Gen. Baccus of the Rhode Island National Guard was sent to the Naval base at Guantanamo to take charge of detention operations from March to October 2002. In this interview, he describes the stresses of working in such a high-security environment and what he calls a "necessary tension" between military intelligence (MI) and military police (MP). "[MI's] have to work their relationships to try and garner information. Our issue is more security of the camp, the detainees, how the military police and the detainees operate together every day... At times, they may not necessarily go in the same direction." This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on Aug. 27, 2005.
… You're not a prison specialist, any kind of a penologist in any way?
No, no. In fact, my only experience in prisons prior to that was I was in a lockdown at the Adult Correctional Institute in Cranston, R.I., as a military liaison because they were having a riot there. And the state police were going in and [said] they may need military backup. So I was the liaison in there, and I got locked down in the building. So that was my first experience to riotous behavior in a prison situation.
So why do you figure that your number came up, and the next thing you knew, you were on your way to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?
I believe it was because the unit I was in command of, the Military Police Brigade Headquarters, was in a very good state of readiness at the particular time. They were looking for an Army unit to go in and replace the Marines at Guantanamo. The plan was to have an active-duty unit go in initially and then bring on the National Guard Headquarters to run the operation. And because of our ratings, I believe, we were slated first up, and so that's where I think I got picked.
So you won the lottery?
Take me there. Fly me down there with you. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you hear when you get there?
My first trip was the third week in March of 2002. I had just come on active duty, and I had spent a day at Fort Dix, then had a week of briefings at FORSCOM [U.S. Army Forces Command] and SOUTHCOM, and then went into Guantanamo to do four days with Gen. [Michael] Leonard, who was the commander that stood up the camp at the time.
When I flew in, we did a tour, and of course that was when all the detainees were held at Camp X-Ray. The camp had reached its maximum of 300. They were still collecting more detainees in Afghanistan, so the pressure was on to do something with the building population that they had in Afghanistan. They had begun construction of a new camp, Camp Delta, over on a different part of the island altogether. And the issue there was "OK, we've got all these detainees now; we've got to deal with them until we can get the new camp up and running and get them moved."
Describe X-Ray when you first see it.
It was a mini-city. As you may or may not be aware, [at] Camp X-Ray, where the detainees were held, the whole operation of the military police that was responsible for their security was within 100 feet of where they were held. So it was like a mini-city. You had Tent City where the MPs were, and then you had all these concrete blocks of detention cells where the detainees were. And it had standard, what you would think of, guard towers all over. But it was a lot of people in a small area.
And certainly the area wasn't the best of situations. Camp X-Ray didn't have any internal facilities at all -- no bathrooms, no source of water. So any of the detainees kept at X-Ray had to be given everything to them. And if they wanted to do the smallest thing like go to the bathroom, the MPs were required to go in, shackle them, and then move them to a Port-A-John to have them go to the bathroom and take them back again. So it was a very manpower-intensive situation.
On top of that, given that we were so close to just having experienced 9/11, there was a lot of tension in the camp, because we certainly didn't know who we had. Everything that we knew as [far as] the MPs and the Detention Command were concerned, everything we knew was that these people were captured on the battlefield, were Taliban terrorists and were capable of doing anything -- hated Americans, would kill them at first sight, so on and so forth.
So there was a very high tension in terms of the military police, because they were concerned for their security. You don't know who you have. When you don't know a profile, it's not like the American penal system, where you kind of know, well, this guy's a murderer or this guy just stole something, so on and so forth. You don't know who you've got. And certainly we weren't getting a lot of intelligence initially, so it was a somewhat very stressful environment for the MPs at the time.
Emotionally, for you, you're the commander. You've got all these MPs, and you've got all these [detainees] you're responsible for. What did it feel like to you?
By charge of the president, through the secretary of defense, through SOUTHCOM, the charge was to treat the detainees humanely. That was our charge. Let the interrogators handle interrogations, but our charge was to handle the detainees and make sure they were treated humanely. I also felt my primary charge was to make sure we could do everything we could do to ensure the safety of the MPs while they were performing their duties.
That takes two different avenues. One is the physical conditions: Well, how can you set the physical conditions as much as possible to make the MPs' job as safe as possible? The second is the psychological conditions: How do you set the conditions of the camp psychologically so that we don't have constant confrontations between detainees and the military police, because that's not good, again, for the security or the safety of the military policemen.
