We speak with former army sergeant, Erik Saar who served as an Arabic translator at Guantanamo Bay for six months. Among the abuses he says he witnessed was sexual abuse, mock interrogations, the use of dogs and a female interrogator smearing what looked like menstrual blood on a Muslim prisoner. He also says children were imprisoned at Guantanamo and that the military ordered them not to speak to the Red Cross. [includes rush transcript – partial]
————————————————————We begin today by continuing our extensive look into the abuse and outright torture of prisoners held by the US government since the onset of the so-called war on terror. Three years ago, most people in this country or around the world had never heard of Guantanamo Bay Cuba or the Abu Ghraib prison, two places that have now become global symbols of the US war on terror. Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the breaking of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.
To date, no senior military officials have been held accountable for the systematic abuse of prisoners held by the US military. Lawyers for the rank-and-file soldiers who have been prosecuted say that their clients are cogs in a much bigger wheel that goes higher up the chain of command. This weekend, The New York Times reported on a high-level military investigation into accusations of detainee abuse at the Guantanamo Prison camp. While its findings fall far short in describing the extent of the abuse that human rights groups and released prisoners allege are taking place there, it did reveal some significant details.
It concluded that several prisoners were mistreated or humiliated, perhaps illegally, as a result of efforts to devise innovative methods to gain information. The report on the investigation is still a few weeks from being completed and released. The Times says it will deal with accounts by FBI agents who complained after witnessing detainees subjected to several forms of harsh treatment. The FBI agents wrote in memorandums that were never meant to be disclosed publicly that they had seen female interrogators forcibly squeeze male prisoners” genitals, and that they had witnessed other detainees stripped and shackled low to the floor for many hours.
This comes as a former U.S army linguist who worked as an Arabic translator at the U.S prison camp in Guantanamo is speaking out. Erik Saar was stationed at the camp from December 2002 to June 2003. He has just written a new book called “Inside the Wire: A Military Intelligence Soldier’s Eyewitness Account of Life at Guantanamo,” in which he describes a wide range of practices and techniques used by U.S military officers at Guantanamo and condoned by senior officers.
Erik Saar joins us today in our Boston studio.
Erik Saar, author of “Inside the Wire: A Military Intelligence Soldier’s Eyewitness Account of Life at Guantanamo.”
This transcript is available free of charge, however donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
Donate – $25, $50, $100, more…
AMY GOODMAN: Erik Saar was stationed at the camp from December, 2002 to June, 2003. And he has just written a new book. It’s called Inside the Wire: A Military Intelligence Soldier’s Eyewitness Account of Life at Guantanamo, in which he describes a wide range of practices and techniques used by U.S. military officers at Guantanamo and condoned by senior officers. Eric Saar joins us now in Boston. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Erik.
ERIK SAAR: Thanks for having me, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you start off by talking about why you went to Guantanamo?
ERIK SAAR: I volunteered to go to Guantanamo Bay because I believed in the mission, to be honest with you, ma’am. I went there enthusiastically to serve my country and hopefully to use my Arabic skills to contribute to the war on terrorism and to help. I believed I was going to sit face-to-face with those who perpetrated and were responsible for the events of September 11 and those who were — or those who were planning future attacks against the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: And is that what happened when you went to Guantanamo?
ERIK SAAR: Well, I went there with one expectation. What I found shortly after I arrived, and then I actually went through a process of realizing that my expectations really clashed with the reality of Guantanamo Bay. And it’s not exactly what I found. There were a number of things that troubled me, that ended up leading me to the conclusion that Guantanamo Bay, to me, represents a mistake and a failed strategy in this war.
AMY GOODMAN: You translated for the interrogators at Guantanamo?
ERIK SAAR: I did. In the second half of my six-month assignment, I did serve as a translator in a number of interrogations.
AMY GOODMAN: You describe one scene of a female interrogator. Can you talk about what happened that day and start from the beginning?
ERIK SAAR: That day, a technique was used in the interrogation booth where sex was used as a weapon to create a wedge between the detainee we were speaking with and his faith. For example, more specifically, the female interrogator I worked with that day sought to sexually entice the detainee. The logic behind that was that if he would be sexually attracted to her, he would feel unclean, and therefore, she believed, in Islam, he would be unable to go back to his cell and pray. One thing she additionally did in order to humiliate him and also to make him feel unclean was wipe what was red ink on his face, but it was done in a way that he believed it was menstrual blood. All of this again was in an attempt to create this wedge between himself and his religion and not only was it ineffective, but I thought it was unethical.
