Continuing my series of interviews with people with direct knowledge of matters Guantanamo Bay (or “GTMO”), the closure of which President Obama has made a signature part of his agenda, I bring you this interview with a former prison guard there, Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., who served at GTMO from 2002 to 2005. This interview is cross-posted at the talking dog blog, and can be found, in full, after the jump.
Terry Holdbrooks, Jr. served as a military police officer with the rank of Specialist in the United States Army between 2002 and 2005, attached to the 252nd Military Police, and later assigned to the 463rd MP company, a mobile deploying unit, based at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. From 2003 to 2004, he was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, where he served as a prison guard. On March 5, 2009, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Holdbrooks by telephone. What follows are my interview notes, corrected as appropriate by Mr. Holdbrooks.
The Talking Dog: Where were you on September 11th?
Terry Holdbrooks: I woke up. My grandmother (who was then still alive) got me out of bed, and we watched the television accounts. At first, I thought it was an accident. By the second plane strike, I gathered it was a terrorist attack. After watching the accounts on CNN, Fox News and so forth with amazingly specific speculations, I got frustrated with the coverage, and went about my day. I went to my friend John’s house, and we had a discussion about whether this was an act of war and the start of World War III. My goal for the rest of the day was to escape the coverage and the speculation and the endless discussion. At that time, I must say I reached the point where I didn’t care to see or hear about it any longer, and eventually, I went to a bar, I recall playing pool and otherwise don’t recall that being an all that consequential day for me, personally. I actually made it a great attempt all day long to escape the coverage and speculations that people had in regards to whether or not this was in fact a terrorist act, a threat, a mistake, the end of the world, and all the other crap that people thought it might be.
The Talking Dog: I understand you signed on to be a military police officer in the U.S. Army, and before deployment to Guantanamo (or “GTMO” as I will call it henceforth), were assigned to stateside bases. In the course of that, did you have any experience working in the detention context, either in stockades or short term facilities or anything of that nature? Before deploying to GTMO, regardless of “cultural or religious training” (for which, I understand the answer was “none”) did you have any specific prison guard training (under any applicable Army Manual, Geneva Conventions, anything like that?) Can you describe any training and/or indoctrination (such as what you have described as “propaganda films”) that you did receive? Can you comment on the overall “professionalism” of your fellow guards, and tell me why you come to this assessment? Were they generally from military police backgrounds?
Terry Holdbrooks: Well, we were given an introduction to detention tactics for a week or two in the course of training, but I did not find it particularly meaningful, or particularly realistic compared to what we eventually encountered. This was conducted at Fort Dix, New Jersey just before we left for GTMO. This was a crash course given to us by 5 random sgts of the “31c mos”, meaning, correctional officers. It was nothing like what we were going into, and in no way a real preparation for the experience ahead.
We also did see quite a number of what I would call propaganda films: films of towers falling, pictures of bin Laden, people crying and flags flying, and then random presumably Muslim individuals, all with heavy metal music playing, usually in three minute song length segments. Before going to Guantanamo (and even at Guantanamo) we saw a lot of these things, I just thought that this is how the Army stoked up people during training. Drowning Pool’s Let the Bodies hit the Floor was a common song for this. It is simple to see how it is propaganda and programming. We also took a trip to “Ground Zero” just before the day we flew out, this was to really nail in the idea that “these people are bad” and to get us riled and ready for hatred. I remember reading a quote someone had left on the wall there, “this is the worst tragedy to happen to mankind”. It really made me sad to think our educational system is so lacking, that this was the worst someone could think of to mankind. Never mind the Holocaust, Joseph Stalin, the Crusades, the Armenian Genocide, they don’t count, they’re not American-related, I suppose.
Also part of the training was an actual mock detention facility, which featured 2 or 3 cell blocks, and a larger area for recreation, a mess hall and so forth, we practiced guarding other guards… but frankly, the anger and animosity that we were supposed to encounter just wasn’t there in this exercise (perhaps had we been trained in a real prison, like Leavenworth, it might have been more realistic).
