WASHINGTON — Although Defense Department officials deny that detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or in other American camps were routinely mistreated, official statements and court testimony undercut the claim.
FBI agents witnessed mistreatment at Guantanamo, according to accounts gathered for a Justice Department report released May 20, 2008. One agent reported seeing detainees in interrogation rooms "chained hand and foot in a fetal position on the floor. ... Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more."
Another agent wrote that in October of 2002, a U.S. Marine Corps captain squatted over a Quran during an interrogation to get a rise out of the detainee being questioned.
A third agent wrote that during their time at Guantanamo — from June 2003 to July 2004 — they'd spoken with one interrogator who bragged about doing a lap dance on a detainee and another who dressed as a Roman Catholic priest and baptized him.
A fourth agent reported hearing that one soldier would wet her hands and then touch detainees' faces — suggesting that her hands were covered with menstrual blood — to make them "unclean" and incapable of praying.
After two Afghans were beaten to death at Bagram Air Base in 2002, several American former guards testified that detainees often were struck for the smallest of infractions.
The U.S. military has disputed claims of detainee abuse, citing its own investigations, which relied mostly on paperwork filled out by soldiers and interviews with them.
Logs filled out by Guantanamo's Immediate Reaction Force, released after an open records request by NBC News, refer consistently to using "the minimum amount of force necessary." Former detainees pointed to the IRF, a sort of riot squad, as the main source of violence during detainee-guard fighting.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Gary Keck, who like the vast majority of senior U.S. defense officials has never debriefed a detainee or former detainee, repeated a position frequently offered by Defense Department officials: "As instructed by al Qaida training documents such as the Manchester Manual, detainees have frequently made allegations of abuse while in detention in order to garner public support."
Keck was referring to an Arabic-language manual reportedly found in the home of an al Qaida member in Manchester, England, which had a section that instructed terrorists, if captured, to fabricate stories of abuse while in custody.
However, McClatchy's interviews with 66 former detainees raise questions about Keck's assertion.
McClatchy found that many of those in U.S. custody weren't hard-core al Qaida terrorists but Taliban conscripts and ordinary villagers who probably didn't receive al Qaida training on what to do if captured. Nor is it likely that the former detainees McClatchy interviewed had coordinated their stories. Many of them, for one thing, didn't speak Arabic or any common language.
The detainees' allegations of mistreatment were far more specific and consistent than the vague instructions in the Manchester Manual, and the former detainees pointed to internment camps in Afghanistan more often than they did to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as places where they'd been abused.
Of the 66 former Guantanamo detainees interviewed, 28, or about 42 percent, said they'd been assaulted there. But when asked about their treatment at Bagram, 28 of 41 of the men interviewed who were held there, or about 68 percent, said they'd been abused. That percentage was even higher among those who'd been imprisoned at Kandahar Airfield, where 32 of 42 former detainees interviewed who'd been held there, or about 76 percent, said they'd been assaulted.