[Was any part of your job to gather intelligence?]
No. As you may be aware, as soon as I arrived and took over as the commander, around the 27th of March, 2002, Joint Task Force 170 had already been stood up earlier that month with Gen. [Michael E.] Dunlavey in charge, and their mission was to interrogate the detainees and get whatever information they could.
How did it work between the two of you? They're basically MI [military intelligence]; you're basically MP. How does it work?
You have to work together to make for the overall security of the base, but you need to realize that my primary responsibility was not just detainee operations, but also base security. So I had several things that were moving at all times in terms of making sure the base was secure, protecting everybody, every party there on the base. We had families. We had kids going to school.
As you may be aware, X-Ray was only about 100 meters from the housing area. So we had the concerns of the people who were living there on two-year tours, their families. What are these detainees? Are they going to be able to attack my children? We had to deal with all those concerns. So I was worried about making sure the community was safe; I was worried about making sure the operations were running correctly. And I could provide the interrogation task force detainees when they needed them to be interrogated. And that was how I looked at the whole situation.
So there was a line, a bright white line between MP behavior and MI behavior and interrogation demands?
Absolutely. And we maintained that distinction. And I think that's the necessary distinction that needs to be maintained, because they're two different operations altogether. Gathering intelligence is a whole 'nother issue from running a 24-hour-a-day detention facility. ...
Getting intelligence, we worked hand in hand in terms of what the MPs survey on a regular basis, just in normal daily operations, noticing that one guy acted as an imam during prayers or that type of issue, identifying those kinds of possible leaders to the interrogation task force. That went on. But we were concerned with detention operations. They worried about the interrogation.
This procedural line always exists as firmly as possible between MPs and MIs. Why? Why can't the MPs cross the line and help the MI?
There has to be that necessary tension, because how we look at detention operations is far different than how you would look at interrogation operations. I'm not an interrogator by trade, don't know anything about it, didn't get involved with it while I was at Gitmo. That wasn't my mission. And so the thing I would mention is just that they have to work the one-on-one with the individual detainee. They have to work their interrogation plans. They have to work their relationships to try and garner information.
Our issue is more security of the camp, security of the detainees, how the military police and the detainees operate together every day, day in and day [out], and so on. At times, they may not necessarily go in the same direction. Particularly you might be viewed, as I sometimes was quoted, as being too soft, because I was more worried about, during Ramadan, were the detainees going to get fed on a correct schedule so that they could fast during the day and eat at night?
Why am I worried about that? Because if the detainees are allowed to do what they would normally do in their religious observances, well, then they're not spitting on my MPs or throwing urine at them or feces or anything else they can find, and creating havoc in the camp. That's the issues that I dealt with. Does that necessarily go against the interrogators? I don't know. I'm not an interrogator. But I know that for a smooth running of the camp, we have to be concerned about those kinds of issues on a daily basis.
Tell me about Tom Berg, your JAG [judge advocate general] for a while. Tell me about him, about his approach to his tasks.
...[H]ere's someone who had a clear grasp of what the mission was, had a clear grasp of what the Geneva Conventions involved, and had a clear grasp of what we needed to do in terms of making sure that our charge by the president to treat them humanely within the guidance of the Geneva Conventions was supported.
Certainly, many discussions he and I had along with our counterparts at the interrogation task force revolved around how we were going to treat any one particular detainee over any one specific period of time. And he and I both agreed that we needed to drive a line in terms of if we were going to go over a certain set of standard procedures, then those procedures had to be cleared at SOUTHCOM. And that's where we were coming from.
If we were going to deviate from what we considered normal operating procedures at the camp -- which SOUTHCOM was aware of -- if we were going to deviate with any standard procedures in handling any one given detainee, then that had to be approved at SOUTHCOM. So they were aware if something happened. Everybody knew what was going [on], and nobody was doing anything in any maverick-type situation.
How worried were you that that was happening, or going to happen, or could happen?
I was confident that I had enough safeguards in place that if something could or would happen that I would be aware of it, because my concern was, I had a charge: Treat the detainees humanely. If something was going to go on that I felt wasn't within the standard operating guidelines, and I wanted to know about [it], and I wanted to make sure that that was brought to someone's attention.