As to “professionalism”… that was just not a word I would use to describe guards at Guantanamo, other than when VIPs such as my home state’s esteemed Senior Senator John McCain or generals, diplomats or other dignitaries showed up, when suddenly, everything would appear to be in perfect order. Otherwise, most guards were just eager to leave, and new guards were disappointed to be there. (While the guards were less than professional, the medical staffs, usually Navy and Marine Corpsmen were quite professional… patient care was patient care, whether the patient was an American or an accused terrorist.)
As to the backgrounds of the guards, almost all were military police, and not many of them had corrections background. We had a week of corrections training in military police school, but that is not enough to certify you to work in a facility as far as I am concerned.
The Talking Dog: I understand that you have converted to Islam, after your own personal spiritual journey. My understanding is that this was, in part, based on an interest you developed in your youth, which was augmented by your experiences at Guantanamo (and you were at GTMO from 2003-2004). I take it that your conversion was not known to the official military at the time you converted? Did your paths cross with former GTMO Muslim chaplain Capt. James Yee? Were you aware of Capt. Yee’s arrest, and (at least for a time around 2003) the arrest of virtually every Muslim (soldier or civilian employee alike) who left GTMO?
Terry Holdbrooks: I did convert to Islam, though I wouldn’t describe it as much of a spiritual journey. I would just say it was about acquiring personal knowledge in order to have a greater understanding with and about other individuals. While it developed to some extent in my youth, my interest was largely about matters of Middle Eastern culture and history.
At GTMO, I did indeed keep my conversion quiet, though there were outward signs, such as my quitting smoking and drinking alcohol.
And I did meet Chaplain Yee; he game me a Koran. As to his case, I was aware of it, I believed the basis for his arrest was utter B.S., and indeed, he was ultimately cleared, so there you are. I was also aware of the arrests of the other Muslims who left the base. This was, of course, the work of the Bush Administration, who needed to drum up public support for their war, and they needed bad guys as part of this. There was little talk of him, his arrest or speculation as to why he was arrested while I was down there. It wasn’t until after I got back to the states that I came to understand how he had been caught up in B.S., just like everything else that General Miller was involved in. Detainees would ask of him, but they did not know what had happened, and the new Islamic chaplain they brought in had little to no privileges in comparison to what Chaplain Yee had.
The Talking Dog: Let me follow up on something most Westerners (especially non-Muslims) the restrictions associated with music (those on pork and alcohol are more widely known, for example)… can you briefly describe the restrictions associated with music imposed by Islam, in your own words, and how this impacted you as a trained audio engineer and audio-phile with a large recording collection? Also, I understand you observed loud noises– including loud music– played to detainees… I’ll ask you about other acts of religious or cultural disrespect in a bit… but was it ever explained to you (by either detainees or other prison staff… or anyone) that the selection of playing loud music was meant to “get under the skin” of the prisoners because of the religious injunction as to music… or was it just to (literally) drive them crazy with the noise?
Terry Holdbrooks: This music issue is certainly something to struggle with as a Muslim. I will say that there is some debate within the Islamic community as to the scope of the injunction… is it all music in all forms? There is some accepted opinion that, if the music is spiritual in nature, or created with good intentions, there is no reason why a devout Muslim cannot appreciate it. Something like Marilyn Manson, for example, is not “created with good intentions” or likely to fit with this, but plenty of worthy music is. Music by Johnny Cash, System of a Dwn, any classical artist, soundtracks of a musical instrumental only nature, Broadway productions, etc., that, for example, relates to issues of the Armenian genocide, or other music with a cause, such as to advance knowledge, is certainly within this worthy category, and I certainly would hope that this kind of music can be duly appreciated. What I have always enjoyed of Islam is that the script is in perfect form in regards to the Quran, it has not been changed in the 1400 years it has been in existence, still the same as day one. Obviously there are some matters that were not predicted, or rather written of, such as music, and we are a community of many, with many great scholars who will interpret the meanings in the Quran and hadith, and help for us to live the straight path.
As for me personally, what the injunctions mean is that I have about $6,000 in audio equipment, over 500 CDs and 38 gigabytes of music that just don’t get played! I have found the music injunction harder than the bans on alcohol, tobacco and pork! Something like music, when it has been your life, and you can remember years back and pivotal experiences in your life due to the album you were listening to that week, it is a great to be able to recall something so well like that, and with a few notes of a song I can be in a completely different place in my life.
