“Doctors or Butchers, How Would I Know”

Frank Kendall – Human Rights First volunteer consultant – is in Cuba to monitor the proceedings and is reporting back on events as they unfold. He is providing updates of what he observes.


Guantánamo Bay, July 15, 2008: I’m sitting in my overly air conditioned, six person Army tent at Camp Justice, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba at 12:30 am thinking about what I could write that would make you angry. That’s right, angry, not at me, but at what our government has done here.

It was a long day in the courtroom at Guantánamo. For 8 hours, the military judge presiding over Salim Hamdan’s case heard testimony from Mr. Hamdan himself and from a forensic psychiatrist expert witness, Dr. Emily Keram, testifying for the defense. There were no rulings. The testimony will continue in a few hours.

The defense is presenting these witnesses in support of a motion to suppress (exclude from use during the trial) statements Mr. Hamdan made as a result of coercive interrogation. Under the Military Commissions Act, statements derived from coercive interrogation may be admitted as evidence by the judge at his discretion. The U.S. Constitution prohibits the introduction of coerced evidence during criminal trials in the United States.

The defense is also trying to show that the government has ignored a federal court order to place Mr. Hamdan in the general prison population rather than in isolation. At Guantánamo, that would be in the most humane of the detention camps, Camp 4. Camp 4 bears some resemblance to a “normal” prison in the United States. The defense is requesting that Mr. Hamdan be moved from isolation to Camp 4 immediately, both to comply with the court order and for the sake of Mr. Hamdan’s mental and physical health. The government has designated all camps at Guantánamo as “general population” camps, creating its own unique definition of the phrase.

I have an insurmountable problem in writing this post. I’m simply not a talented enough writer to convey the essence of what I heard today in a few paragraphs. I’m not sure that anyone could accomplish this task. It’s frustrating. I know that if I could do so, the readers’ outrage at what our government has done in the name of national security would equal my own. Let me at least provide some glimpses into the world Mr. Hamdan has lived in for the past six years, according to his and Dr. Kemal’s testimony.

“I was sick for a week and no one did anything, but as soon as I told the interrogator the doctor came.”

Mr. Hamdan suffers from sciatica, a painful back condition. He testified that, after repeated requests for help over a week, nothing was done. He was then taken to an interrogation session, and the interrogator had a doctor and corpsmen treating him in five minutes, in the interrogation room. He quickly learned that the path to medical care lay through cooperation with his interrogators. It is a violation of the laws of war to make medical treatment conditional on cooperation.

“I felt like I started to live again.”

This is how Mr. Hamdan described the feeling of leaving isolation and being transferred to Camp 4. Mr. Hamdan has been in isolation of some sort for virtually the entire time he has been at Guantánamo. For approximately 30 days, he lived in Camp 4 where he shared a dormitory style room with 9 other detainees, had access to outdoor exercise and could pray with other detainees. Despite a federal court order directing that Mr. Hamdan be placed in the general prison population, the government has kept him in isolation. Mr. Hamdan suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and his physical and mental condition has deteriorated continuously since he was removed from Camp 4.

“No recreation time per Intel”

The above is an entry Dr. Kemal discovered in Mr. Hamdan’s medical records for February 2004. Mr. Hamdan had seen the medical officer because of the pain of his sciatica. The entry indicates that “Intel” had directed that Mr. Hamdan be denied exercise. Exercise is a universally prescribed treatment for sciatica.

“Doctors or Butchers, How Would I Know”

Mr. Hamdan went on a hunger strike to protest his removal from Camp 4. After that, he was force fed. The first feeding was done humanely according to standard medical procedures. Subsequently, however, he was restrained and force fed using an oversized nasal tube and no anesthetics or lubricant, an extremely painful process. During this force feeding, Mr. Hamdan was placed in a full body restraint chair where he could not move. He was left there for three or four hours. He was told that, if he needed to relieve himself, he could do so in the chair. The persons who did this did not wear hospital uniforms, and Mr. Hamdan does not know whether they were medical personnel.

“He feels dead inside. He has not been treated like a human being here.”

I can’t compress eight hours of testimony into two pages. I haven’t discussed the sleep deprivation program, the anxiety-producing effect of removing comfort items a few hours or days before each interrogation, or the sexual humiliation a very disturbed Mr. Hamdan described today, but I think you may have gotten the general idea.


Published on July 16, 2008


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