By ANDREW O. SELSKY, AP, Sept. 12, 2007
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Detainees flinging body waste at guards. Guards interrupting detainees at prayer. Interrogators withholding medicine. Hostility and tension between inmates and their keepers at the Guantanamo Bay prison are evident in transcripts obtained by The Associated Press.
These rare detainee accounts of life inside the razor wire at the remote U.S. military base in Cuba emerged during Administrative Review Board hearings aimed at deciding whether prisoners suspected of links with the Taliban or al-Qaida should continue to be held or be sent away from Guantanamo.
The Pentagon gave the AP transcripts of hearings held last year in a trailer at Guantanamo after the news agency sought the material under the Freedom of Information Act.
Amid the tensions, the transcripts also show a few relaxed encounters between detainees and their guards and interrogators.
The military has said Guantanamo is relatively calm compared to last year. But a report released by the detention center last month shows mass disturbances are up sharply over 2006 and forced removal of prisoners from cells and assaults with bodily fluids are on pace to match or exceed last year's total.
The transcripts, obtained by the AP on Friday, illustrate the friction.
A Yemeni detainee, Mohammed Ali Em al-Zarnuki, warned his panel of three U.S. military officers that inmates would attempt suicide unless guards stop interrupting prayers, moving detainees during prayer time and whistling and creating other distractions.
Four detainees have committed suicide at Guantanamo — three last year and one on May 30. Several other detainees have tried to kill themselves, including by overdosing on hoarded medicine.
"I want you to be aware of it because I don't want you to face a big problem," al-Zarnuki said. "The problem happened before. The detainees took medication before because of this. So if you do not put a stop to this, it is going to be worse than before."
The hearing's presiding officer assured the detainee he would pass the complaint on, but added: "We do not make the camp rules and we have nothing to do with the camp rules."
Commanders at Guantanamo had no comment Tuesday on the allegations. Guards have been trained to be sensitive about religious matters at Guantanamo, where wailing calls to prayer blare from loudspeakers while traffic cones are placed next to cells during prayer time, reminding guards not to interrupt.
In determining whether a detainee should remain at Guantanamo, the Administrative Review Boards consider whether he poses a security threat or has intelligence value. But detainees told the panels that lying to interrogators is common, calling into question the validity of the intelligence interrogators extract.
Some prisoners said their enemies inside the prison have lied to gain favor with interrogators or settle old scores.
One detainee bluntly informed his panel that he lies to interrogators and that others do as well.
"Why do you feel you have the right to lie to the interrogators?" a surprised panel member asked the detainee, Abdennour Sameur, an Algerian who was a resident of Britain.
"I was lying so that I can get my medical (treatment)," Sameur said. "Every interrogation that I have gone to I had to lie, because that was the only way I could get medical attention. ... They were giving me some kind of medical pills, but the interrogators stopped it. Every time they get a new interrogator the interrogator stops it."
Responding to questions from AP, military officers denied that detainees were deprived of medicine.
A Guantanamo spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Edward Bush, said no officials at Guantanamo had ever heard of a detainee being prevented from taking medicine.
Navy Capt. Bruce Menele, commander of the Joint Medical Group at Guantanamo, said that "interrogators have no authority over medical personnel administering medicine, or over any other aspect of detainee medical care."
"I would be highly disturbed and feel obligated to take significant actions if I discovered that this had ever occurred," Menele added.
Asked whether prayers are being interrupted and whether interrogators have withheld medicine, Bush said he was checking with appropriate commands at the base.
A letter signed by physicians and published Friday in the British medical journal Lancet compared the role of doctors at Guantanamo to the South African doctors involved in the case of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who was beaten and tortured to death in 1977 in police custody.
The letter, signed by some 260 people from 16 countries — most of them doctors — accused the U.S. medical establishment of turning a blind eye to the role of military doctors at Guantanamo.
It did not allege doctors were involved in withholding any medicine from detainees, but took serious issue with the involvement of medical personnel in force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantanamo.
The detainees' accounts also described a few lighter moments in the prison, set on an arid bluff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
"There was a time when the guards opened my cell by mistake and I joked with them by asking 'Can I help you?'" said Abdul Aziz Alsuwedy. "They laughed and apologized. The same guard thanked me later for not causing any problems."
Alsuwedy, whose account was contained in a statement sent to his Administrative Review Board, did not say whether the guards belonged to the Immediate Reaction Force that carries out forced cell extractions and suppresses disturbances.
Another detainee described how interrogators said he resembled Cuba Gooding Jr., and later brought him photos of the star because the detainee had never heard of the actor.
Several detainees said some guards and interrogators treat them with respect, while others do not.
"Who treats me good, I treat them good," said Sameur, the Algerian detainee. "Who treats me like a dog, I give them the same treatment."
Sameur then described what he did to guards he doesn't get along with: "I threw feces and I have spit on them."