Certainly, between having a Muslim chaplain that had free reign of the camp ... just like a standard investigating IG [Inspector General] representative that listens to troops' complaints. I had a senior NCO [non-commissioned officer] going around, just listening to detainee complaints for the sole purpose of filtering out, "OK, is there a problem? Isn't there a problem? Is it something that we need to look out [for]?" And I ensured that the MPs were present during all interrogations, so if something were to happen that was out of line that their charge was to make me aware of it through the chain of command.
Did you ever walk around yourself and flip the lights on or make sure everything's OK in the middle of the night?
I walked around that camp at all periods of time every day. Yes, it was to make sure that people knew I was there. There's no doubt about that. But it was also to make sure that the MPs knew that their commander was concerned about their day-to-day welfare and how their operations were going.
What were you afraid of?
I was more concerned, I think, about making sure that that MP on a daily basis could maintain his or her professionalism, because we're all human. And one of the speeches that I always gave to the troops was, if you feel you can't go in and do your job professionally that day, let somebody know. Don't go in there with a chip on your shoulder and then do something that you don't want to do.
One of the things that I've always said about what's come out about some MPs' behavior is that a military policeman is trained how to properly handle either a prisoner of war, a detainee, someone they take into custody on a camp or station here in the United States. They're trained on how to take care, how to put that person into custody, but to do it without harm, so that they know right or wrong. And if they do wrong, then they know they're doing wrong. That's what you have to be careful of.
It's a period sometime right after 9/11. We're all still pretty nervous about what's going to happen. You've got what the secretary of defense calls "the worst of the worst" in those cages, until you get Camp Delta built. Who are those guys in those cages, and what kind of environment exists for your MPs vis-à-vis them?
You make a very good point. We didn't know who we had, so what you have to do is treat everybody as a high security risk. So we don't know who we have. I come on board in March. They in turn have been there a couple of months. They're starting to get the feel of the camp, how things work, so on and so forth.
And like any given prison population -- well, like it, but unique in that they are more homogeneous. They were all pretty much Arabs. They're all pretty much Islam in faith. They all pretty much come to believe [in] us as some kind of infidel or whatever. This is the sense you have in the camp. They would find excuses to have uproars in the camp or have times where they wanted to demonstrate, if you will. And the thing you have to be concerned about is to make sure there's not an overreaction [on] our part.
They're throwing things around; they're yelling and screaming; they're refusing to eat. They're doing this, they're doing that. OK, fine. They're not going anywhere. They're locked in this six-by-six cage. They physically can't go anywhere. You've got to get out of the mind-set of "We've got to go in and do something about this."
Some of the uprisings at night, I likened it to sometimes when we used to go to a college football game, and we'd have a cheer start off at the end zone and work its way all the way around one side of the stadium and come to the other end zone. It was the same type of thing. ... I watched this from one of the towers one night. They'd start ranting and raving over in one part of the camp, and the uprising would go -- the noise, and the yelling and screaming, you know, "Allah Akbar!" and all these kinds of things would move through the other portion of the camp until we had the whole camp in an uproar. And then it would start quieting down. Then we'd move the military police dogs through the outside of the camp, barking so they'd hear that, and they'd quiet down. Then finally, about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, [they] got tired and went to sleep.
Did they seem like dangerous people to you, walking among them? Was there that kind of hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-standing-up feeling?
We felt they were dangerous, and we had to believe they were dangerous. We could not determine one way or the other at that point in time who was dangerous, who wasn't. So we believed that everybody was dangerous. That's the best way to work in that kind of a situation, because then you take the maximum amount of precaution, the maximum amount of security you can have when dealing with any one individual.
After we got into the situation, we moved to Camp Delta. I used to kind of joke a little bit about the detainees that came off on the various flights from Afghanistan, because you could tell the difference between Taliban and the Afghan fighters. The Afghan fighters were the short guys that only weighed about 90 pounds and looked like they'd been running up and down the hills. The Taliban were the nice, big, fat guys who weighed 250 pounds and looked like they'd been eating well on the economy.
And the Al Qaeda guys?
Who knows where they were? That's the question. That's the real question. How do we know who we have? ...
What was your sense of what the rules of the road were vis-à-vis prisoner of war, enemy combatant, unlawful enemy combatant, all those arguments?
Before I had left SOUTHCOM to go to Guantanamo, I had in my hand the president's declaration saying that these people were detainees, not to be considered prisoners of war, and the thought process that went into that. And I had an item-by-item list of the different articles in the Geneva Conventions, and the ones that we were to comply with and the ones that we were not to comply with. And it was pretty clear to me about how we were to operate and how we weren't to operate.
