SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The U.S. Southern Command on Friday launched an investigation into “credible allegations” that guards at Guantanamo Bay abused detainees, and appointed an Army colonel to head the probe.
The Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office told the Associated Press on Friday that it had ordered the Miami-based Southern Command to investigate after Marine Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, who represents a detainee at the U.S. naval base in eastern Cuba, filed the “hotline” complaint last week.
Vokey attached a sworn statement from his paralegal, Sgt. Heather Cerveny, 23, in which she said several guards in a bar at Guantanamo Bay bragged about beating detainees and described it as common practice.
“Other ones of them were talking about how when they get annoyed with the detainees, about how they hit them, or they punched them in the face,” Cerveny said during a telephone interview Thursday night. “It was a general consensus that I (detected) that as a group this is something they did. That this was OK at Guantanamo; that this is how the detainees get treated.”
Cerveny visited the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba last month and said she spent an hour with the guards at the military club.
The guards quit discussing beating detainees after finding out she works for a detainee’s legal team.
Asked Thursday if the conversation could have been exaggerated bar talk, she said, “I don’t think that they were trying to impress me in any way. They were already in a discussion in there when I walked into a group.”
Gary Comerford, spokesman for the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office, said that in the past two days, the case “has been referred to Southcom for action. They’re going to have to look into this.”
Gen. John Craddock, the commander of the Southern Command, said later Friday that he had ordered the investigation, headed by an Army colonel, to begin.
“The investigation is consistent with U.S. Southern Command’s policy to investigate credible allegations of abuse” at Guantanamo detention facilities, the Southern Command said in a statement.
The military Joint Task Force that runs the detention camps in Guantanamo Bay pledged to work with investigators from the Southern Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The Inspector General receives 14,000 tips on misconduct each year and opens 3,000 cases each year as a result, Comerford said.
There are now 454 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, according to Vincent Lusser, a spokesman for the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross.