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Klippenstein writes: "RSN interviewed Joseph Hickman, a former Guantanamo staff sergeant and author of the recently published book, 'Murder at Camp Delta: A Staff Sergeant's Pursuit of the Truth About Guantanamo Bay.'"

Joseph Hickman was a guard at Camp Delta. (image: Ziv Koren/Polaris/Joseph Hickman/Newsweek/RSN)
Joseph Hickman was a guard at Camp Delta. (image: Ziv Koren/Polaris/Joseph Hickman/Newsweek/RSN)

Guantanamo Whistleblower: Guards Rehearsed for Reporter Visits Weeks in Advance

By Ken Klippenstein, Reader Supported News

16 February 15


SN interviewed Joseph Hickman, a former Guantanamo staff sergeant and author of the recently published book, “Murder at Camp Delta: A Staff Sergeant’s Pursuit of the Truth About Guantanamo Bay.” In the book, Hickman alleges that three Guantanamo detainees were murdered at a CIA black site, and that this was later covered up, the deaths portrayed as suicides.

[The transcript below has been lightly edited for readability.]

Ken Klippenstein: What effect do you think Guantanamo has had on the United States’ national security?

Joseph Hickman: Guantanamo breeds terrorism. A lot [of detainees] were not terrorists, but when they leave, they (and their families) are going to hate America. It gives extremist groups a recruiting tool, which they can use to show how bad America is to Muslims.

KK: What did blowing the whistle mean for your career?

JH: It certainly didn’t help. It was a hard thing to do. But I’ve never considered myself a whistleblower; I don’t consider myself in the same league as people like Thomas Drake or John Kiriakou. I was just a soldier trying to report a war crime. Those guys [Kiriakou and Drake] really paid a big price.

KK: Your thoughts on the John Kiriakou case?

JH: I’m outraged by the fact that he went to jail. He was the first one to reveal waterboarding. He did it in such a way that it raised public debate over the fact that we were waterboarding. He automatically became a target for the government; he didn’t get a fair trial at all. They took away any means he had to defend himself. It was horrible what happened to him.

When Kiriakou tells Snowden not to come to the U.S. because he won’t get a fair trial, I think Snowden should listen.

KK: Do whistleblowers in defense agencies ever get fair trials?

JH: It’s really hard for a whistleblower to get a fair trial. It’s almost like committing character suicide to come forward with something you see that’s wrong. They’re going to destroy you – or at least try to – instead of fixing the problem at hand. They never want to admit they’re wrong. It’s a very brave and courageous thing to do to become a whistleblower, but it’s almost like you have to be a little crazy to do it, too.

KK: The Obama administration says the government has all these whistleblower protections, and that Snowden would’ve been safe if he had simply informed his superiors. Do people in the military take for granted that these protections aren’t very serious?

JH: Oh, you know in the military they’re not serious. You know if you go against your command, you’re going to pay a price. You know the chain of command is going to come down on you hard.

When Barack Obama said that Snowden should come back and stand trial, that was a ridiculous thing for him to say. Snowden would go to jail for at least a year and a half before he even saw a courtroom. I got frustrated when I heard [Obama] say that.

KK: Comment on the effects of so-called “no touch torture” [e.g. stress positions, sensory deprivation, etc.].

JH: I’m not an expert, but I can tell you that when you bring a body to complete muscle failure over and over again, it’s got to have an effect. What those torture methods are meant to do is exhaust you to the limit to where your body fails.

KK: Many criticize torture for failing to produce actionable intelligence. Do you agree?

JH: I do. I don’t think torture produces actionable intelligence, but I don’t think that should be the question we raise. The question should be, should torture be permissible even if it does produce actionable intelligence? Should we stoop that low?

KK: Is the point of torture perhaps not to produce intelligence, but just to extract false confessions?

JH: I don’t think so. I think at first that they want actionable intelligence, but once they realize they don’t have who they thought they have, then they’re looking for what you’re saying – to save face. That was the case with Abu Zubaydah.

KK: How serious is press scrutiny in Guantanamo?

JH: They try, but it’s a joke. When a reporter goes to Guantanamo, that whole visit is completely rehearsed weeks in advance. I’ve watched several times, from the tower, the escort group practice days prior for the reporters.

Escorts even try to sound spontaneous: “Why don’t we go over here, see what’s happening here?” It’s all rehearsed – every bit of it.

KK: I assume the reporters eat it up?

JH: They do. They eat it up.

The only time I’ve ever seen the command shaking in their boots was the time Ted Koppel was coming down. They were scared to death of Ted Koppel for some reason. I don’t know if [Koppel] had information or sources, but they practiced two weeks in advance. The whole place was cleaned up. They were scared to death of him.

KK: When the three detainees died, they just kicked out the entire press corps?

JH: They threw them off the island right away. They didn’t want the wrong soldier saying the wrong thing to them. It was pretty obvious.

KK: What else can you tell us about how Guantanamo guards would rehearse for journalist visits?

JH: When Ted Koppel came, they cleaned every inch of Camp Delta. They practiced “spontaneity.”

KK: Were there any journalists in particular who leadership thought, “Well we don’t have to worry about this guy”?

JH: Bill O’Reilly. The night he came, the command was actually having a party at the admiral’s house because they knew they were going to get such good press coverage from O’Reilly.

KK: You mentioned that your superiors would reference the NSA’s spying capabilities as a threat to prevent guards from talking to journalists. How often would that happen?

JH: They told us that throughout the year. They told us that the NSA has a facility in Guantanamo.

KK: Did that make guards nervous?

JH: You get desensitized to it, you get used to it. At first it’s very uncomfortable.

KK: When your superiors gave you a direct order not to speak about the three detainee deaths, what are the consequences if you disobey that?

JH: You could be fined, put in prison; it’s very serious.

KK: Did you find that all the whistleblower prosecutions under the Obama administration inspired you or intimidated you?

JH: Thomas Drake inspired me.

KK: So the whistleblower prosecutions can have the opposite effect of what the government intends, by inspiring people instead of suppressing them?

JH: Yeah.

KK: What were some differences between your preconceptions about Guantanamo, before you saw it for yourself, and the reality of it?

JH: The first difference was the standard of living for the detainees. It was far worse than I could’ve ever imagined. When you watch them in their cells, just pacing back and forth, you’re reminded of animals in a zoo.

Ken Klippenstein is a staff journalist at Reader Supported News. He can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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