And in a nutshell, what was that?
We were to operate in a high-security environment. They were not to be considered prisoners of war. And therefore, in the Geneva Conventions, they were not to gather as groups. They were not to have their own camp command. They were not to have their own PX [military base retail store], allowed to receive money and trade in goods and those kind of things. The things that you would allow in a POW situation we did not allow in this detention situation. ... [N]umber one, they were not part of an armed force, so they were not to be considered POWs. And second, they were high-value individuals that were detained for a specific reason because of their value, and they were to be treated as a maximum-security-type situation.
Is that probably the way Dunlavey and his JAG and others read those rules?
I don't think there was any deviation in their minds in terms of what the guidance was.
Is that the way they acted?
They did while I was there. As I understand it, within several days after I left, that's when they floated the first memo about how they wanted to operate differently.
And what was that?
That is what I read in the Schmidt report, but that's the one where they suggested they have other means [by] which to interrogate the detainees.
So there was a tension almost from the very beginning, or from the very beginning. They wanted [to], and you said no?
No, I don't think so. I think from the very beginning, Gen. Dunlavey had mentioned to me on several occasions, because of his experience in Vietnam as an interrogator, he believed that the best way to get information was to establish rapport. And so I don't believe that during the period of time that we were there, there was any extensive manipulation between the two to try and move away from that kind of a situation. At some point in time, I'm sure that Gen. Dunlavey through his channels was receiving constant questions about "OK, what are we getting? Are we getting information? Are we getting information?" He dealt with that. I didn't.
That's coming down pretty hot and heavy after a little while, the need, the demand for information.
I'm sure he was always questioned. I'm sure of that.
Berg tells stories of the intensity of those arguments, how much those guys wanted environmental stimulus changes, all kinds of other things. None of that made its way to you?
Other than they were proposals, none of it was ever put into effect as far as I was concerned. And if we found anything that we thought was amiss, why, we fixed it immediately. I remember going on one tour of the camp where I found some of the isolation cells had been covered over. There were Plexiglas inserts -- you may have seen them -- Plexiglas inserts that allowed light in. Some of them had been covered over, and when I went into the cellblock, I said, "Who ordered this?" "We don't know. We found it like that." "OK, remove them." So we did.
It was constant. You had to go around and constantly police the situation to make sure that nothing was out of hand. But there was nothing that I was aware of that ever got to any extent in terms of sensory deprivation or that kind of thing, that I was aware of.
Tell me about the interrogators. Who were they at that time in the early going, when you got there? Describe the kind of person, the kind of skill level, the kind of training, all of that, from the interrogators.
I can only tell you secondhand through discussions with Gen. Dunlavey, in terms of what he thought his mix was, because again, they worked for him. But the interrogators were a combination of active-duty reservists, people who were trained in the bare bones of interrogation, didn't have any experience because we hadn't been in this kind of a situation since 1991 in the Gulf War. So you had lost whatever experience we had during that point in time.
So he was working with people that didn't have any firsthand experience. The military people had been trained in the rudimentary aspects of it. And he was trying to put together these Tiger Teams, combining some of the FBI, the CIA, to try and all work -- you know, how we can best garner intelligence from the detainees. ...
Describe the physical surroundings of the interrogation in the camp, X-Ray and then Delta.
X-Ray, the interrogations were conducted in two, I believe, plywood buildings; maybe, if I remember correctly, about four different interrogation rooms. And it was a very intensive process to carry detainees from the cellblock into the interrogation rooms, bring them back and so on. But we ensured at all times there were enough military policemen available to make available to the interrogators any detainee that they wanted to see.
Once we moved to Camp Delta, they had a separate blockhouse, if you will, a detention room. There were actually two. There was one set that was mainly used by the military interrogators, and there was another set ... with the Persian rug and the sofas. There were two or three of those that, quote unquote, the FBI set those up. In any instance, however, we were still charged with transporting detainees to whatever interrogation room they were supposed to go in. And during my tenure there, the military policemen were required to maintain eyeball-to-eyeball contact with the detainee during interrogation.
[Have you read any of the FBI e-mails that have been released?]
I'm aware of what has been reported and so on, yes.
Does it seem like it's possible that what they're writing is a reflection of things you could have worried a lot about, and did your best to avoid?
