The author of this inside look at the controversial U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, makes a good case that the prison is a great intelligence asset that should be expanded instead of shut down, as President Barack Obama has promised to do.
“It is still possible, in the greater scheme of things related to the security of the United States and our allies, that Guantanamo will be recognized for what it has in fact become: the single greatest repository of human intelligence in the war on terror, the single greatest accumulation of terrorism-related information, and the world’s best, most humane, and most efficient interrogation facility,” writes retired Army Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu.
Instead of shutting it down and moving the prisoners, including many suspected terrorists, to U.S. prisons, Cucullu concludes that it would be the best of all possible alternatives to send stateside terror prisoners to Gitmo.
[Editor’s Note: Get “Inside Gitmo: The True Story Behind the Myths of Guantanamo Bay.” Go here now.]
“It would be an interesting experiment to transfer all those convicted of terrorism in U.S. courts to Guantanamo,” he says. “There they could continue to serve their allotted prison time — but more important, they could continue to be interrogated.
“Of what use is it, other than as retribution for criminal acts, to keep John Walker Lindh, Zacarias Moussaoui, Sami Al Arian, Jose Padilla, and scores of others in U.S. penitentiaries?” Cucullu says. “Under the criminal justice system, once a culprit is sentenced, questioning ceases — actually long before he is even brought to trial.”
It would be more useful to have Padilla, Moussaoui, Arian, and the rest talk to trained interrogators in Gitmo instead of watching cable TV, proselytizing radical Islam, and lifting weights in an American jail, he says.
“Because of classification and compartmentalization [the term usually defined as ‘need to know’], the public may never know the extent and magnitude of the actionable intelligence that has been extracted in Guantanamo,” he says.
“Unquestionably, intelligence information gleaned in Guantanamo has been used by law enforcement agencies in the United States to unearth and arrest terrorist cells,” Cucullu says.
Indeed, the Lackawanna Six, the Cleveland sleeper group, and several others were intercepted in large part because of information obtained during Guantanamo interrogations.
The fruits of Gitmo interrogations also have had worldwide ramifications. From late 2004 through early 2005, intelligence sharing from Guantanamo scored spectacular results in Europe. The Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage, for instance, reported that 700 police swept through mosques, homes, and businesses in six German cites and arrested 22 militant extremists.
Information obtained through the interrogation of a Guantanamo Bay detainee led to the busts, notes the retired Army infantry officer author, who became intimate with Gitmo, its military staff ,and the detainees in several trips to that little slice of U.S. sovereignty huddled on the shore of Castro’s communist stronghold.
Expanding the Role
Cucullu even expanding Gitmo’s role, so that terrorists apprehended anywhere in the world could be taken there and interrogated.
And he adamantly opposes the popular notion that Gitmo’s detainees should be shifted into the military or federal prison systems, such as Leavenworth, Kan., or the Charleston Naval Base in South Carolina.
“This would be a very dangerous option,” he says. “Mixing hardened terrorists into a criminal population could result in the radicalization of other inmates, and would also present a target for terrorist attacks. Witness suicide attacks on prisons in Afghanistan and Yemen.”
The author paints sharp portraits of some of the frightening radicals incarcerated at Gitmo. About 80 of the 250 or so detainees remaining at the detention facility are now on the list for trial before military commissions.
He dispels the myth that the detainees are just being warehoused into some limitless foggy future. Rather, as part of the ongoing system of detainee evaluation, two boards hear information and evidence from each case. The first determines whether the detainees are enemy combatants. The second will review every detainee at least once a year to determine continuing need to detain, depending on intelligence value and threat potential.
The Bad and the Ugly
Cucullu also recognizes Gitmo’s flaws, although he notes that the demerits occurred at a time just after 9/11 and in the infancy of Gitmo’s role as an interrogation center.
Before 9/11 only a handful of interrogators could deal with al-Qaida-trained terrorists. Gitmo had to play catch-up and broke some rules along the way, Cucullu contends.
The salient case the media always tout is that of Muhammad al Qahtani. He and his fighters had come all the way to Afghanistan with the same purpose: to kill Americans.
He was a bad guy for sure, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was some overzealousness on the part of his captors: 20-hour interrogation sessions, tying him to a dog leash, leading him through dog tricks, repeatedly pouring water on his head, stress positions, forced shaving, stripping him naked in the presence of a female, calling his mother and his sisters whores, instructing him to pray to an idol shrine, and turning the air conditioner all the way up to produce an uncomfortably cold temperature.
Not a pretty picture, but representative only of the growing pains of Gitmo, Cucullu says.
The unlucky Qahtani was a resident of the now-defunct Camp X-Ray.
“Despite the legends and stories that have grown around Camp X-Ray, including numerous still photos and video that continue to be used by the media, its useful life was quite short. Erected in January 2002, it was closed in April of that year, at which time the detainees were moved to newly constructed Camp Delta,” Cucullu writes.