As to the use of music to either physically irritate prisoners or to get under their skin in a religious sense, it was probably a little of both. A few interrogators would play endless, loud music just to irritate detainees. Even my favorite songs would start to drive the crazy, if played for hours on end. Certainly, it had its effect in dark, cold rooms with detainees chained in uncomfortable positions. There were a few interrogators who were aware of the religious injunctions, and were trying to use them in the course of their interrogations. The guards, however, had nothing to do with this… for the guards, like myself, the only involvement in these interrogations was to move the detainees to and from them. Some of the music that would be played would be what we call in the states heavy metal, hardcore, industrial, etc… very annoying to listen to at a loud volume for a long period of time.
The Talking Dog: You described a “hazing” towards yourself… some soldiers “took you out back”… can you expand on this, and tell us if you were beaten, threatened, or what? Did you report this incident to your superior officers… or WERE these your superiors? Were you given a specific
Reason– because you expressed an interest in or converted to Islam… because you were “going native” and getting “too close” to the prisoners (or being “too nice” to “them”) or for any other specific reason?
Terry Holdbrooks: It wasn’t exactly my “superiors”… it was a group of squad leaders, which, in the structure of an army unit, was just above a team leader. The army is organized with a soldier in a team of 3 or 4 soldiers, 3 teams form a squad, 3 squads form a platoon, and 4 platoons form a company. Each company has got a master sergeant and a captain; each platoon has a lieutenant. All lieutenants report to a captain of the company, who is nominally the commander, but often, the master sergeant, despite being lower in rank, has more pull than the captain.
In my case, a few squad leaders decided that I had shown too much interest in the detainees… I was not appropriately abusive or angry enough… I didn’t harbor “the right feeling”. So I was taken behind my barracks, and some blows were issued, pushing and yelling, a lot of profanity. I was told to “get my head on straight”… and asked why I was not with the program… I responded that it was “not my prerogative.”
At that point, my own squad leader separated me out from the others, suggested that they end this, lest they all get in trouble. I did not report this to my captain or sergeant… I felt that the pain was temporary, and that there was no reason to worry about this incident, so I let it go.
In social terms, I will say that I ended up effectively shunned or “excommunicated” from the others in the company, and we really did not talk much until we left Guantanamo and returned to Fort Leonard Wood. Things largely returned to “normal” at some point between when I left GTMO in 2004 and left the Army in 2005. Closer to 2004, when we returned, the platoons were redistributed again, and things were different, almost as if it was an opportunity to start over, and we were reunited with 1st platoon who had been gone in Qatar at that point we were gone in GTMO.
The Talking Dog: There are doubtless those who will very likely view you as “disloyal” in some way, if not in an outright “treasonous” sense to the country, perhaps to the perceived camaraderie of the uniformed service, or the like, by coming forward and speaking critically of your experiences at GTMO (and critically of the conduct of other soldiers). Have you experienced any such criticism (rebukes, disdain, etc.) since you have come forward? What was it that did bring you forward, and do you have any regrets about that?
Terry Holdbrooks: Yes, I have no doubt that there is and will be a plethora of ignorant Americans who will have their own rather strong opinions, probably not grounded in reality, but that’s their right. My short answers to most people like this is actually to ask them if they are in the service… and if not… then please don’t talk to me. If you’ve been there, of course, we can talk about it. Otherwise, the “criticism” to me is water off a duck’s back.
As to coming forward, I made a decision to “cement” my links to Islam, and made this effort as part of trying to be a better Muslim. Certainly something needs to be done about Guantanamo… the world needs to be better informed. I have no regrets (other than perhaps to some extent, working with some American media outlets, as opposed to European and U.K. outlets, which have been uniformly great to work with, and indeed, I have been pleased with the reception I have received from the overseas audience).
