Human Rights

How to Become a Concentration Camp Guard Without Even Trying

A reluctant Guantanamo Bay jailer, who found himself working in that "legal black hole" at age 19, tells his shocking story.
The video to your right is a brief but telling testimony given by Chris Arendt at the Winter Soldier Hearings in Washington, D.C., on March 15. Arendt, out of options, joined the military at age 17 and soon found himself guarding detainees at the U.S. prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Historian Andy Worthington, author of the Guantanamo Files, estimates that a maximum of around 50 of the 774 people who have spent time in "Gitmo" were hardened terrorists. U.S. forces in Afghanistan -- where many, but by no means all of the detainees were captured -- essentially had no routine in place to distinguish between hard-core anti-American terrorists and the legion of people unfortunate to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. That would be problematic in any conflict, but Afghanistan was a conflict in which the Bush administration was unilaterally rewriting the laws of war. It was also a country that had been mired in a longstanding civil war, one that had nothing to do with the United States. That intra-Muslim conflict had drawn people from around the Islamic world -- not only fighters, but religious students, aid workers and other adventurous types who found themselves on the wrong end of a fight with the most powerful country in the world.

There were Afghani nationals who could distinguish between hardened terrorists and those caught in the United States' dragnet, but they were ignored by intelligence officials. The policy, never written, was that any non-Afghan captured by -- or sold to -- the United States ended up in Guantanamo, isolated, without access to legal aid (in the early period) and with little or no ability to contest the basis of their detentions.

Arendt's testimony gives us the other side of the story of Gitmo -- the story of a reluctant jailer who found himself, at the age of 19, involved in the "legal black hole" that Guantanamo Bay has become.
Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.
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