I think that they might reflect the fact that in general, there needs to be a separation between the detention operation and interrogation operation to make sure that what I call dynamic tension that exists between those continues to exist, so that you don't have a situation where we may be putting ourselves in jeopardy about how we handle the detainees vis-à-vis the interrogations.
I think it was [FBI counterterrorism expert Thomas] Harrington, the retired interrogator from Vietnam service, he had visited Guantanamo while I was there. I met with him briefly. Certainly, at that point in time -- and this was probably in the June, July time frame of 2002 -- at that point in time, he had nothing to say to me about anything that was going wrong. However, as you're aware, he later visited Guantanamo after I left and had a lot to say. So I think that kind of gives you a sense of which direction perhaps things had gone. …
What do you hear of Gen. [Geoffrey D.] Miller? What's the pipeline scuttlebutt about Miller before he arrives?
The only pipeline scuttlebutt I got was that he was handpicked by Gen. [James T.] Hill because the two had a prior working relationship together. And that's normal within the general officer corps. That's as far as I know, that, and I believe he was a field artillery officer. ...
Why not pick guys who know about prisons to run a prison?
We probably don't have a big inventory of people who have that kind of experience. In military, the Disciplinary Barracks corps and the people who run prisons for a living in the military are a very small group to begin with. And there's not a lot of career progression for a prison warden, if you will, in terms of what the military looks at. It wasn't until after we cranked up Guantanamo that really, we got into the business in a large way, and for an extended period of time.
Even during the Gulf War, whatever prison camps we ran -- we had several of our companies from Rhode Island involved in those kinds of operations -- were nothing more than very large areas where "prisoners" were kept at that point in time, and then were released when combat operations ceased and we left. So we didn't really house people for any long period of time. And then all of a sudden, now we're running Guantanamo.
And it's an entirely different situation. So there's not a big breadth of experience to that. There is a belief in the Army that general officers are general for a reason. They should be able to do things because they're supposed to be trained well enough, and have enough common sense, and be able to run an operation no matter what their background is. ...
The idea of the call to prayer being played, and circumstances under which people could pray, how did that get started? Was that SOUTHCOM that said, "We want to do this"? Was it happening when you got there? Was it your idea?
No. Actually, it had begun at X-Ray before I even got there. And fortunately we had a very good Muslim chaplain that was on station at the time, a Navy Muslim chaplain who really assisted us tremendously in making sure that we didn't do things out of ignorance to be antireligious, and that what things the detainees needed to do were yeah, they need to do that because it was called for in a religion, and what things they said were religious in nature, which weren't.
There was some of that, I suppose, just because there would be.
The Koran is a perfect example. The Koran needed to be treated sensitively. It's not something you just throw around like you would a normal book. However, to the extent that some of these detainees have, in interviews since they've been released, saying [the interrogators] totally mistreated the Koran and so on and so forth, a lot of that I think is bogus reporting, because certainly the MPs were sensitive to that. And we're not there to play football with the Koran; that's for sure.
Arrows pointing to Mecca everywhere, on people's bunks -- what is that all about?
The detainees came to a different hemisphere. So to them, the sun rose in a different direction than what they were used to in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever they'd come from -- Saudi Arabia, the 34 other countries we had at the particular point in time. So they would challenge us all the time: "Well, that's not Mecca; that's not Mecca." So we'd send the Muslim chaplain around, "OK, let me prove it to you," because the sun rose in a different direction because of the different part of the hemisphere.
Did you have any sense of the quality of the intelligence that was being generated?
No, I didn't. I didn't.
Could you tell by attitude, orientation, expectation, energy level from either Dunlavey, his guys or the other MI people how it was going?
I sat in on some of the VIP briefings that they would give, and certainly they were showing what they felt were positive results, again from this Tiger Team concept that they were working, and that they were taking great pains to have interrogation plans drawn up ahead of time to make sure that they were followed, and that they felt they were getting intelligence. They attempted, as I was beginning to leave, to begin to publicize periodically, during the different conferences we would have, here's some of the tidbits that we've gotten, that we can tell you and so on, at least from a top-secret level. Now, there's another level of security above that that I wouldn't have been privy to.
What kinds of things were they able to talk about that they were getting?
Mostly they discussed "We've learned this background about this one detainee. We placed this detainee here at this particular point in time," and so on and so forth. "We think this detainee was a driver for bin Laden at one point. We think this detainee was a cook," those type of things. ...