The Talking Dog: Let me ask you about your own specific observations. While much discussion has been made of accusations of “torture at GTMO” and so forth, rather than labeling things or risking spilling into hyperbole, I’d just like to ask what your own specific observations were in some categories, and if it’s only something you heard from someone else rather than observed yourself, please clarify that…
At GTMO… (1) Did you observe anything you would describe as “religiously disrespectful” such as mishandling of the Holy Koran, or serving prisoners pork, or whatever else you would so characterize? (2) Did you observe physical abuse of prisoners, such as beatings, or chaining them into uncomfortable prisoners? (3) Did you actually observe anyone being water-boarded? (4) Did you observe interrogations, at all, and if so, anything during them you would characterize as abuse or mistreatment? (5) Can you tell me your specific observations of the “Emergency Reaction Force” and “ERFing”… and how would you comment as to whether it may have been a legitimate (or at least understandable) fear on the part of camp guards (particularly after being told that the prisoners are “the worst of the worst” and “men would chew through hydraulic cables to bring down planes” and so forth) that led to a degree of apparent overkill? (6) Can you describe “overall confinement” conditions, such as noise, lighting, temperature, isolation and so forth? (7) Did you observe any prisoners being on “the frequent flier program”… i.e., being moved constantly to ensure sleep deprivation?
Terry Holdbrooks: I’ll have to take those one at a time.
(1) As to “religiously disrespectful”, I certainly did see a fair amount of mishandling of the Koran, such as handling it with the left hand, or without gloves (by a non-Muslim) or otherwise not handling it properly. This sort of thing upset the detainees greatly; I would describe this as mostly the fault of the Army rather than the individual guards by and large, because the Army failed to provide appropriate education and training on the environment that would be encountered, and the belief system of the prisoners. Other people went in with closed minds, took what they saw at face value, and came out very unhappy, or even ended up alcoholic as a result. Brandon Neely is a classic example of this… the situation made him just unhappy. This has come as a great pleasure to me to know that there are more out there in the armed forces that have a moral conscience, kudos to you Brandon!
Certainly, I did not observe any of the detainees being served pork. I certainly did observe the mocking (by guards and interrogators) of prayers, calls to prayer and the use of Arabic language.
(2) As to “beatings,” certainly, there were blows thrown during “ERFings” by the Emergency Reaction Force; these were rapid, fluid reactive situations. I certainly did not observe any situations where a cell door would open and guards would just come in and beat up a detainee. As to chaining in uncomfortable positions… these were the essence of the interrogations. The detainees were invariably placed in uncomfortable situations, often on the floor; if there was a chair in the room, it would be used by the interrogators. The most humiliating part of this as an American who saw this occur, is that being a position like this for hours would cause a detainee to wet or soil themselves, and that is a humiliating experience. I may have mentioned this above, but either way, with acts like this, and the conditions down there as opposed to the rest of the correctional facilities our citizens are packed in, if detainees did not harbor feelings of ill will towards the US and were not in fact terrorists, we probably helped make them that way now! This is a huge blunder on our part, and will not be the end of it, as we have seen with the recent news of freed detainees turning to terrorism.
(3) As to water-boarding, no I didn’t see it, and no, we didn’t even hear about it. Once in a while you would see a detainee not scheduled for a shower who looked like he just had one, but they never complained of water-boarding to the guards, nor, I suspect, to the other detainees (as this could have the potential for causing riots). So no, in my time in Camp Delta, I didn’t see or hear of any water-boarding. If water-boarding did ever occur, I am sure that it was not a detainee that is in general population, as in Camp Delta, and that detainee never would have returned to Camp Delta, for an act like that would be sure to enable a riot of unheard measures.
(4) As to interrogations, yes, I observed some a good number of times. What I would characterize as particularly “abuse” was one female interrogator with a blood capsule who would use it to pretend she had “menstrual blood” to get a reaction from the detainees. I certainly observed detainees in uncomfortable, painful positions, temperatures made very hot or very cold, loud music, and certainly, loud and abusive language. While there was no doubt that for most detainees, the interrogations and conditions of confinement were better than they would find in their own countries, one would have hoped that the United States employed relatively ethical facilities and respectful interrogation tactics… and we clearly did not do that.
