It's 2013 and Guantanamo Bay is still open, insanely. Newly released Army documents obtained by Gawker shed light on life inside America's most infamous prison, where classified documents are burned in coffee cans, American guards are converted to Islam by the suspected terrorists they watch over, and wily detainees wage their own counterintelligence campaigns.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Gawker has obtained a cache of documents detailing internal U.S. military espionage investigations conducted at Guantanamo Bay from 2005-2006. These were carried out by INSCOM, the Army's Intelligence and Security Command. One of INSCOM's duties is to protect American forces against espionage from its enemies, known in Army parlance as Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the US Army, or SAEDA.
In eight SAEDA investigations released to Gawker, INSCOM investigators looked into accusations that Gitmo guards were improperly providing classified information to prisoners, leaking secret information to reporters, surreptitiously passing messages from detainees to their families, and otherwise fraternizing with the detainees in ways that allegedly rendered the guards susceptible to espionage.
Taken together, the reports offer a fascinating look into the day-to-day operations of the prison at that time, revealing the remarkable extent to which guards interacted with prisoners on a human, peer level.
Here are a few of the more interesting cases:
A Guard Converts to Islam
Earlier this year, former Guantanamo guard Terry Holdbrooks set off a firestorm when he revealed he had converted to Islam while working at Guantanamo, and began speaking out about the treatment of detainees. It turns out that he was not alone. According to the SAEDA documents, at least one other Gitmo guard converted to Islam during his time at the prison—in this instance, the conversion was apparently handled by one of the prisoners. In July 2005, he was investigated for "a deliberate security compromise" and cleared when investigators found no wrongdoing.
The investigation did not directly stem from his religious beliefs: An interrogator had reported hearing from a detainee that the Navy non-commissioned officer had offered to contact another detainee's relatives in Afghanistan and U.S. for him, against regulations. The detainee also mentioned to the interrogator an "interest in utilizing [the sailor] to bring contraband into the camp, such as guns and explosive." (Not a very good thing to admit to an interrogator.)
The sailor's religion was, however, a focus of the investigation. He told investigators that he "began studying Islam in order to gain insight into the detainees' religious beliefs, and found himself liking some of the ideas." He converted. One detainee told investigators that the sailor had approached him and asked for his advice on converting, including how he could pray at work if he converted. The detainee "told [the sailor] that he had to go home and take a shower, then come back to him and state a phrase that would make him Muslim." The detainee said he later witnessed the sailor "state the phrase to become a Muslim" in front of another detainee.
But the sailor told the investigator that he had converted in the base chapel after contacting the person who lead the services there by reciting the Shahadah, a creed in which one states one's acceptance of Muhammad. The sailor told the investigator he never discussed his religion with detainees. "Islam to [the sailor] is more of a religious preference and he is not completely dedicated to it at this time," an investigator wrote.
In fact, according to the sailor, sharing a religion did not make him sympathetic to the detainees. After interviewing the sailor, an investigator wrote:
[He] did not have a good opinion of the detainees, because, taking into consideration their status as terrorists, they were demanding. He does not believe the detainees deserve the treatment they are receiving. Subject believes the detainees have an extremist religious view and most do not even follow the Koran. For instance, it is considered an acts against the koran to harm oneself when detainees undergo a hunger strike they are not abiding by islamic religious beliefs.
The investigation was terminated when investigators determined there was no indication the sailor "intended to participated (sic) in or committed espionage and/or a deliberate security compromise."
DIY Classified Document Destruction
Another investigation was sparked after a source discovered that a couple of intelligence analysts had classified documents in their quarters. The source walked in to find the analyst "tearing up SECRET/NONFORN documents which were lying on his bed." When he asked what he was doing, one of the analysts "stated that he accidentally took the documents from the camp and was going to burn the documents, and that there were also documents classified TOP SECRET/NOFORN on the kitchen table." Later that night, the source said, the analysts burned the documents in a coffee can in the back yard.
One particular concern of the investigators was that the housing unit the classified documents were found was maintained by foreign contractors.
In an interview with an investigator, one of the subjects of the investigation admitted to burning the documents. The investigator concluded that "this incident appears to clearly be a deliberate security compromise," and forwarded a memorandum to a higher authority for action.
Leaking information to crafty detainees
The documents reveal the extent to which information flows both ways at Guantanamo. Prisoners mine their captors for information even as they're being interrogated as intelligence assets. Two cases show how detainees learned sensitive information, and the concern the disclosures sparked among Guantanamo employees.
In one case, from April 2006, a detainee obtained "extensive knowledge of personnel that work around him on a daily basis and the names and positions of many of the medical staff." A psychiatrist was alarmed when the detainee began referring to him by his real name instead of his nickname, "Dr. B." The detainee somehow learned exactly what was in his medical file, to the point the psychiatrist believed he'd been provided a copy. And he boasted to one guard that he was getting the information "from lawyers and people 'higher than you could possibly imagine.'"
