SILVER SPRING, Maryland "I would like to share with you how one
goes about becoming a concentration camp guard without having made many decisions,"
24-year-old former Guantanamo prison guard Christopher Arent told a crowd of
hundreds at last weekend's Winter Soldier gathering outside Washington, D.C.
"I was 17 years old when I joined the Army National Guard," he said.
"My family had just been displaced, and I was living with friends. My family
was poor, I was poor, and I wanted to go to school. They promised me a significant
amount of money toward that goal funds I have yet to receive."
Arent explained that he was initially happy with the Guard, but that his mood
changed when he was deployed to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,
in 2003. There, he served in the detention operations center of the prison,
where he managed the movement of inmates from one part of the facility to another.
"I would get into the office at 4:30 in the morning and sometimes there
would be an interrogation occurring in the interrogation room," he said.
"Inside the interrogation room, it would be 10 to 20 degrees [F.] with
loud music playing. And there would be the detainee shackled to the floor by
his hands and feet with nothing to sit on, with loud music playing in the freezing
After serving a tour at Guantanamo, Arent told the assembled veterans that
he believes the mere existence of the prison is torturous.
"I've heard a lot of speculation about what torture is considered,"
he said. "First and foremost, I would like to ask everyone whether living
inside a cell for five years without ever seeing your family or your friends,
without ever being told why you're being held there I consider that torture."
Arent was one of many former soldiers who served in U.S. military prisons abroad
to speak at the Winter Soldier gathering. The event, which was organized by
Iraq Veterans Against the War, aimed to show that their stories of wrongdoing
were not isolated incidents limited to a few "bad apples," as the
Pentagon claims, but were everyday occurrences.
Each veteran who spoke at Winter Soldier went through a detailed screening
process before being allowed to testify. The process included providing Iraq
Veterans Against the War with their military ID or discharge papers, and contacts
of other soldiers they served with, who were then interviewed to verify the
Former sergeant Domingo Rosas, who served in al-Qayim near the Syrian border
from April 2003 to April 2004, told the assembled veterans he was ordered not
to allow detainees under his watch to fall asleep.
"They were not allowed to sit down or lay down and anytime they started
to doze off or they put their heads against the wall, I'd hit [the outside of
their cell] with a pick ax handle and try to keep them up, keep them awake,"
Rosas said he stood guard while interrogators tortured prisoners behind him.
"I witnessed one detainee rolling around in the mud being kicked again
and again," he said. "I saw the interrogator pouring water on his
face, waterboarding him. And another detainee was standing there with a bag
over his head and was forced to carry a huge rock until he couldn't do it anymore
and collapsed. That image seared itself into my mind's eye and I can't forget
it. I won't forget it."
Former Iowa National Guardsman Andrew Duffy gave similar testimony. A medic
at Abu Ghraib from 2005 to 2006, Duffy spoke about critical medical care being
denied to detainees.
He spoke in detail about one prisoner, a diabetic Iraqi who was delirious and
was not allowed to take insulin for days. Duffy said he asked his superiors
if he could transfer the man to the hospital for treatment, but his request
His captain said he "could not transfer the detainee and that [the man]
could drink water," Duffy said. "She also said he probably wouldn't
die but that it wouldn't matter anyway."
A few days later, Duffy said, the man died from lack of care.
In response to an inquiry by the Washington Post, a Pentagon official
argued that such events are not commonplace as the veterans claimed.
"When isolated allegations of misconduct have been reported, commanders
have conducted comprehensive investigations to determine the facts and held
individuals accountable when appropriate," Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros told
In response, Iraq Veterans Against the War released their own statement. "These
service members' and veterans' testimonies are ultimately not about individual
conduct, but about the nature of occupation," it read. "The military
is being asked to win an occupation. The troops on the ground know this is an
impossible task. Their commanders know this is an impossible task."
"We're asking the Department of Defense to stop saying that it can achieve
the impossible," IVAW's statement concludes. "We have a political
problem that cannot be solved with a military solution. This is not a war that
can be won. It is an occupation that can only be ended."
(Inter Press Service)