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TORTURE: GUANTANAMO GUIDEBOOK
Links to Coverage and an Article by Prisoner 73 on his experience.

British Channel 4 engaged the Team Delta Cadre to recreate the Guantanamo Bay interrogation experience.  At the production company's request, along with Team Delta's normal approach to interrogation,  the cadre also reenacted several specific events reported to have occurred at Guantanamo.  In most cases these reenacted events were counter productive to the interrogation plan developed by Team Delta - a plan that had learned 80% of the requested intelligence within the first few hours of capture. 

Links

The Guardian:  Camp X-Ray Specs
PBS Radio:  Guantanamo Guidebook Brings Torture to TV
Radio Free Europe:  Guantanamo Guidebook TV Story Stirs Controversy

Article by "Prisoner 73" on his experience

Total deprivation of sleep, food and water, exposure to extreme heat and cold, up to 20 minutes in stress positions, up to 2 hours listening to white noise... plus any other interrogation technique deemed acceptable by the interrogation team' By any standards the waiver I signed for "Guantanamo Guidebook" was special, and two weeks later when I was lying naked, shaved, shackled in a ball on the floor, alone with a hood over my head, listening to white noise with a cold fan at my back, I realized just how superficial the term 'informed consent' can be.

Two weeks earlier I had received an e-mail looking for students who would be willing to participate in a Channel Four documentary investigating US interrogation practices for Terror detainees held in Cuba. I was to be one of seven male volunteers from various backgrounds – three Muslims: a father of two, a youth worker, and a recent graduate; plus Britain's fittest Fireman, a triathlete, Britain's Thai Kickboxing Champion and me, a plucky Oxford undergraduate finalist in philosophy and politics. The test was to see how we fared in a simulation of up to 60 hours under a team of retired US army interrogators, led by a founding member of Delta Force, who used the techniques officially sanctioned for Guantanamo detainees to extract information about us and make us confess to the scenarios we had acted out with the production company the week before. We were to withhold information and endure.

Why on earth would I, being of sound body and mind, sign that waiver and participate? The simple answer is that people should understand what interrogation really can entail – this show needed to be made, someone had to be in it and it might as well be me. That reasoning hardly swayed my mother when I explained the project to her, and the deeper motivation was that as a concerned citizen and international relations student I needed to see what our democratically elected government does under our auspices to keep us safe. Too often politicians tell us that certain actions are for our safety and we simply accept it – I wanted a deeper understanding of the real cost of such decisions. On some level it was also a challenge: I realised that the show would be gruelling and that l would most likely break at some point, but as a competitive and driven person I thought I stood a decent chance of lasting through the 60 hours of imprisonment without divulging anything too significant. This was not bravado: I was a little scared when I agreed to do the show, anyone should be, but I had to know what it was like.

Before the shoot I had mixed feelings about the War on Terror; I was, and remain, more hawkish than most of my friends, am considering joining the services when I graduate and thought that Camp X-Ray was a place were a select few were interrogated on matters crucial to safeguarding our way of life. Yet I believed then, as now, that as the 'good guys' we should not merely be fulfilling the requirements of international law, but exceeding them, setting an example in upholding human rights; I worried that Guantanamo undermined our standing in the wider world and thus made us more enemies than we could defeat with the information obtained there. In short, I could see the pros and cons but was content to trust in the expert opinion of our leaders that the right balance had been found.

In spite of all the preparation and expectation my capture was a total shock. A limo had delivered me to a warehouse in Hackney, I did a medical and was suddenly jumped from behind by two men who hooded me. Gripping my arms they forced me to the ground and my body went pure white with shock. 10 minutes after leaving the warmth of that Jaguar I was being dragged to an adjoining room, told to strip and issued with an orange jumpsuit; those who hesitated in obeying simply had their clothes cut off. I was immediately rehooded, shackled and made to wear ear-covers and elbow length gloves to shut out my senses. I was numbered – from that point on I was '73’ – shoved into another room and told to march in a ring, periodically shoulder barged by a guard so that I would revert to a quick but hunched shuffle. I had so much adrenaline running through me I thought 40 minutes had passed, but later found that I marched for 4 hours, by which time the plastic sandals had cut my feet raw. We were powerless and from the outset our captivity seemed real and immediate, due, in no small part, to those first few disorienting hours.