(5) As to “ERFing,” a fair number of soldier’s plain old got their rocks off by ERFing. They were literally excited– they got off on tying a detainee up, smashing them into the wall. Indeed, excited to do it was a predominant attitude among guards who did it. Some guards volunteered for ERF duty, some teams were regularly assigned. Somehow, I never “ERFed” a single detainee… there were supposed to be two teams available for “ERFing” in each camp; somehow, when the ERF call came in, I took my time getting into the ERF riot gear, and “missed out” on the ERFing. I did not want to do it, to be sure.
Frankly, by my observation, in all the many times (and there were many) that ERF teams were called out, only one time did a detainee actually escalate the situation to the point where an ERF team was really justified… in that one case, during “flu shot day” (where the detainees had started rumors among themselves that something was more sinister than just flu shots) a detainee broke off a faucet handle and made it into a knife; this detainee managed to make a cut in a guard’s neck… that guard, by the way, went on 100 – 200 more “ERFings” that shift!
(6) Confinement conditions varied depending on the Camp and the Camp’s population. In general, in Camp Delta, the camp was pretty much as depicted in the pictures that became public. Temperatures not too hot, not particularly clean or hygienic conditions, lights off by 9 pm, and not too much else happening; temperatures went down a bit at night, and detainees had blankets. While efforts were made to create an isolation situation, the detainees could talk through vents, or through the walls or the toilets if nothing else.
I was assigned to Camp 4, Camp Delta, and was aware and had friends who worked in Camp Echo and Camp Iguana. They were building Camp 5 and the Maximum Security Camp 6. You could see “Camp 7″ (or “Operation Platinum” for the so-called “high value detainees”), but you couldn’t get close to them. In training exercises at GTMO, we came across older holding facilities, made of wood, making one wonder just how long GTMO has been used for what we are using it for now.
(7) I did observe prisoners on “the frequent flier program”, especially Detainee 590 (who introduced me to much of Islam) [Ahmed Errachidi], Detainee 239 (Shaker Aamer, known as “the Professor”) was also often moved, as were a couple of Uighur detainees. A couple of British nationals– the Tipton 3– were also moved. Interestingly, David Hicks was usually not where I was in Delta… he was usually in Camp Echo, and I only saw him in Delta when he was moved for medical treatment. I will attempt to contact another guard who would have more knowledge on the status and life in Camp Echo.
The Talking Dog: Following up on that last one, from ’03 to ’04 which camps were you assigned to guard (Camp 6 probably wasn’t finished yet, IIRC)? Can you describe the cells (one man per cell, more than one man, “furniture” or other objects in cells, etc.) and any exercise facility outside the cell? Am I correct that meals were shoved in to the cells, by guards, such as you? Also, can you tell me who the base commander(s) (or “JTF” commander(s) as applicable) was during your deployment to GTMO, and what your impressions were of him? Were you given orders in the way you were in other military assignments… or did you receive “power point” presentations?
Terry Holdbrooks: Camps 5 and 6 were not yet completed, as I said. In the camps I observed, there was one man per cell, and no objects of furniture, only a Koran, a work-out mat, called “the “bed padding”, a tooth brush and toothpaste, soap, and maybe prayer beads, and that’s it. A cell was perhaps 6′ by 8′, you would walk in and find a bed about 3′ off the ground, about 2′ off the wall. Next to that was a toilet– a bidet style, in the ground, and then there was a combination sink and water dispenser with a multi-purpose faucet.
Outside the cells were a 20 X 20 cage for exercise, which, if detainees were lucky, 2 could go in with a ball and play soccer, though usually they went in alone. This was not to common uness they were on an incentive block, which was usually the Afghanis, who were taking part in an educational system to help them learn new languages and skills.
Meals were served through a beanhole….shoving was usually not required (sometimes I would just leave a meal if detainees were praying).
The camp commander was Gen. Geoffrey Miller. I’ll just say I didn’t like him. He was an outstanding liar; very good at his job, which was to be a front-man and publicist for the entire show. I don’t know if he ever made a real decision on his own, other than to follow his standing orders and do what he was told.
I didn’t receive so many written orders or even power points; GTMO was just thrown together, absolutely disorganized and generally poorly run.
