The GTMO Incentive Program

Nicole Barrett – Human Rights First volunteer consultant and former trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – is in Cuba to monitor the proceedings and is reporting back on events as they unfold. She is providing updates of what she observes.

Guantánamo Bay, August 18, 2008: In dramatic testimony last week at Guantánamo, the story of Mohammed Jawad’s abuse by U.S. military personnel continued to unfold. Jawad alleges he was first tortured while in detention at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then again at Guantánamo in May 2004. Special Agent Angela Birt, a former Army Criminal Investigation Division investigator, testified that Jawad’s description of his mistreatment at Bagram fit with the pattern of abuse that she uncovered while investigating the homicides of two Bagram detainees. While the prosecution made a feeble attempt to cast doubt on Jawad’s mistreatment at Bagram, it conceded the existence of the Guantánamo “frequent flyer” program, which the defense contended featured as an integral part of Jawad’s abuse.

In fact, at least one U.S. military official not only conceded the existence of the program, but he positively endorsed it. Army Major Jason Orlich, formerly in the joint detention operations group and then the interrogations group at Guantánamo, enthusiastically described the frequent flyer program, in classic Orwellian doublethink, as an “incentive program.” Orlich confirmed that, under the program, detainees were moved from cell to cell up to eight times a day, or every three hours, following a “Discipline Synch Matrix.” The goal was to keep detainees “off balance” and prevent the “worst of the worst” from organizing. For detainees like Jawad, who were held in certain camps, the program was “standard operating procedure,” approved by senior leadership. Orlich testified that the program was “humane,” “promoted good behavior,” and protected the military police. He denied that the program caused sleep deprivation. (The Guantánamo military leadership appears not to have shared Orlich’s sanguine view of the program. They thought it was worth hiding).

The defense argued that the frequent flyer program as applied to Jawad was torture because it caused extreme sleep deprivation and disorientation. Prison records show that Jawad was moved 112 times over 14 days in May 2004.

What is the government’s official view of such practices? A Department of Defense working group report of April 4, 2003 considers the legal parameters of torture when evaluating possible interrogation techniques. The report says that sleep deprivation holds “problematic aspects that cannot be eliminated by procedural safeguards.” It further notes that the Committee against Torture has interpreted sleep deprivation for prolonged periods to constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and torture under the Convention against Torture. The report concludes that sleep deprivation is “not to exceed 4 days in succession.” Complaints by FBI agents of “improperly used sleep deprivation against detainees” led to an internal investigation, called the Schmidt Report, which concluded that no action was needed as the “JTF-GTMO [Joint Task Force Guantánamo] Commander terminated the frequent flyer cell movement program upon his arrival in March 04.” In Jawad’s June 2008 hearings, General Hood testified that he ordered the frequent flyer program terminated.

But Major Orlich’s testimony before the commission last week suggests otherwise. Orlich said that, as of April 2005, the frequent flyer program was ongoing and that he was not aware of any order to stop the program. He also confirmed that “all” of the relevant military leadership, including General Hood and General Cannon, knew of the program, and no one questioned the program’s legality.

Unfortunately, details on how many detainees were in this program were not revealed. Orlich’s estimate, however, that the relevant camps contained approximately 350-400 people, combined with his testimony that the frequent flyer program was “standard operating procedure,” suggests that the number of detainees subject to the program may be significantly greater than previously thought. High numbers seem even more likely when considering that Jawad’s disciplinary records—which show “cross-block talking” as his worst offense—landed him in the program.

Major Frakt closed his presentation with an impassioned and scathing denunciation of Jawad’s treatment at Bagram and Guantánamo. He requested that Jawad’s attempted murder charge be dismissed on the ground of “outrageous government conduct.” The prosecution’s response? “Sworn enemies of the United States…have to be held in conditions that protect Americans.” It is hard to see any relationship between routine abuse of detainees and the protection of American lives.


Published on August 18, 2008


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