Throughout the show the captors watched our health carefully, but it was still a weapon to be used. Staying hydrated was crucial and we found that it helped offset hunger, but during the march we inevitably had to urinate. The guards simply told us they weren’t stopping us and we had to urinate while walking. It was initially embarrassing “what are you doing to my floor?! You dog!” – but because it was forced, it made me more angry and resolute than humiliated. Rooms were never heated – at first we protested to the guards, but they pointed out that the room wasn’t cold, merely ‘chilly’ and within the rules. No doubt, ‘torture-lite’, as some refer to the practices in Cuba, involves some burden of care, but it can be pursued with unmistakable aggression.

Still hooded and shackled, we were eventually loaded like cattle into a truck and driven to the 'detention centre'. For the next two days we were kept in 6 by 4 by 6 foot cages that stood in an unheated warehouse; where the constant shivering made you look and feel weak while cramp and fatigue slowly built up. We each had a plank for a bed and a bucket for a bathroom. Pure white lights always lit the room and by moving prayer times and playing bird song in the mid afternoon, the guards ensured we rapidly lost all sense of time. Knowing our experience would end within a certain amount of time was central to our morale, and to lose grasp of time was a blow. At one stage we were convinced that we had passed the half way mark, before realising – from our lack of hunger – that we could only have been in for 12 hours. It was crushing.

It wasn’t until then that the guards really stepped up the frequency of our exercises and stress positions. Try lying on your back, lifting your heels two inches off the ground and hold them there for 40 seconds. Then do 100 sit-ups, 25 press-ups before kneeling with your arms above your head until they start shaking. At first this seemed impossible – not least when the two fittest people I have ever met are in cages either side (thanks guys) – but I was fit and started to relish the challenge. I imagined my friends from the College rowing or University water polo team were with me, and that it was all just a regular training set. They’ll never know how, but they got me through, as did the support from the other prisoners.

The triathlete had had to leave within the first few hours due to hypothermia, and in the fifty or so hours the rest of us were in the exercise we had 4 hours sleep. For food we had one cold army ration on the first day, though I missed mine because I was being questioned at the time. The next day I was given my meal and, when told it would be my last, wolfed down the cold, congealed beef macaroni. Even now I remember the knot in my throat as I tried to swallow the revoltingly sweet applesauce. When I slowed the guards threatened to force-feed me so I kept working away until I had finished it all, including a dry vegetable cracker that took a litre of water to wash down. Fifteen minutes later another guard entered and made us do squats and press-ups until I vomited. It was a deliberate ploy and it was draining because it was, I think, the first time I'd shown real weakness, and it came with the realization that my body simply needed the fuel: none of us were fed again.

However the endless exercise and stress positions were more about mental intimidation. At first I started to believe that some guards were more demanding than others, but after a day I came to the realization that I simply detested them all; yet on some level there was still a part of me that wanted to 'measure up', to show I could do their exercises as if I could somehow earn their respect. It's a crazy thought, but one of the things I found so dispiriting was to finish a set of exercises, believe I had proved myself, only for the next guard to walk in and ask why I was resting on the floor and set more exercises. I could not accumulate the mutual respect that on some fundamental level we, as humans, seek in each other every day.

It was striking how a team spirit developed amongst the prisoners. If we refused to cooperate the others were made to do exercise, and though in the real Camp X-Ray that would be an empty threat, it is compelling when you are with fellow volunteers. We learned to fake being worn out, but as we started to bond as a group so the interrogators continued to play us off against each other. Each time someone didn't co-operate others suffered, our stories were used against each other and false contradictions suggested in the interrogations to generate mistrust. The guards would ask us our opinions on the other inmates and structure the questions so that we had to disparage each other, and even though it was forced, it still cut deep. Ultimately we, the prisoners, needed each other to persevere and I was grateful they were there, but the way the guards could pervert that relationship was profoundly unsettling, because it was our only source of support within the exercise.

My 'story' was that I was Middle East politics student who had collected money for a Palestinian Aid charity that I knew to have fundamentalist links, and had left the money with a contact I met in London. The interrogators had only me, the bag I had arrived with, some still photos from the weekend before to go on, which had supposedly been taken by the police. They had to learn about who we really were and as much of our adopted persona and story as possible. Some of the volunteers had researched techniques for withstanding interrogation, but in arriving late to the project I had virtually no time to prepare and made up my 'plan' largely as I went along, not ideal given the physical strain we were under. Because my scenario was really a very simple extension of my real life I thought it best to stall for time before the two questions crucial to the story line ("were you on this river taxi" and "did you give this man £200") could be asked and my guilt established.

