October 7, 2006 in Nation/World

Guantanamo abuse alleged

Thomas Watkins Associated Press
 

Who’s at Guantanamo?

Guantanamo Bay houses about 450 suspected members of al-Qaida and the Taliban. Human-rights groups have roundly criticized the Bush administration for detaining most without criminal charges, but U.S. officials have defended the detentions as necessary in the war on terrorism and say the detainees are treated humanely.

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The Pentagon said Friday that it will investigate a Marine’s sworn statement that guards at Guantanamo Bay bragged about beating detainees and described it as a common practice.

The Marine, a paralegal who was at the U.S. Navy station in Cuba last month, alleges that several guards she talked to at the base club said they routinely hit detainees.

“From the whole conversation, I understood that striking detainees was a common practice,” the sergeant wrote. “Everyone in the group laughed at the others’ stories of beating detainees.”

The woman’s name was blacked out of a copy of a two-page affidavit provided to the Associated Press by a civilian defense attorney working with Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, the Marine Corps’ defense coordinator for the Western United States and based at Camp Pendleton.

Vokey, who sent the statement Wednesday to the inspector general at the Department of Defense, called for an investigation, saying the abuse alleged in the affidavit “is offensive and violates United States and international law.”

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler said Defense officials “are reviewing this affidavit and will investigate these allegations fully.” A call to the inspector general’s office was not immediately returned

Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand, spokesman for the Joint Task Force that oversees detention facilities at Guantanamo, said the force “will participate fully with the inspector general to learn the facts of the matter and will take action where misconduct is discovered.”

The Marine said in the sworn statement that she has been working at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Southern California, and was in Guantanamo from Sept. 20-27.

She said some Marines had invited her to the base club Sept. 23. She didn’t see them but a group of at least 15 sailors invited her to join them. She said she spoke with the sailors for about an hour, during which she had one drink, and that the sailors did not appear drunk.

A 19-year-old sailor referred to only as Bo “told the other guards and me about him beating different detainees being held in the prison,” the statement said.

“One such story Bo told involved him taking a detainee by the head and hitting the detainee’s head into the cell door. Bo said that his actions were known by others,” the statement said. The sailor said he was never punished.

Other guards “also told their own stories of abuse towards the detainees” that included hitting them, denying them water and “removing privileges for no reason.”

“About 5 others in the group admitted hitting detainees” and that included “punching in the face,” the affidavit said.

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