Guantanamo Detainees Still Yielding Valuable Intelligence
By Kathleen T. Rhem
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — A bearded man with close-cropped hair sits
shackled in a nondescript room. The man appears middle-aged and
Middle Eastern, and is wearing rubber flip-flops and orange clothing
that resembles hospital “scrubs.”
analysts observe interrogations remotely from this room
in Camp 5, the new state-of-the-art detention and intelligence
facility at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
by Kathleen T. Rhem / DoD Photo
He is sitting
on a black, padded folding chair, calmly doing stretching exercises
within the limits of his restraints. Handcuffs are attached to
a chain belt around his waist, and his leg irons are attached
to an iron ring in the gray cement floor.
room is brightly lit and appears spotlessly clean. A table in
the corner is empty, except for a few bottles of water.
played out in mid-February in an interrogation room in Camp 5,
the state-of-the-art detention and interrogation facility completed
here in 2004. After agreeing to strict ground rules, reporters
were allowed to view the interrogation via a video feed from a
remote location and with the sound turned off.
A few minutes
earlier, three Army military police officers with the names on
their uniforms covered with tape had escorted the man into the
room. They appeared to exchange polite niceties, and the detainee
seemed to be familiar with the process. He even assisted the MPs
in correctly fastening the shackles through the chair and into
the ring on the floor.
detainee sat alone for about five minutes, stretching, examining
his fingernails and gazing around the room, the MPs came in again,
removed the shackles and handcuffs, and left. One individual,
wearing black combat boots, green camouflage pants and a brown
T-shirt, stayed in the room and pulled up another chair directly
in front of the detainee.
For at least
20 minutes the two men appeared to speak casually. The reporters
were escorted out before the session was finished, but during
the observed period, neither man appeared irritated or angry at
any time. The detainee sat with his legs comfortably crossed,
and once he stood and rested a leg on the seat of the chair. At
times he gestured animatedly. The two men smiled at each other
occasionally and even appeared to chuckle once.
interview a few days later, another interrogator, who asked not
to be identified by name for security reasons, explained that
interrogation sessions often are just comfortable conversations.
said, is the secret to success in interrogations.
are you going to provide information if you don’t trust
somebody?” he asked. “When you’re a kid, they
say don’t talk to strangers. So my personal feelings are
that if I’m culturally aware, respectful and cognizant of
what’s going on around me and what this person might be
going through, that helps me.”
that different interrogators have different styles. For instance,
in the observed interrogation session, no interpreter was present.
Either the interrogator spoke a foreign language or the detainee
spoke English. Security experts escorting the media did not reveal
interrogator who was interviewed, an Army sergeant, said he always
has an interpreter in the room as a sign of respect for the detainee.
“I realize that maybe some of these guys don’t want
to look at me or speak to me in English. So I always have an interpreter
with me at all times to give them that respect — cultural respect,”
he said. “I don’t expect them to speak English to
me. I know if I was in their situation, I’d want somebody
speaking English to me, so I try to afford them that same respect.”
also important to know as much as possible about the individual
detainee and his background, and to use the best approach that
would work with each individual.
said it’s important to remember that people are all different.
“You take somebody from Boston and you take somebody from
the Deep South,” and there are many differences, he said.
said the sales business is a perfect example of why it’s
important to tailor the approach depending on the individual.
A salesman approaching an elderly lady in a car lot is going to
take many things into account: “What do you think she’s
going to want to buy? How are you going to approach that individual?
What do you think motivates her? Is she just looking for transportation?”
he said. That the same salesman, he added, would take a much different
approach with a teenager looking for a car.
of information gleaned from detainees here has changed considerably
over time, explained Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, commander of Joint
Task Force Guantanamo.
we had a lot to do to learn about the nature of our detainees.
Many of them used aliases; many of them were not forthcoming with
us in describing who they were and what their activities on the
battlefield were,” Hood said in an interview. “But
over the last couple years, we’ve gained a great deal of
information on them and intelligence from them. And I think now
we are probably more focused in our intelligence-gathering effort
in those areas where we know that they can still provide us valuable
three years in detention, detainees still are providing valuable
intelligence “in terms of how al Qaeda, the Taliban and
other related terrorist organizations fund themselves, how they
recruited, how they trained people, how they’re organized,
how they plan operations, how they command and control those operations,”
director of the Joint Intelligence Group, explained further. “We
have many individuals that have a lot of knowledge on everything
from modus operandi to financing to all kinds of areas that don’t
really change over time much,” he said. “Also, we
have individuals that have a lot of background and knowledge on
the area of operations that we conduct all over the global war
on terrorism and knowledge of terrain. … Those things don’t
go away either.”
said experts “gain valuable intelligence practically every
day” from the detainees here. “Some of it, of course,
is simply small pieces of the puzzle that we’re able to
answer,” he said. “And some has actually been critical,
timely information to support ongoing operations.”
of how intelligence gained here has helped in the war on terror
are classified, he said. “But,” he added, “I
can tell you that we’ve gained intelligence that on occasions
have led to support of real-time, ongoing operations in the global
war on terrorism.”
Rodriguez said, interrogators here get “directed requirements”
to ask specific questions.
In the interrogation
session that was observed, the interrogator showed the detainee
two photographs of individuals. It was impossible to tell if the
photos were of the same individual, and again, security officials
did not elucidate. But this seemed to be an example of a directed
that has not changed over time is the diligence with which the
interrogators and military police here try to guard the safety
of the detainees. Hood was adamant that the type of abuse that
was uncovered in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq “is not occurring
light of what we saw at Abu Ghraib, the members of the joint task
force, but specifically the members of the Joint Intelligence
Group and the Joint Detention Operations Group — those who deal
most closely with the enemy combatants — they have worked very
hard, very diligently to see that what we do here and the manner
in which we do it, every American could be proud of,” he
the leaders of the joint task force have built numerous checks
into the system that immediately would bring any mistreatment
of detainees to light. “We have a whole series of checks
for literally everything we do here in the joint task force, but
specifically with any actions that involve detainees,” he
said. “We are constantly checking to see that we maintain
standards in terms of how we deal with the detainees.”
he said, guards on the cellblocks have their own chain of command
to ensure proper procedures are followed. But in addition, noncommissioned
officers from outside the guards’ chain of command periodically
inspect the area and go through a checklist.
you see generally is a very disciplined, a very proud, a very
well-trained group of young men and women who are working under
difficult circumstances every day to do their job on behalf of
the nation as best as they possibly can,” Hood said.
who was interviewed seemed genuinely offended by abuse allegations
and said he resents that he and his coworkers have to defend their
mission. “It seems so sad,” he said. “As far
as I’ve been here, I’ve not seen anything bad go on,
nothing at all whatsoever.
believe in this mission,” the sergeant continued. “I
believe that we are doing the right thing and that we need to
continue to do that. Because once we let up, it’s going
to show weakness, and I don’t think that that’s something
that we need to show as a country, as a military, as individuals.”