I also believed that I was relatively innocent: I imagine it is easy for an aid organization operating in the Middle East to occasionally give money to the 'wrong' forces given the range of groups and shifting alliances there. In short, I felt my 'persona' was simply a little naïve, misguided and the amount of money insignificant, and not worthy of such scrutiny or blame. What I came to realise was that I was really quite guilty: I was supposedly giving money to an organisation I knew to have extremist links, and thus was effectively an accomplice, shielding myself from the reality of my contribution, however small. That realisation, that something apparently minor and well intentioned was in fact very serious and wrong, underlined how realistic my scenario was; I’m confident I wouldn’t be so naïve, but I could see it might happen to others.

My tactics seemed to work at first: questioning the camp's authority and digressing into discussions over my rights as a US citizen effectively wasted the first three or so interrogations. However the cost was high - I had marked myself out as an uncooperative smart-alec. I later learned that while training varies, most armed forces and organisations advocate the 'grey man', someone who just gets along and avoids trouble by being unmemorable. Many combine this ‘controlled release’, telling captors one insignificant piece of information in each interview, to make them think you are slowly crumbling.

The precision of the interrogation was phenomenal. Every remark and gesture was remembered and shared by the interrogators. Questioning could be long and relaxed or short and abrupt, where questions were repeated until a misplaced answer yielded more information. By changing interrogators you had to repeat your story and discrepancies would leak out. Most effective was to pause interviews for several hours, before resuming at full pace from the same place: I ended one session acknowledging the existence of “ARP” but began the next by acknowledging the existence of “Aid for Refugees in Palestine” – a substantial gain on their part. They even played good cop/bad cop: two of the interrogators would complement me on my grit and wit, as if we had some higher understanding the brutish guards did not and offered to protect me if I helped them. They later explained that the art as an interrogator, is to be the person you want them to be, the person you can confide in, whether they are friendly and understanding, or a hard case so that the subject feels they have fulfilled their duty to resist, reached the limits of human tolerance, and then co-operated.

I study philosophy: I resent simple yes/no questions, and would never answer them for fear that my answers be used against me later, but was accused of trying to be too clever. I was providing ammunition for the constant hazing: guards took turns taunting me, my youth, my ego and my 'stupidity'. In spite of great self-confidence it started to affect me, particularly when the guards' slurs were then turned to my parents, responsible for the 'idiot' before them. At one point I subconsciously started to push my cuffs up off my wrists for comfort, so the guards accused me of trying to cut off my circulation to hurt myself and in turn of being 'deranged', unable to look after myself, a disgrace.

Even then my self-belief carried me through, and it was the hazing of another prisoner that caused me to lose my self-control. The interrogators were having real trouble getting to Gary, the Kick-Boxer, or ’91’ as I knew him, and out of desperation planted gay pornography in his cell in the hope that accusing him of being gay would unsettle him. Gary was completely unflustered by this and as we knelt on the hard floor, knees burning with pain I listened to the homophobic ranting and willed the guard to pick on me so that I might argue with him and somehow prove him wrong. Of course this was asking for trouble, and though I kept quiet, I was much less controlled in my next interrogation. I knew it had been a device to unsettle us but I still thought of the guards as working for a liberal government and that on some level their values should reflect this - bizarrely I could put up with abuse, but not their backwards intolerance.

What was most remarkable about that line of attack was how the guard had developed his hazing. In response to Gary's denial that he might be gay the guard asked how it was that Gary not be gay and yet believe it to be an acceptable lifestyle choice for others. Underneath vicious abuse he developed a remarkably elegant argument that ran from accepting the homosexual preferences of others, to double standards, to systems of morality, to the conclusion that Gary was morally incoherent and therein capable of evil and a possible terrorist. “So it’s okay for others to be gay… what if your son was gay, what would you advise him?… So when you find something you disagree with do you deal with it or shy away?… Ahhh, so your moral beliefs do not compel you to act… So do you have no morals or do you act without them?” I have debated competitively at a high level for years, and while superficially crude and repugnant, it remains the most elegant and impressive chain of argument I have ever witnessed.