The Talking Dog: I understand that you observed hunger strikes at GTMO, and I understand that the regime of force-feeding had not yet commenced (or in any event, you didn’t observe force-feeding). What, if you recall, instigated the hunger strike, or hunger strikes?
Terry Holdbrooks: I did see a few hunger strikers. There was no force feeding when I was there.
What triggered hunger strikes were generally acts of religious disrespect, such as a Koran put in the toilet in an interrogation or cell cleaning and search, or abuse/wrongdoing during an interrogation.
Some hunger strikes would last a few days or a week or two; some would go on longer. There were only a few hunger strikes left by the time I left, and my understanding is that there is not that many down there. Makes you wonder, if these are the worst of the worst, why have we sent so many home, over 2/3rds of the population that was down there have been sent home now… we must be crazy to send these bomb making, suicide driven people home, back to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, or was this just a huge gimmick to keep a crap administration in office?
The Talking Dog: I take it that you left your deployment at GTMO before the Supreme Court’s decision in Rasul v. Bush and the arrival of lawyers for the detainees (correct me if I’m incorrect). Can you tell me who, besides military personnel, you observed at the base, such as other government personnel, members of Congress, the Red Cross, journalists, and officials from the detainees own countries, etc. ? Did any of these people have unrestricted access to the entire detention facility, permitted to speak to detainees, etc., by your observation?
Terry Holdbrooks: I did not see lawyers down there (other than possibly for David Hicks). I did see Red Cross personnel there, and delegations from other countries would come down and get a tour, though they could not just go wherever they wanted. There were enough visitors.
By and large, Guantanamo was just a make-shift holding facility for the 700 or so men held there. There was an occasional dog and pony show put on for members of Congress or high ranking military brass or foreign delegations which was, of course, nor representative of actual conditions. Such delegations would have access to detainees only in passing, at most.
I do recall one time when I went on a so-called “air bridge” flight with about 50 detainees being released; we dropped them off in Iraq, then continued on to Turkey, Germany then to Virginia and back to GTMO. During the flight, detainees were as publicly depicted: hooded, shackled, black out goggles, chained to their seats… that’s how they went home. Guards were lightly armed (batons only; only Air Force specialists trained in this could carry firearms on airplanes). There were 4 port-a-johns for detainees on the plane… no food or water, really an awful flight… I only hope it got better for them after they were released. Of the few that I have been able to speak with, or articles that have surfaced, it seems as if that has been the case, although we still haven’t heard anything of the Afghanis, Pakistanis, or Iraqis that have gone home…
The Talking Dog: Which people (prisoners, fellow guards, interrogators or whomever) made an impression on you at Guantanamo, how so, and why? To what extent did you find language barriers to be an issue… I understand you spoke to detainees (such as Hicks, the Tipton Three and Aamer) that spoke English… were you able to communicate with any of the non-English speakers?
Terry Holdbrooks: A number of the prisoners made a big impression on me. Many saw me as “the nice guard” and were quite civil to me. I didn’t have to handcuff them when moving them to the shower; they were respectful to me and vice versa– which was different from most guards. Hopefully, some day, they will get out, and I will be able to say I have friends in places like England and Morocco. This is an abstract and hard to digest idea for most Americans I would be willing to assume. To clarify, it was an amazing and horrific, surreal experience to have been down there. Every guard that has been down there will have a different story to tell, but it made an impact on all their lives. GTMO for me was an awakening of my own lack of knowledge of the world and history, and an encouragement to continue my studies and development as an individual and human being, not an American, or any other nation, simply a human. For the detainees who were innocent and down there, I would love to be able to one day sit and talk with them, have a cup of coffee and reflect upon how that experienced changed, and perhaps gave us both a greater appreciation for life each day.
As to my fellow guards, I have to say that I didn’t like them that much. Our educational system, our culture, our ideology… is something disillusioning. My experience in the military has not given me a particularly “warm and fuzzy” feeling toward this country and its values… I end up with great respect for the military and the service, but less for the nation itself, which has the tools and the people to be the best in the world, but we are just too damned lazy to do it…too many decisions at too many levels are based on pure expedience, and at the end of the day, as a country, we are just not in good shape.