This detainee apparently had a history of troublemaking. He was a "master manipulator," an army psychiatrist told investigators. The detainee also claimed to one guard to have struck up a relationship with a female guard. One day the detainee called the guard over. "I walked over to talk to him and he asked me how to read women," the guard told an investigator. "I then told him that I did not know. He then told me that a female guard had been writing him letters." According to the detainee, the female guard had given him her phone number, address and email address. The detainee wouldn't tell the guard the woman's name, and when he searched his cell while he was in the shower he didn't find any letters.
However, another search of the detainee's cell found a number of odd handwritten documents, including "various mathematical problems… and dates and times of meetings and names of unknown people."
Copies of those notes—in Urdu, English and Arabic—are included in the release, along with translations. "Provide me a lawyer because it is my legal right," reads one line. There is an inventory of items the detainee's interrogator gave him, including soap, popcorn, chips, and candy. The detainee had written some poetry on one sheet: "I became like face and everybody else seems like my picture and also I'm like a word and everybody else is linked to like a chain."
The investigation was terminated after a high ranking member of the clinic told investigators that he believed two corpsmen who had previously been investigated and punished for providing "pornographic DVDs" to detainees had also been responsible for the information leaks.
Another investigation was opened after a different detainee learned the full name of his interrogator. (Guantanamo employees use nicknames around prisoners for security reasons.) The detainee was "very personable and befriended easily," according to the interrogator. "He was known to give food to guard personnell, whom he described… as 'poor guys,' because they had to be in the sun all day."
This personability allegedly helped the detainee trick a guard into revealing his interrogator's full name through an elaborate ruse, which the interrogator outlined to investigators: First the detainee collected information on the geography of the base, and personal information from the guards. Then, he used the details to write a fake letter to the interrogator in which he referred to her taking him on car rides around the installation during his interrogations. He showed this letter to the guard to convince him that "he and [the interrogator] had a trusting relationship and that she told him her last name." Then, "He explained to [the guard] that he forgot her last name, and wanted [the guard] to tell him." The trick worked, according to the interrogator.
Friendliness Is Not Allowed
In April 2004, an investigation was opened into whether "an unidentified US Army detainee guard participated in friendly relationships with detainees and committed security violations on the detainees' behalf." The investigation appears to have been sparked by an audio tape, featuring an unidentified guard. After running background checks on a number of guards and finding nothing amiss, the investigation was terminated because "additional tapes needed to be examined to identify subject. Due to the passage of time, the tapes were no longer maintained."
Investigating a leak
On June 20th, 2005, Time published a blockbuster cover story, written by Adam Zagorin and Michael Duffy, about the interrogation of "Detainee 063": Mohammed al-Qahtani, the so-called "20th hijacker." The magazine had obtained a complete classified transcript of al-Qahtani's 49-day interrogation at Guantanamo, which showed the brutal tactics used over grueling 20-hour days to wear him down—tactics later determined to be torture by a military commission. A few days before the publication, a Time reporter approached the Office of the Secretary of Defense for comment. An espionage investigation was immediately opened by the Army into whether the log had been leaked "with the intent to negatively impact Joint Task Force Guantanamo mission."
One email sent to a Guantanamo security officer about the incident from the Office of the Secretary of Defense offered a peek into the Army's public relations push-back on the article at the time: "It appears that OSD may be thinking about being aggressive with this leak and use it to release more information on 063 to present him in a very unfavorable light," it read. (Indeed, a Pentagon statement that followed the Time article, detailed in depth what a Bad Guy al-Qahtani is.)
The email also raised the possibility that Erik Saar, a former Army translator who worked at Guantanamo at the time of al-Qahtani's interrogation, might have had something to do with the leak. Saar had recently published a book about his time at Guantanamo called Inside The Wire, which was critical of U.S. practices there and co-written with Viveca Novak, A Time reporter who contributed reporting to the piece.
Ultimately the SAEDA investigators look into Saar's files were inconclusive. wrote up an 11-point letter to the Department of Justice, apparently in preparation for a potential criminal investigation into the leak.
The investigation doesn't appear to have gone much further than that. The attorney who represented Saar during the process of writing his book, Mark Zaid, said in a statement to Gawker:
Mr. Saar's manuscript was properly processed through and fully vetted by the U.S. Government as per his security requirements. The publication of the book was formally approved by Department of Defense authorities. Any investigation that might have taken place was unknown to us and without merit given the steps we took to ensure the national security interests of the United States were protected.
In an interview, Adam Zagorin, the reporter who headed up the Time investigation, would not discuss his sourcing but said he never heard of any criminal investigation.
"I was never approached by anybody in this regard. And I'm not aware that my source or sources were ever approached."
al-Qahtani remains imprisoned in Guantanamo, in legal limbo after his charges were thrown out because he was tortured.
Here are the reports themselves:
Converting to Islam
[Photo via Getty]