Why do you think a man like Gen. Miller was brought to town?
It may be a somewhat simplistic answer, but I would offer to you that even before Gen. Hill took command of SOUTHCOM, we had already established a plan where we were going to integrate the two joint task forces, the one in detention and interrogation, interrogate the two joint task forces, and make it one Joint Task Force Gitmo. ...
The purpose of that operation, to join the two task forces, was to reduce the overhead that we had at the staff level, to reduce the requirement to have two sets of personnel officers, to have two sets of supply officers, that type of thing, and the staff that goes with that. However, when we set up Joint Task Force Guantanamo, there was still a separation between. There was clearly a detention commander in operation, and there was a clearly an interrogation commander in operation -- two separate organizations, two separate commanders, equal rank.
So the mechanism was still in place to separate the duties. So that plan was already put in place. It was already approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And we were in the process of moving forward and implementing that plan. Gen. Hill becomes Commander of SOUTHCOM in August. He gets appointed. He gets briefed on the plan. The plan moves forward. His charge, if you will, is to find the commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo. He goes about that, finds the best two-star, he thinks, he can find, and it turned out to be Miller. ...
Is it a big deal inside the Army, the regular Army, for him to get this job? Or is this a potential thankless end-of-the-world kind of a place?
You make a good point. Certainly I would think that in Gen. Hill's selecting the individual, it would be with the idea that your reward would [be] to receive a subsequent assignment that will allow you to be promoted. Certainly that's why, at least on the active-duty side, someone would come down and take that. Otherwise, they'd probably assign another reserve or a National Guard officer to do it.
So in other words, it's a job that there's going to be some visibility, and it's going to get you in the real war on terror.
Which is a good point at that point in time, because we had not gone into Iraq yet. And the other issue is [there's] a lot of responsibility. You do well, and clearly you're going to be recommended for promotion, absolutely. ...
[Give an example of a time you and the intelligence people had a conflict about detainee treatment.]
We had one situation where we had a detainee who was removed from Camp Delta into the Navy's Disciplinary Barracks there they had, the brig, and that detainee was kept there for a significant period of time. And it was due to a request by the FBI, because they thought they could work better intelligence on the detainee. I don't know to this day if that was the 20th hijacker; reading Schmidt, it may have been. This is all brought up in the Schmidt report, this particular incident.
But there was a constant fight over who would have control and who was going to be responsible, and who was going to make sure that the situation was made known to SOUTHCOM, about how long this detainee was going to be there, under what situation, under what kind of sensory deprivation and this type of thing. And our stance was at all times that they were going to be made aware of what was going on and approve it before we'd continue to do it.
Because if something went awry, somebody needed to know that a detainee was set in the situation and people had approved it, because it was out of the normal operating situation. And it wasn't done on my say; it wasn't done on Gen. Dunlavey's say; it was done on somebody else's higher say. ...
Let me ask you about whether you were asked to deal with, or how did you deal with dogs on the base?
Dogs were used in a couple of different ways. And their primary purpose while we were there at Guantanamo was additional security, patrol the perimeter. They'd be able to tell us if a detainee was trying to break out sooner than a human would, and that's their primary purpose. Their secondary purpose was to -- particularly during periods of transit when we were receiving detainees off flight and moving them to the camp -- were to make sure, through obvious barking and so on, that they were there. So the detainees who didn't know what was going on because they couldn't see, they couldn't hear, but they'd certainly hear a dog barking, knew that they were being watched, and so they would not attempt to escape or harm a military policeman.
Dogs were not brought through the cell blocks. They were sent around cell blocks at times during periods of uprising. Again, in an effort to intimidate the detainees, make them quiet down, that type of thing. But certainly not on a one-on-one situation, bark or try to bite a detainee and that type of situation.
Anybody ever come to you and say, "We'd like to use those dogs to scare these people?"
They wouldn't have come to me with that.
Because I wouldn't allow it.
And they knew that?
I'm sure they knew that. …
Suppose you would have been on the other side. Suppose Dunlavey would have gotten your job and you would have gotten his, and you were getting pushed for actionable intelligence. You'd probably want something harsher, I suppose, than going in one of those little wooden rooms and hoping to talk some guy into telling you something. Can you understand why there might have been a push-back on the other side?