As to interrogators, some would carefully explain what they were doing and try to keep us informed, and some were just plain jerks. Besides prisoners, guards and interrogators, there wasn’t anyone else down there that I encountered!
Language was not an issue. If a detainee didn’t speak English, another detainee would often translate. I learned some Arabic– enough for words like prater, food, clothes and so forth, so that between it all, we could usually figure out what we were talking about. If all else failed, we could just act things out, and figure out what we were talking about, or I could draw illustrations.
I did spend two days with David Hicks, and I rather enjoyed his company. It struck me that he got caught up and played; he ended up coerced into things that got him in trouble. I also spoke to the Tipton Three; I especially remember Shafiq Rasul who often swore; when I noted that profanity was against the tenets of Islam, he said “I’m a Muslim; I’m just not a good Muslim!”
I actually found that inspirational… I have found it trying at times on my own to give up alcohol and smoking; I have given them up and come back to them before… but the key is the effort and discipline to keep trying.
I especially remember an old man and a kid in Camp 4. The kid probably did not know that there was a world outside of Afghanistan… probably just an innocent somehow caught up in something; we talked a lot, said hi and so forth, and the detainees would often express feelings of hope. And I thought, man, I’m only here for a year, they have no idea how long there going to be here, and yet they’re hopeful… there’s no reason for me not to be…
The Talking Dog: Based on your observations and experiences, is there anything that you believe that (my college classmate) President Obama needs to know as to how to best implement his stated goal of “closing Guantanamo,” and what he should know and what he should do in order to expedite that stated goal?
Terry Holdbrooks: Certainly, the tribunals and commissions and whatever else they are calling the trials, other than perhaps the 5 detainees for whom they have some kind of competent evidence, should be halted immediately. Bush put this handful of bad guys amidst all of these others just to plant the perception in Americans that he was holding a bunch of bad guys to keep everyone safe.
So that said, the only answer is to let everyone but that handful go… and, although they were certainly not terrorists when they came in, we’re going to have to hope that after years of unjust imprisonment by our country, that they aren’t terrorists NOW. We have to let them go, and send them home, or if sending them home will just end up getting them killed or tortured or imprisoned, then we have to find a place to take them as agreeable as possible, period.
And then, we should close Guantanamo altogether… sell or give the property to Cuba, forget about it and move on. Better thought, we should destroy GTMO, and GIVE it back to Cuba, along with our other not so famous secret facilities that we have world wide. Visit Cageprisoners.com for more information on these places. I am sure that there are countless facilities like GTMO world wide, and sure they are full of 95% innocent people, and 5% guilty, with that being said, I am more than sure we are making “friends” world wide.
Every Middle Easterner I speak to has virtually the same response: they say that the prisoners are far better off in Guantanamo then would be in Syria or Morocco or Egypt where they would really be abused and tortured, if not killed. So, as I said, we need to be very sure of where we are sending these men so that releasing them isn’t even worse than holding them.
To summarize, President Obama should set aside the tribunals and commissions (beyond the 5 or so who can be tried, and those trials should proceed); the rest should just be released, and sent somewhere not worse, so that hopefully, we can give them the ability to get back to their loved ones. We can’t make up 7 plus years of their lives that we’ve just taken away, but hopefully we can give them safe passage somewhere.
The Talking Dog: is there anything else I should have asked you but didn’t, or anything else that the public needs to know about these subjects?
Terry Holdbrooks: I have been asked this question before, and I never have an answer! I suppose one can review my Newsweek and Cage Prisoners interviews, and this, and see whatever holes are in the puzzle. I hope, as this recounting experience and others develop, to be able to put together a book on these experiences, both what transpired at GTMO and what transpired from 2004, 2005 through now, as, hopefully, something of value for others, both as to what happened, and why I haven’t been able to put it together until now.
The Talking DogI join all my readers in thanking Mr. Holdbrooks for that fascinating interview.
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the “war on terror” may also find talking dog blog interviews with former Guantanamo military commissions prosecutor Darrel Vandeveld, with attorneys Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in “the war on terror”), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing “unlawful combatant” Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, and with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project to be of interest.