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Gottinger writes: "To make sense of what a Trump presidency means for the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Reader Supported News spoke with former US Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman, who worked as a guard at Guantanamo."

Guard tower at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)
Guard tower at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)

Former Guantanamo Guard: If Trump Fills Gitmo Back Up, It Will Create Blowback Against the US

By Paul Gottinger, Reader Supported News

30 November 16


s a candidate, Trump made a long list of outrageous promises, but many political observers have been skeptical about his desire and ability to transform promises to policies. However, Trump continues to fill his administration with what can only be called extremists, who may actually carry out his dark vision for America.

A number of Trump’s campaign promises had to do with the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Despite the wide scale documentation of torture, lack of due process, and other abuses of basic rights for detainees, Guantanamo remains open. Trump has vowed to expand the number of prisoners held there. Counterterrorism officials say nothing legally bars Trump from expanding the prison’s population if he orders new prisoners be sent there. Trump has even said he’d be in favor of trying American citizens in military tribunals at Guantanamo if they were accused of terrorism.

To make sense of what a Trump presidency means for the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Reader Supported News spoke with former US Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman, who worked as a guard at Guantanamo. He became a whistleblower when he discovered that the CIA had murdered three Guantanamo detainees and then covered it up. His book Murder at Camp Delta details his experiences at Guantanamo and his investigation into the murders.

RSN: Can you talk about Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo?

JH: One of Obama’s first promises upon taking office was that he’d close Guantanamo within a year. Eight years later it isn’t done. He failed. People can make excuses for him, but he failed to deliver on his promise to the American people and to the world. To me, it doesn’t really matter why he didn’t do it. He failed, period.

If Trump decides to keep Guantanamo open and fill it again, it’s going to be worse than what we’re already seen from the Bush administration. The whole world has protested Guantanamo. Every time ISIS kills somebody they put them in an orange jumpsuit. That’s a statement on Guantanamo. Guantanamo is the opposite of what the US is supposed to stand for.

RSN: What are your thoughts on Trump’s promises to expand the population of prisoners at Guantanamo?

JH: I think it’s shameful that Trump, who campaigned on being the “law and order candidate,” wants to continue something that is completely lawless and has no order. He’s completely contradicting himself. He’s just showing how little he knows about Guantanamo and international law.

RSN: Trump has said he wants to fill up Guantanamo with “some bad dudes.” Does the prison at Guantanamo make Americans safer?

JH: Guantanamo breeds terrorism. Many of the people detained at Guantanamo were innocent, and yet they were held for years. That has an effect. But more than that, the US government has demonized Muslims to the core. They should be seen as a major anti-terror asset. They should be seen as our allies. The demonization makes people who can help us really hesitant to help. Trump is proposing even more demonization. That will only create blowback.

RSN: According to the ACLU, 94% of all detainees ever held at Guantanamo have been released or cleared for release, meaning they didn’t pose a threat. Can you talk about why the US has such a poor record of capturing and holding actual terrorists at Guantanamo?

JH: Most of the detainees held at Guantanamo were sold to the US on a bounty. You could tell that a lot of these people were confused as to why they were even there. Most of them were poor farmers. The majority of them were picked up in Afghanistan, which is very tribal. So one tribe would turn in another tribe’s leaders under a US bounty, and the US wouldn’t even question it. They’d just pay the bounty and take these people. It was a very failed process to hunt al Qaeda and the Taliban, and that failed system created the population at Guantanamo.

RSN: I want to talk about something, which is an overlooked aspect of the Guantanamo story. The CIA was engaging in human experimentation there. The facility was not just a prison, but a place to test cruel forms of interrogation.

JH: After the first year, they started experimenting with interrogations. The commander at the time, Geoffrey D. Miller, labeled Guantanamo “America’s Battle Lab.” General Miller had no experience in military intelligence or interrogation, but he was pushed by the Bush administration to experiment on humans to create an effective interrogation program. He eventually moved from there to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. A lot of their ideas came from the MKUltra program. They were using drugs and harsh physical techniques to try to get people to talk.

[MKUltra was a human experimentation program the CIA conducted in the 1950s and 1960s to develop new forms of interrogation. The program has been deemed by many to be experimentations into mind control.]

We were experimenting with programs that the North Koreans used on captured American soldiers during the Korean War. We took the playbook from those guys on these experiments. The Defense Intelligence Agency even admits it.

Eventually, we started giving detainees a drug called Mefloquine. Every detainee that was ever held at Guantanamo received this drug. It’s an anti-malarial drug. The prescribed dosage is 250mg, but we gave them five times the prescribed dosage within 24 hours after they arrived in Guantanamo. Mefloquine is a drug in the quinine family. It’s a hallucinogen.

The CIA used this drug in the MKUltra program, and what they wanted to do was to instill fear in their subject. It’s very similar to LSD when you give high doses. People can say “well it’s an anti-malarial drug.” The problem is none of the detainees that came to Guantanamo had malaria and there’s no malaria in Cuba. As a soldier I never received Mefloquine, and no contractors ever received it either. So there’s absolutely no reason to give it to detainees, especially at such high doses, except for use in experimentation.

RSN: The US military used Mefloquine in the past, right?

JH: Yes, when soldiers would go to areas where malaria was a threat, they would be given the proscribed dosages, but they stopped because the side-effects these soldiers were having were so awful. The drug was even blamed for several deaths.

RSN: I want to finish with Trump’s pledge to re-start waterboarding. You recently completed a book with CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou on Abu Zubaydah. The Bush administration waterboarded Zubaydah at least 83 times. Can you discuss the effectiveness of waterboarding and some of the specifics of Abu Zubaydah’s case?

JH: The Senate Select Committee’s report on torture found that none of the harsh interrogation worked. The techniques like waterboarding and anal rehydration all failed. They don’t work at all. People will tell you what you want to hear if you torture them. It’s common sense. They only way to effectively interrogate someone is with rapport-building. It has been proven effective. But harsh techniques just don’t work.

After being tortured, Zubaydah was giving names of people he said he was in contact with, but they ended up being the names of actors in the 1920s and 1930s. He was just trying to make it stop.

The Bush administration described Zubaydah as the number three guy in al Qaeda, and some people in the US government still claim he was, but the fact is he was never al Qaeda. He was a mujahedeen who fought against the communist government in Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew. Zubaydah is not a good guy, but he’s not nearly the person the US government describes.

RSN: Do you think there would there be any resistance if Trump ordered the CIA or US military to waterboard?

JH: I think some would resist, but many would obey the orders because of the fear of getting in trouble. Look at John Kiriakou, all he did was expose the fact that the US was waterboarding and he went to jail for two years. If you disobey a direct order, you’re facing criminal time. Anything can happen to you, you’re taking a huge risk.

Paul Gottinger is a staff reporter at RSN whose work focuses on the Middle East and the arms industry. He can be reached on Twitter @paulgottinger or via email.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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