At this point I was in trouble. I thought I had found a story that mixed concessions while withholding the ultimate fact that I had given the money, but the person I had given the money to was a 'cooperative suspect' who told the guards everything about us and left the exercise after about twelve hours. When combined with minor discrepancies in my story, I became the obvious next target, and the guards started to warn me that they had something special for me. It was actually a relief when they dragged me from the cell because the wait was over; in front of the others they stripped me, shackled me to a chair and shaved my head. When I didn't react to their taunts they then carried me out, still in the chair, to an unheated room, put the white noise earphones on and left me with a fan to chill me.

Their white noise sounded like a woman screaming, played backwards and repeated on a short cycle so that the drone becomes repetitive and inescapable, particularly because a single word - 'inhuman' - is said forwards repeatedly on top of the track. Still, in some ways it was a relief: no one could haze me, I didn't have to do any exercise, I just had to shut out the noise. Half way through humming the Beach Boys back catalogue I became borderline hypothermic and was moved to a heated room, but the fan was kept so that I wouldn't become too comfortable.

Eventually, and 51 hours into the exercise, I asked to leave the simulation. Though it is easy to say now, I had actually not reached the end of my tether but come to a rational decision that I had made a stand, that they knew everything I knew, and that to remain there with 12 or so hours to go would be simple masochism. I have no idea how long I could have lasted had the stakes been higher, but the notion of spending any longer than a week inside terrifies me. The detainees of Cuba have been there over three years. I am still acutely embarrassed not to have gone the distance and left the four to complete the exercise; yet while I felt guilty about going, I never really regretted the decision, not least when I later found out the list of innovatively degrading acts they would make me perform and endure had I stayed, a forced full ‘body grooming’ being the first and mildest. Given the nicks the razor had left in my head it was just as well they didn’t touch the rest of my body. In feeling guilty but not regretful I had perhaps found not my physical or mental limit, but that of my moral fibre, and that is a grim realisation.

The period after the programme was surreal. It is amazing how the mind protects itself: on leaving I saw the medic and psychologist, gave a cogent piece to camera, slept for four more hours and then watched the others leave the exercise. I made a point of returning to my cell and sitting in exactly the same place I had been for hours before and it simply did not feel real. There was no emotion at all as I watched the crew disassemble the set; I was worn out and had stopped feeling. That night the volunteers and interrogators all had dinner together and it was a cathartic experience. The interrogation team were charming, intelligent, informed and engaging, it was as if we had met for the first time. I have since read much about how people cope with torture but even now don't understand how those guards could be so normal, so human and yet retain that capacity to drive someone to their limits. I wonder how the guards of Guantanamo live with what they do, and how they balance that with pressure from above for information. The interrogators are not gung-ho Rambo types, but ‘switch on’ when they need to work, and came across as professionals, mindful of the importance of their mission but sensitive and embarrassed by lapses like Abu Gharib.

The interrogation team were amazing: within the first twelve hours they had deduced the essence of all our stories, without recourse to actually beating us and without the most potent threat of all, that of indefinite captivity. In that sense it was a remarkably positive experience: they got the information out of us without permanently hurting us, so we in society must in turn must ensure that those skills are used at the right time in the right way. I still think, a priori, that there is a need for a interrogation of the type we faced, and that while there are reasons why some people deserve certain rights and protection there are good reasons why others are not. The first thing that should happen is that all detainees be given an independent hearing on their status as an illegal combatant and then that process followed through. For that reason alone the Bush Administration's ad hoc creation and implementation of the law is simply disgusting and unacceptable. Of the 550 or so people who have been held for over three years now, only four have been charged. How good or current is the information we are receiving now? How many of those people could still be sane? Moreover Camp X-Ray has been such a disaster that while there may have been an a priori justification for such a place, its benefit and the utility of any such centre in the future has now been overshadowed by the damage to our standing in the international community. I fear for the treatment of our servicemen should they be captured in the future.

I don't regret participating in the show, hard as it was. My beliefs on the subject have crystallised and I think I have a better understanding of myself under pressure - if nothing else I've learnt what sleep deprivation can do and my academic studies may be saved as a consequence - but if anything comes out of this programme, I hope it is that people stop and genuinely think about what we are willing to do to protect ourselves. I, for one, would rather we missed some intelligence sources and even took casualties than put innocents through what I went through; if we loose our humanity then we have lost the War on Terror.

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