Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama
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Aside from hunger strikes, other forms of resistance were met with brutal reprisal. Tarek Dergoul, a prisoner interviewed by Human Rights Watch, described how IRF teams beat him because he "often refused to cooperate with cell searches during prayer time. One reason was that they would abuse the Quran. Another was that the guards deliberately felt up my private parts under the guise of searching me."
Dergoul said, "If I refused a cell search, MPs would call the Extreme Reaction Force, who came in riot gear with plastic shields and pepper spray. The Extreme Reaction Force entered the cell, ran in and pinned me down after spraying me with pepper spray and attacked me. The pepper spray caused me to vomit on several occasions. They poked their fingers in my eyes, banged my head on the floor and kicked and punched me and tied me up like a beast. They often forced my head into the toilet."
Jamal al-Harith claims he was beaten by a five-man IRF team for refusing an injection: "I was terrified of what they were going to do. I had seen victims of [IRF] being paraded in front of my cell. They were battered and bruised into submission. It was a horrible sight and a frequent sight. … They were really gung-ho, hyped up and aggressive. One of them attacked me really hard and left me with a deep red mark from my backbone down to my knee. I thought I was bleeding, but it was just really bad bruising."
The IRF-ing of Army Sgt. 1st Class Sean Baker
Ironically, perhaps the most well-publicized case of abuse by this force was not inflicted on a Guantanamo prisoner, but on an active-duty U.S. soldier and Gulf War veteran.
In January 2003, Sgt. Sean Baker was ordered to participate in an IRF training drill at Guantánamo where he would play the role of an uncooperative prisoner. Sgt. Baker says he was ordered by his superior to take off his military uniform and put on an orange jumpsuit like those worn by prisoners. He was told to yell out the code word "red" if the situation became unbearable, or he wanted his fellow soldiers to stop.
According to sworn statements, upon entering his cell, IRF members thought they were restraining an actual prisoner. As Sgt. Baker later described:
They grabbed my arms, my legs, twisted me up and, unfortunately, one of the individuals got up on my back from behind and put pressure down on me while I was face down. Then he -- the same individual -- reached around and began to choke me and press my head down against the steel floor. After several seconds, 20 to 30 seconds, it seemed like an eternity because I couldn't breathe. When I couldn't breathe, I began to panic and I gave the code word I was supposed to give to stop the exercise, which was 'red.' … That individual slammed my head against the floor and continued to choke me. Somehow I got enough air. I muttered out: 'I'm a U.S. soldier. I'm a U.S. soldier.'
Sgt. Baker said his head was slammed once more, and after groaning "I'm a U.S. soldier" one more time, "I heard them say, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa,' you know, like … he was telling the other guy to stop."
According to CBS:
Bloodied and disoriented, Baker somehow made it back to his unit, and his first thought was to get hold of the videotape. "I said, 'Go get the tape,' " recalls Baker. " 'They've got a tape. Go get the tape.' My squad leader went to get the tape."
Every extraction drill at Guantanamo was routinely videotaped, and the tape of this drill would show what happened. But Baker says his squad leader came back and said, "There is no tape."
The New York Times later reported that the military "says it can't find a videotape that is believed to have been made of the incident." Baker was soon diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. He began suffering seizures, sometimes 10 to 12 per day.