I could certainly understand it. If I had been in his shoes, I might have done the same issue in terms of pushing memos up to the chain of command to say: "OK, what things can we do? What can't we do?" But I think you have to be very careful about being too creative.
One of the discussions I looked at the entire time I was there is the discussion that I had with my deputy about, "How we treat these detainees is going to show the world how they can treat American soldiers." No matter how you think about anything, how you do that is going to tell the world, "OK, then you can do it to detainees; we can do it to these American soldiers." And is that what we want? ...
When you look back now, [do you think some people were sent to Guantanamo who shouldn't have been]?
It's a very difficult situation, and not having been in Afghanistan, I can't tell you what exactly went on and what didn't go on. I can tell you that I know Gen. Dunlavey made a couple trips to Afghanistan to try and sort out the vetting process of who they were sending to Guantanamo and who they weren't, particularly after we received a couple that were severely medically impaired, shall we say. ...
But not having been in Afghanistan, not having picked the individual up who supposedly had been picked up with Iridium [satellite] cell phones with one of Osama bin Laden's phone numbers in it. So who knows what the real story is? But the point I'm trying to make is that there was a concern about who [was] getting sent to Guantanamo. ...
The problem of not being able to release them at that point, that was supposedly said to frustrate you when you realized that the "worst of the worst" were not always the worst of the worst; that you were in that kind of situation where there was no way to release them, and your opinion about that.
At the point in time that I was there at Guantanamo, we had several discussions with [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy] Douglas Feith's group -- his detainee group that he was running at the particular time at the secretary of defense's level -- that addressed the issue of, how do we get a mechanism in place to release detainees that are no longer useful or don't have viable intelligence? Or the interrogation folks have vetted them; they're not providing us anything; they don't have any wherewithal to give us; we need to release this detainee.
The concern was, first, do we know that they have no intelligence? Supposedly the interrogation folks would tell us. Second, are we sure that they will not pose a future threat to a soldier in the war theater, OK? That was always a nebulous question to ask, particularly if you were releasing them back to Afghanistan. And the third issue is, will the country that we release them to detain them in some kind of situation so that they aren't allowed to go back to the battlefield? ...
And then you throw in the fact that the Red Cross would not allow us to release anybody if that detainee claimed who we would release them to would torture them. So you had these dynamics working, and it's a very difficult situation to get somebody to sign off on the bottom line, saying, "Yeah, I really believe this guy isn't going to go back and kill Americans again." In some cases it's been proven that they have. ...
They would come in to Guantanamo and be, what, hooded?
Sensory deprived, yes.
How? Could you describe it?
They had goggles on so that they couldn't see, and they had earmuffs on so that they couldn't hear. And of course, they were bound in the five-point chain situation. So they were pretty well sensory deprived, in terms of once they got on the airplane in Afghanistan, and then when they arrived here in Guantanamo.
How long a flight was that?
About 24 hours, total.
Many of these guys had never been on an airplane before, I assume?
Oh, that's very true. It'd be a very excruciating situation. Many of them thought they were going to their death.
Really? How do you know?
That's the feedback that they would tell the Muslim chaplains, that type of thing. They thought that they were going to their deaths before they got here, and were very thankful that they were not killed when they got off the airplane. …
[Why would the interrogators have been upset with you?]
… Clearly I think there was consternation on the part of the interrogators -- at least this is the feedback I got -- about things that I would be concerned about, in terms of making sure that they have enough books to read, whether we were following Ramadan-type situations, allowing them to eat at night and fast during the day, those kinds of things. I heard they were upset that I increased the recreation periods to twice a week from once a week, that kind of thing.
… The story as it's told is basically that you were sacked because they didn't like the way things were happening. What's your response to that?
Well, first of all, any reports of my being sacked are absolutely untrue. I was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal for my time frame at Guantanamo. I was given an outstanding officer evaluation report upon my leaving. And as you may be aware, Joint Task Force 160 was given the Joint Unit Meritorious Award for their time period in Guantanamo, of which I was the commander of that joint task force seven out of the nine months in the period of time of the award. So to say that I was sacked, I think, is a falsified impression placed in the press by the usual "unnamed sources" that refuse to come forward. ...
They're looking for somebody to blame for not getting actionable intelligence.
I have no idea what they're trying to do, other than ruin somebody's career, if they can do that. Obviously I don't think they did that. But the point to be made is that my leaving Guantanamo was on a part of a plan to join the two task forces together. I left on the seventh of October; Miller was in place on the first of November. So clearly, that time frame had been put in place, and that's what the decision was. ...
