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"It Was a Sunny Day"
« on: January 11, 2012, 20:17:31 PM »
"It Was a Sunny Day"

Wednesday 11 January 2012

by: Jason Leopold, Truthout | Report


A former Guantanamo guard, who was at the prison facility when it opened ten years ago, today reflects on a decade of lawlessness.

Pfc. Brandon Neely was standing at attention inside Camp X-Ray along with three-dozen or so other active-duty soldiers attached to the 401st Military Police Company from Fort Hood, Texas, during the afternoon of January 11, 2002.

A busload of about 20 "war on terror" detainees captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan were soon going to be arriving at the crudely constructed prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and Neely, then 21 years old, was waiting for his assignment.

His platoon sergeant called out his name.

"Pfc. Neely! Bravo Block, escort," he said, which meant Neely escorted detainees as they were processed into the prison and then to their cells.

Neely's adrenaline was flowing. Army Col. Terry Carrico, the prison's commander, and Marine Gen. Michael R. Lehnert, commander, Joint Task Force 160, whose mission was to build and operate the detention camps at Guantanamo, had just told Neely and the other military police (MP) that all of the detainees, who Bush administration officials had publicly characterized as the "worst of the worst," were involved in the 9/11 attacks and were so dangerous and psychotic that one of them had attempted to gnaw through a hydraulic line on the C-141 en route to Guantanamo.

Neely said he had no idea what to expect. He was scared and nervous.

"I really wanted to be in combat fighting in Afghanistan,” Neely said. “I wanted revenge for 9/11. When I found out I was going to Guantanamo to help run a detention facility I was kind of mad because I wanted to go to the front lines to fight not to babysit a bunch of detainees.”

He had never seen terrorists before. He waited for the bus to arrive near the open-air cages that resembled kennels, where the detainees were held for about four months before being moved to Camp Delta, a newly constructed block of prison cells built by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, a corporation once headed by Dick Cheney.

"I remember it was a sunny day," Neely said. "It was January, but it was a lot different than Texas."

The bus rolled in to the side of Camp X-Ray and the doors opened. The MP canine unit was present and their dogs were snarling. The first detainee to exit, a man Neely recalls was in his 30s and overweight, was missing a leg. A Marine inside the bus threw the man's prosthetic leg onto the gravel. The MPs nicknamed him "Stumpy."

That was Neely's first exposure to the "worst of the worst."

"I was shocked," Neely said. "I will never forget that."

The one-legged detainee hopped toward the holding area flanked by a couple of MPs who were screaming at him to "walk faster," Neely said. The detainee was wearing a hood; an orange jumpsuit; goggles, which were designed to disorient his senses during the flight to Guantanamo from Afghanistan; a surgical mask; earmuffs; and gloves that looked like oven mitts. His leg, at least the one he still had, was shackled. His hands were attached to a chain wrapped around his torso.

The second detainee off the bus was David Hicks, the Australian drifter who was captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and sold to US forces for about $1,500. [Hicks, who was released in 2007, gave his first interview to Truthout last year.]

Hicks was Neely's prisoner. At five-foot three inches tall, he hardly looked like the mercenary about which Neely was warned.

"We yelled at him, told him to get on his knees and shut up," Neely said after Hicks exited the bus. "He was a little guy. He didn't look like a killer."

Neely did not know it then, nor did the public, but a vast majority of the prisoners who populated Guantanamo during the prison's first year in operation were innocent bystanders sold to US forces for hefty bounty payments or were captured and sent to Guantanamo because they wore the same style Casio watch that members of al-Qaeda wore.

Later in the afternoon of January 11, 2002, Neely was involved in the first violent incident that took place at Guantanamo. It's an event that he said still haunts him to this day, but it pales in comparison to the brutal torture methods sanctioned by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that would become standard operating procedure at the prison facility later that year.

Neely and another MP were escorting a detainee to his cell. When they arrived, Neely put the detainee, who was still wearing goggles, on his knees and the other MP began to unlock his handcuffs. The detainee, who was in his fifties, flinched. Neely reacted quickly.

"I slammed his face down into the concrete," Neely said. "He tried to get up and I slammed him down again. I didn't know what he was trying to do."

The Immediate Reaction Force Team (IRF), military guards who are trained to use overwhelming force to respond to "disciplinary infractions," were called in and subdued the detainee. When Neely saw the prisoner again the next day, the side of his face was torn up and scabbed.

Weeks later, Neely learned that the detainee flinched because he thought he was going to be executed when he was told to get down on his knees.

Neely left Guantanamo in June 2002 with an achievement medal for "exceptional meritorious service" and returned to Fort Hood. By that time, the conversations he had with some of the British detainees led him to doubt the government's claims that the detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo were terrorists.

"I had a feeling I was being lied to," Neely said. "Some of these guys grew up the same way I did. That's when I started to question it. It was years later when I realized a lot of these guys weren't guilty of anything at all."

The government did lie to Neely and did so again in 2003 when he was sent to Iraq to fight a war predicated on ridding the country of its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. He returned to the US a year later and fell into a deep depression, his mind ravaged by post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I returned to a wife and three beautiful children I did not even know and who didn't even know the man I came home as," Neely said, who was only 23 years old when his tour of duty in Iraq ended.

Neely left the military in 2005 and declined a call to return to active duty in 2007 and received an honorable discharge. Part of his healing process involved making a personal apology to two of the British detainees he had stood guard over during the six months he spent at Guantanamo. Although Neely's in a better place mentally, he said he's still not whole.

"There has not been a day that goes by that I have not re-lived what I did or saw in Guantanamo," he said. "Its time for the Government to close Guantánamo and admit to what took place inside the wire then and only then can this country start to head back towards the morals, values, and principals that it once stood and fought for."

At a press briefing Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Obama's committment to shutting down the detention camp "is as firm today as it was during [Obama's] campaign."

"We will continue to abide by that commitment and work towards its fulfillment," Carney said, without elaborating how Obama intended to work toward fulfilling a promise he made after he was sworn into office to shut Guantanamo within one year.

The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which Obama signed into law on New Year's Eve, certainly does not help. In fact, the law guarantees Guantanamo will remain open indefinitely as it restricts the transfer of detainees.

Neely, who works in law enforcement in Houston, Texas, said until the prison is closed he will continue to speak critically about the detention facility and talk about the abuses that took place there. He is one of just a a handful of former guards who has come forward over the past decade totalk about Guantanamo.

Truthout has interviewed more than a dozen other former Guantanamo guards over the past year, who have told disturbing stories of abuse they participated in and witnessed, but none will speak on the record because they fear their careers will be ruined or they will be prosecuted by the government for defying a nondisclosure agreement  they signed prior to leaving the detention facility. All of the former guards said their service at Guantanamo traumatized them.

Last year, the US Army told a reservist who spent half his life in the military that he was barred from re-enlisting, asserting he "leaked" classified information to this reporter during an interview in which he spoke candidly about his experiences working as a guard at Guantanamo Bay eight years ago.

For Neely, who also signed a nondisclosure agreement, speaking up has come at a cost.

He said he has been regularly harassed at work and has been accused of being a terrorist sympathizer.

Still, he said he "decided that I needed to tell my story about Guantanamo."

"How can I as a father tell my children to tell the truth and stand up for what they believe in if I am not willing to do the same?"

http://www.truth-out.org/it-was-sunny-day/1326292528