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Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama

The 'Black Shirts' of Guantanamo routinely terrorize prisoners, breaking bones, gouging eyes, squeezing testicles, and 'dousing' them with chemicals.

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Clive Stafford Smith, who has represented 50 Guantánamo prisoners, including 31 still imprisoned there, has seen the IRF teams up close. "They're goons," he says. "They've played a huge role."

While much of the "torture debate" has emphasized the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" defined by the twisted legal framework of the Office of Legal Council memos, IRF teams in effect operate at Guantánamo as an extrajudicial terror squad that has regularly brutalized prisoners outside of the interrogation room, gang beating them, forcing their heads into toilets, breaking bones, gouging their eyes, squeezing their testicles, urinating on a prisoner's head, banging their heads on concrete floors and hog-tying them -- sometimes leaving prisoners tied in excruciating positions for hours on end.

The IRF teams "were fully approved at the highest levels [of the Bush administration], including the Secretary of Defense and with outside consultation of the Justice Department," says Scott Horton, one of the leading experts on U.S. Military and Constitutional law. This force "was designed to disabuse the prisoners of any idea that they would be free from physical assault while in U.S. custody," he says. "They were trained to brutally punish prisoners in a brief period of time, and ridiculous pretexts were taken to justify" the beatings.

So notorious are these teams that a new lexicon was created and used by prisoners and guards alike to describe the beatings: IRF-ing prisoners or to be IRF-ed.

Former Guantánamo Army Chaplain James Yee, who witnessed IRFings, described "the seemingly harmless behaviors that brought it on [like] not responding when a guard spoke." Yee said he believed that during daily cell sweeps, guards would intentionally do invasive searches of the Muslim prisoners' "private areas" and Korans to "rile the detainees," saying it "seemed like harassment for the sake of harassment, and the prisoners fought it. Those who did were always IRFed."

"I'll put it like this," Stafford Smith says. "My clients are afraid of them."

"Up to 15 people attempted to commit suicide at Camp Delta due to the abuses of the IRF officials," according to the Spanish investigation. Combined with other documentation, including prisoner testimony and legal memos, the IRF teams appear to be one of the most significant forces in the abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo, worthy of an investigation by U.S. prosecutors in and of themselves.

The IRF-ing of Omar Deghayes

Perhaps the worst abuses in the Spanish case involve Omar Deghayes, whose torture began long before he reached Guantánamo, and intensified upon his arrival.

A Libyan citizen who had lived in Britain since 1986, in the late 1990s, Deghayes was a law student when he traveled to Afghanistan, "for the simple reason that he is a Muslim and he wanted to see what it was like," according to his lawyer, Stafford Smith. While there, he met and married an Afghan woman with whom he had a son.

After 9/11, Deghayes was detained in Lahore, Pakistan, for a month, where he allegedly was subjected to "systematic beatings" and "electric shocks done with a tool that looked like a small gun."

He was then transferred to Islamabad, Pakistan,where he claims he was interrogated by both U.S. and British personnel. There, the torture continued; in a March 2005 memo written by a lawyer who later visited Deghayes at Guantánamo, he described a particularly ghoulish incident:

"One day they took me to a room that had very large snakes in glass boxes. The room was all painted black-and-white, with dim lights. They threatened to leave me there and let the snakes out with me in the room. This really got to me, as there were such sick people that they must have had this room specially made."