What did you think of the Schmidt report when you read it? …
Chronologically it was fairly accurate.
From what I read, I think they did a very good job of getting to his charge. And you've got to remember what his charge was: It was to investigate some very specific accusations [of] abuse at Guantanamo. And I think he addressed all those issues and in the process, [raised] some of the other problems that were ongoing, in terms of going back to our old discussion about the tension that needs to exist between detention and interrogation.
How does it feel to know you fought for such [a white line] and then see the line blurred? How do you react to that? Something you really stepped up for was erased.
I feel that two ways. First I feel that I fulfilled my mission like I was supposed to. The charge I was given down there, I was given and filled it to the maximum possible extent. I thought I had some tremendous men and women of all the armed services who supported me down there, and I think the operation was run as well as it possibly could while I was there. I think that as an aside to that, that perhaps it vindicated what we've known all along as what the basic doctrine is, and that is detention is run by military police, and interrogation is run by the military intelligence.
How much of all that has happened do you lay at the blurring of that line, of all the abuses that we now know about?
I believe that any abuse is a result of an individual going beyond what he or she knows should be the rules of the road. To the extent that your training, and what you know to be right or wrong, you abandon and do something different, is the result of two things: either first, you personally believe that you can do this, or two, the environment has allowed you to believe that you can do this.
The personal issue: If an individual feels that he can do this, then we have to deal with that on a one-on-one situation. And certainly there's enough court[s]-martial going on that prove that we try to deal with that individually. If an individual does it because they believe the situation is such that allows them to do that, or encourages them to do that, then there's a failing in the chain of command.
And that failing in the chain of command goes back to the senior leaders not going around at the proper times and making sure that the supervision is in place, and making sure that things don't get out of hand, and making sure that a group of individuals don't get into a situation that they get out of control and have a party out of the situation, [as] has in some instances been described, so that certainly, that things are monitored and maintained professionalism at all times.
So to the extent that we have situations going on, do you have to really look at it as an individual? Or is it someone who thought that the situation allowed them to do that? And then it's a failing in the chain of command.
So when those pictures appeared in late April, early May in magazines and on television of those MPs at Abu Ghraib, what did you think? When you looked at it, what was your response?
First, that if they were MPs, that they knew that what they were doing was wrong and it should have never happened, number one. Number two, that there was just clearly a failing in the chain of command to maintain proper supervision, because again, if the supervision was there, they wouldn't have felt the situation would have allowed them to do that.
And when they say, and others around them begin to say -- 12 reports, countless commissions -- that there was a kind of "authorization by ambience" -- it was in the air; there were changing rules all the time from the secretary of defense; there were fingers being pointed; people were hearing that "the gloves were off," that MI people were rewarding MP people for their behavior by saying, "Come on, join the team," that Gitmo-ization had occurred, what does that all say to you?
If it would have happened at Guantanamo, clearly that would have been a failure of the chain of command. Being in Abu Ghraib with a wartime situation, mortars coming in on you, people taking potshots at you, you have another set of circumstances, but no less clearly a situation in which the chain of command needs to make sure that people act professionally, even when you're in detention situations. ...
[In his report, Gen. Randall M.] Schmidt identifies and talks about the things that happened at least to Mohammed al-Qahtani, that resemble, strikingly -- I think probably definitively -- the things we saw pictures of from Abu Ghraib: nudity, dogs, stimulus, deprivation, lots of women's underwear, lots of horrible things. You see the similarities?
Oh, certainly I see similarities. Obviously what you see in pictures released from Abu Ghraib and what's being reported in the Schmidt report, they look very much similar.
And the implications of that to you are?
I would say it's the use by the interrogators of standard intimidation techniques. Certainly if you understand Muslims, if you've read anything about their culture, if you know how they're brought up under Islam, nudity is a very big thing to them, very big thing. You just don't do it, much less have women's underwear anywhere near you or that kind of thing; and being seen in public, have other people see you in that kind of situation. So what they're doing is using cultural techniques to try and break down the prisoners' or the detainees' resistance, OK.
So those would be standard procedures, OK. In my mind that's pretty standard, but that's what you're trying to do. The question is whether or not if we do that to a detainee, are we willing to have somebody else do that to an American? If that's acceptable in our country, then fine. If not, then we need to rethink about what we're doing. ...