AMY GOODMAN: Could you describe the events in detail? I mean, what happened? You were sitting in the room translating, and she walked in the room, the prisoner already there or brought in after?
ERIK SAAR: I walked in with her. The prisoner had already been there waiting for a good period of time before we arrived. He was shackled to the floor and forced to hunch over. We were asking him — telling him to be cooperative. She was explaining — saying that, you know, this is going to be unpleasant for you. After a break, we then returned to the interrogation booth, and that was when she started taking off her outer blouse, where she was wearing a tight t-shirt underneath, and she was touching herself and trying to arouse the detainee.
AMY GOODMAN: What was she saying to him?
ERIK SAAR: She was saying, you know, it doesn’t have to be this way. We could sit across a table and talk like adults, but I could tell — and then she went on to say — I could tell that you’re aroused by me. How do you think Allah feels by you being attracted to an American infidel?
AMY GOODMAN: Did she describe her body to him?
ERIK SAAR: She did describe her body, and she walked around, and she rubbed her breasts on his back. And she was basically attempting to entice him.
AMY GOODMAN: What was her name?
ERIK SAAR: I’m not — really, I didn’t write the book to go into specific allegations of what individuals did, but if I could take the opportunity to say this: One of the things that troubled me most about the camp was that the individuals there who were working were doing — were making — however misguided it was, were attempting to get information under techniques that were permissible by the command. So, I really did not name anyone specifically for that reason, because I don’t think anyone was operating outside of what the chain of command thought was permissible.
AMY GOODMAN: Had you had this behavior that she was exhibiting described to you before? Did you know that this was going on in other cases?
ERIK SAAR: I simply knew from other cases and colleagues that worked in interrogations and from seeing a skirt that hung up on a door that sex was used in other interrogations to create this sort of wedge between the detainee and his faith. But I really didn’t – I hadn’t sat in and seen one of these interrogations until that day.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, in that case, as she was rubbing her body on him and she took off her outer blouse, what did she do then?
ERIK SAAR: Well, we took a break and then we went back. That was when she went and found a red marker to wipe red ink on her hands. We returned to the interrogation, where she told him that she was menstruating and walked around and began to put her hands in her pants and walked around the detainee and then wiped the red ink on the side of his face and told him that it was menstrual blood.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, he was still shackled on the floor?
ERIK SAAR: No. At that time, actually, when we returned to the interrogation booth, he was actually in a chair, but he was shackled. His ankles were shackled to the floor.
AMY GOODMAN: And as she smeared this ink on his face, what did he do?
ERIK SAAR: He lunged from the chair and actually he came out of one of the ankle shackles that was on, and the M.P.’s had to come in, the guards had to come in and put him back in the shackles. And all of this, I’d like to say, was with someone that personally based on the intelligence I had access to was someone who was an individual that, to be honest with you, I hope never sees the light of day, and — but of course, goes through some process of justice, in order to be — to face a just punishment, but at the same time, what convinced me and what was so troubling was that, first of all, this was ineffective; secondly, even if it was effective, it was apparent to me that what we were doing there was not in keeping with the values we stand for as a country.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, all of this time when she was saying things to him, things sexual in nature, you were the translator, is that right? You had to translate this into Arabic to him?
ERIK SAAR: Yes. I was there for that.
AMY GOODMAN: Was he responding to you at all?
ERIK SAAR: He was responding only to me, really, because he did not want to look her in the eye. So, yes, he was responding to me.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you have any conversations with him separately, and how did you feel conveying this, speaking as her?
ERIK SAAR: That’s a good question. I actually felt — it was one of the frustrations of dealing with certain interrogations, because as a linguist, you’re to take on the role of the interrogator who was with you. So, there was a conflict there in that I wasn’t necessarily agreeing with what was taking place, but you had a mission at the same time.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, when she took the red ink and smeared it on him, did she say to him, this is menstrual blood?
ERIK SAAR: Yes, she said this is menstrual blood. And then she also said, you know, have fun attempting to pray in your cell tonight when your water is going to be turned off. So they would turn off the water in his cell so he couldn’t become ritually clean.
AMY GOODMAN: And his response?
ERIK SAAR: His response was really non-verbal. The only thing I can make out that he said was some profanity, but other than that, he really was just despondent, and I guess that’s the best way to put it.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Erik Saar, military intelligence soldier’s eyewitness account of what happened at Guantanamo, translator for the interrogators there. We’ll be back with him in just a minute.