following is an excerpt from Winter
Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations
by Iraq Veterans Against the War and Aaron Glantz. From March 13-16, hundreds
of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans gathered in Silver Spring, Md., to testify
about atrocities they had personally committed or witnessed while deployed.
Among those who testified was former National Guardsman Christopher Arendt.
He served a tour at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
I would like to share with you how one goes about
becoming a concentration camp guard without ever having really made many decisions.
I was 17 years old when I joined the Army National Guard in Michigan. I was
living with friends. I decided to join the military Nov. 20, 2001, because
I had no other options. My family was poor, I was poor, and I wanted to go
to school. I was promised a significant amount of money for this purpose, which
I have yet to receive. I was in the field artillery, Charlie 1st of the 119th
Field Artillery, where I served, quite happily, for… no. That's a lie. I was
miserable; I hated it, but I served nonetheless.
We got orders in October 2003 that we would be deploying to Guantánamo
Bay, Cuba. Artillerymen would be deploying to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,
to be prison guards. During our one-month mobilization process, we were taught
how to put shackles on other people. It feels ridiculous when you are practicing
how to put shackles on another human being. You realize how absurd it is. You're
putting them on somebody's hands, and it's awkward. It hurts, it's uncomfortable,
and it feels dehumanizing. This is just practice. This is just to warm-up for
the big game.
We left for Guantánamo Bay early in January 2004. It was hot. It was
We slept in awful little houses, but at least we had houses. I served on the
blocks for two months as a prison guard. My duties were to feed detainees and
dispense toilet paper. I occupied myself in some way, shape, or form to drive
the boredom out. The primary difficulty in keeping my humanity intact was the
boredom. One of the ways I dealt with this was by talking with the detainees.
A consequence of having detainees is that they are human beings and also have
stories. I talked with them about those stories, which led to my being taken
off the blocks. I was sent to work in the Detention Operations Center as the
escort control for the last eight months of my tour. I managed the movements
of every detainee in Camp Delta. I did this on 12-to-14-hour shifts and rotated
with a very small crew of other specialists. I was 19 at the time.
Papers, numbers, shackles, and keys. All of that had to be accounted for,
but it wasn't anything more than papers, numbers, shackles, and keys. I'd call
two people in, usually outranking me, and I'd have to tell them to do something
that they hated doing. And they hated me for telling them to do it. That's
the nature of the machine. We're just chips in a Plinko machine.
Orders come down from God knows who or where. They just keep coming down.
There are two specific things I will address about the operation at Guantánamo
Bay,Cuba. One is the issue of torture. I've heard a lot of speculation as to
what torture is. I would like to ask everyone to consider whether living in
a cell for five years, away from your family and friends, without ever being
given answers as to why you're there, whether this is torture. Having to ask
19-year-old boys who don't have any idea about the policies of their government
why they are detained and the answers that we weren't able to give – I consider
that torture. But if that wasn't enough, we had other methods to make certain
we got around to torturing these people.
I dispatched the detainee movements. I would come into the office at 4:30
in the morning and there would sometimes be a little paper in the wall with
a number on it, which represented a detainee inside of an interrogation room.
The temperature of the interrogation room was maybe 10 or 20 degrees,with loud
music playing. Sometimes that detainee would stay there for my entire 12-to-14-hour
shift. He was shackled to the floor by his hands and his feet, with nothing
to sit on, loud music playing, in the freezing cold. I guess that's torture;
that depends on who you ask.
I hear there is an official list of things that are and are not torture. Waterboarding
is torture. My recent example is not. I can't believe a human being could even
write a list like that. The other issue I would like to address is the common
usage of the Quick Reaction Force, which is a rotating, five-man team established
each morning. If a detainee is unsatisfied with his stay and becomes rowdy,
five grown men are fitted with riot gear and lined up outside of a cell while
the platoon leader of that camp sprays the detainee in the face with pepper
spray. I was sprayed with pepper spray once, and I feel that's one of the worst
moments in my life. It put me on my knees for two to three hours afterwards,
and in a great deal of pain for the next three days. I would never, ever want
anyone to have this happen to them.
After spraying the detainee, these five men would rush in and take whatever
opportunities they could. The standard operating procedures do not state that
you should beat the sh*t out of detainees, but I guess that some people just
decided that's what they were going to do anyway.
These are all on tape, by the way. The government makes sure that each one
of these operations is taped. I taped several of them, and I would be happy
to show you those clips, but I doubt they will be released anytime soon.
After the detainee is taken forcibly from his cell – that's probably the first
time that he's left his cell in five, six, seven days – the detainees are beaten,
pulled out to the back, shaved, all of their hair, their beard, and then taken
to wherever they were supposed to go. There was one other thing I wanted to
address, about the use of the term "detainee." We were told it had
to be detainee. It had to be detainee. If it's a prisoner, then they are a
prisoner of war, and subject to entirely different laws. If they're detainees,
they're subject to no law whatsoever, because there aren't laws for detainees.
Because they are called detainees, they don't get trials and there is no code
for how they're treated. It's semantics, and we need to pay attention to those;
they're important. It's the difference between calling something a detention
facility and a concentration camp, even if they're the same thing.