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THE U.S. MILITARY’S BRUTAL AND INEFFECTIVE INTERROGATION PROGRAM STARTED AT GITMO THEN SPREAD TO ABU GHRAIB. ONE MAN WHO TRIED TO STOP IT —AND FAILED—NOW FEARS AMERICA MAY TORTURE AGAIN.
CLOCKWORK ORANGE detainees at Gitmo’s Camp X-Ray.
PETTY OFFICER 1ST CLASS SHANE T. MCCOY/U.S. NAVY/GETTY
Rumsfeld, the defense secretary. The U.S. military created a battle lab at Gitmo to test out brutal interrogation measures, then employed them in Iraq in prisons such as Abu Ghraib.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GETTY

GITMO

WHAT THE FUCK? WHO ARE THESE GUYS?” It was February 2002, and I was giving Bob McFadden a tour of Camp X-Ray, a crude detention center on the far corner of the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As the deputy commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigation Task Force at Gitmo, I oversaw the investigation and interrogation of suspected militants. The goal: to probe their networks and bring them to trial. As I explained to McFadden, a former colleague at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the job was, well, complicated.

Nearly all the Gitmo detainees had been nabbed in Afghanistan. We housed them in outdoor mesh cages made of fencing material. Each cage had two buckets, one for drinking water, the other for human waste. It was sort of like a high-security, low-rent zoo.

By the time McFadden arrived, the camp was getting overcrowded. We asked for better facilities but were told to “hang tight” because Gitmo was just a temporary holding site. In the meantime, I showed my old friend around, warning him about the camp’s more eccentric characters. One guy, whom we nicknamed Wild Bill, would chuck his shit at you if you got too close. Another, Waffle Butt, would press his bare ass against the mesh any time someone got near him.

None of that bothered McFadden. He’d been inside plenty of nasty places. But as soon as the detainees realized he spoke Arabic, they began yelling at him: “Please, please, mister, mister! There’s been a mistake! There was a mix-up.” McFadden talked to some of them, and I could see his face getting more and more troubled. Finally, he grabbed a list of detainees, scanned the names, looked at the mass of prisoners in front of him and shouted out, “None of them are Arabs!” The detainee list was full of Afghan and Pakistani names such as Iqbal and Khan. Whoever they were, they weren’t part of the core Al-Qaeda network—the Egyptians, Saudis and other Arabs whom U.S. intelligence been tracking for years.

In the fall of 2001, the primary justification for invading Afghanistan was to capture Osama bin Laden and his inner circle. That hadn’t happened, but our military hadn’t given up on the chase. Helicopters were still dropping flyers offering $5,000 bounties for Taliban or Al-Qaeda members. Most of the Afghan and Pakistani groups hunting down militants were just after the reward; they didn’t care if they nabbed an innocent man.

The vetting process for determining who might be a militant was equally dysfunctional. Some militants had used a popular model of a Casio digital watch as a timer for bombs; wearing one eventually became suspect, and detainees were actually held at Gitmo because they had been wearing a Casio watch.

When I was setting up the task force, I was promised I’d be dealing with “the worst of the worst” of Al-Qaeda militants. But it soon became clear that McFadden was right—we didn’t have them. This was not the job I had signed up for. And soon it would require me to do things against my values and against the values of America.

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