Critics say military probe that cleared 2 men was a sham.
December 18, 2008, San Juan, Puerto Rico – The allegations were explosive: Two guards at Guantanamo had bragged about abusing detainees and described the mistreatment as routine. The Pentagon quickly ordered an investigation, which cleared the men after they denied making the statements.
Last year’s investigation seemed to end the controversy, but a copy of the investigator’s report obtained by The Associated Press reveals that one of the guards had previously told military officials he abused detainees, while the other had attacked a man posing as a detainee in a training exercise before being deployed to Cuba.
Guantanamo critics say both revelations are further evidence the probe was a sham.
Ben Wizner, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said the military’s narrow investigation into alleged wrongdoing by its own personnel underscores the need for a “top to bottom” independent review of Guantanamo Bay’s military prison.
“As a country, we need to have a formal reckoning with the crimes that occurred at Guantanamo,” said Wizner, who has visited Guantanamo Bay’s prison. President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to close it.
Truth and consequences
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, whose complaint with the Pentagon Inspector General initiated the investigation, said the report shows the military ignored statements that undermined the sailors’ denials.
Army Col. William Costello, spokesman for the Miami-based Southern Command, refused to comment, saying it would be inappropriate to say anything more than “what we announced publicly almost two years ago.”
That Feb. 7, 2007, announcement said there was insufficient evidence to substantiate that guards had bragged about beating up detainees.
The military’s investigation was launched after Marine Sgt. Heather Cerveny told Vokey, her boss, that she had heard guards at a club at Guantanamo discussing beating detainees and laughing about it on Sept. 23, 2006. After learning about it from Vokey, the Pentagon Inspector General’s office ordered the military’s U.S. Southern Command to investigate.
At the time, Vokey was the military defense lawyer for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr and Cerveny was his paralegal.
The two Navy guards, interviewed over two days by Army Col. Richard Bassett, “vehemently” denied they boasted about abusing detainees, the investigator wrote. The guards’ names are blacked out in the report that AP obtained from the Inspector General’s office through the Freedom of Information Act.
Bassett then went to Camp Pendleton, Calif., to interview Cerveny, but spoke with her for only about five minutes and treated her like someone accused of a crime instead of a person who reported a possible outrage, Vokey told AP.
“It was definitely confrontational, like a cross-examination,” Vokey said. “He read her her rights and accused her of making a false claim. It scared Sgt. Cerveny pretty badly. She was shaking afterward.”
As to what, if any, investigation Bassett conducted on the guard who had previously admitted abusing detainees, his report doesn’t say. Bassett wrote that the guard had made his confessions to a Combat Stress Control Unit at Guantanamo but they had already been discarded as false after they could not be substantiated.
Bassett added, with no further explanation, that the claims “were attributed to the fact that he was pending disciplinary action at the time he made the statements.”
The report classified another guard as a “good sailor” but referred to a troubling incident.
Navy personnel posted as guards to Guantanamo receive training at Fort Lewis, Wash., before their deployment. Bassett said the second guard, during one of the exercises, “kicked a detainee role player for calling him a racial slur.”
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Joseph Piek, a Fort Lewis spokesman, said trainees are put “through a lot of pretty tough situations, as realistic as possible to prepare them for their mission at Guantanamo. We push their buttons.”
But Piek said it is rare for a trainee to retaliate physically.
The guard was removed from the exercise, given counseling and retraining, and accompanied his unit to Guantanamo, Bassett wrote.