller's memo: "The physical security of U.S. forces and detainees in U.S. care is paramount. Use the minimum force necessary for mission accomplishment and force protection ... Use of the IRF team and levels of force are not to be used as a method of punishment."
But human rights lawyers, former prisoners and former IRF team members with extensive experience at Guantánamo paint a very different picture of the role these teams played. "They are the Black Shirts of Guantánamo," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented the most Guantánamo prisoners. "IRFs can't be separated from torture. They are a part of the brutalization of humans treated as less than human."