Shortly thereafter, a policy of intense command oversight was implemented at Guantanamo. A field grade officer is present at all times. There are no basements or hidden areas for troops to drag detainees into and abuse them. Junior officers and noncommissioned officers are present 24/7.
Investigations covering more than 24,000 interrogations inside Guantanamo over a three-year period revealed a total of three violations, an amazingly low number considering the pressure cooker atmosphere for detainees and military personnel alike.
The Worst of the Worst Detainees
Soldiers in the maximum-security Camp V, where the worst of the worst detainees live, are among the most highly trained people at the base.
“Most have volunteered several times: for the Army, for their specialty, and for service at Guantanamo,” Cucullu says.
“The troops are professional from head to foot. Their uniforms and grooming are impeccable, their bearing soldierly, and their demeanor all business.”
Just as the author gives the reader an up-close-and-personal look at some of the detainees, he shines a light on the Gitmo staff as well.
“I’ve done a tour in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq. It’s much worse here,” says one guard Cucullu interviewed. “They throw stuff all the time – feces, urine, semen, spit, and vomit are their specialties. They try to get it into our mouths and eyes. Then they laugh at us.”
An officer says, “It’s not what we run into in prisons anywhere else. These guys are not here to serve time, behave well, and get out. There’s a big difference: These guys will kill us if they get the chance.”
The worst of the worst have stated a goal to capture guards or interpreters and kill them or hold them for blackmail; failing that, to torture, dismember, and behead any American they could catch, the officer says.
There’s no such thing as a medium security terrorist, a senior officer says.
And how about some of the Gitmo alumni — terrorists who have convinced the administrative boards that they are no longer radical and a danger? It is an imperfect system, judging by some of the anecdotal information Cucullu highlights. One former detainee killed an Afghan judge coming out of a mosque. Another was recaptured in Afghanistan after he fired on U.S. troops. He carried an introduction letter from the Taliban. Two more were killed in the summer of 2004 in Afghanistan engaged in combat operations. Abdullah Muhammad, an Afghani, was fitted with a state-of-the-art prosthesis for his lost leg while at Guantanamo. He convinced the annual review board that he wasn’t a terrorist fanatic and was sent back to Afghanistan. He is now sought in the kidnapping of Chinese engineers and a bombing of the Islamabad Marriot.
Despite these cases, the detainees are treated well, fed well, and cared for medically. The detainees receive medical care similar to that provided to U.S. soldier — “for one detainee, that meant bringing in a team to perform coronary catheterization and place stents; for another, it required bringing in a thoracic surgeon to remove an anterior mediastinal thymoma.”
The author quotes military analyst Chuck Nash, who makes the point that “uncertainty is what scares people the most. If the prisoner knows what the U.S. can and cannot do, much of the uncertainty is removed and thus the element of fear that can be an instrument that wears down the prisoner much sooner than cold and lack of sleep. It is ludicrous that we publish what we are prepared to do. It exposes critical elements to our enemies that they use in their training.”
During an interview at his home in St. Augustine, Fla., Cucullu answered questions about his observations of the situation at Gitmo during his visits there.
Newsmax: Now that you’ve seen “the enemy” up close and personal, do you think their hatred and radicalism are something that will simply pass on to new cells and cadres so that we never run out of bad guys?
Cucullu: In my book, I tell the story of looking into the eyes of one of the detainees and staring into the depths of evil. They can and will be defeated, if America has the strength of will and commitment necessary, but it will not be easy. We are combating a virulent ideology that twists the human soul into a killing machine operating under orders from Wahabbist imams.
In the short term, the only solution I see is to kill them or confine them off the battlefield. A long-term solution will only come when the culture that supports and sponsors these people ultimately rejects their aberrant ideology and reforms itself. I am not optimistic that will ever occur, but our responsibility meanwhile is to defend our country, our freedom, and to assist our friends and allies in resisting this terrible threat. This is what our military is doing today and we don’t give them near enough appreciation for the difficult task they have volunteered to accept.
Newsmax: Is there any attempt at Gitmo to “reeducate” these bad guys so that they are no longer our vowed enemies?
Cucullu: There are ongoing programs at Guantanamo to allow detainees to see a world outside of the one that produced them. A very extensive library is available to them including books written by moderate Muslims and other nonfiction and fiction works. Films are becoming more available and literacy programs both in vernacular and English are encouraged. In several instances released, Afghani detainees have praised the treatment they received at Guantanamo, but the hard-core jihadists have to date remained unreformed and are outspoken in their desire to destroy America.
Newsmax: It seems that, after all the tinkering and learning that has gone on at Gitmo since it opened, we at least now have a proper template that perhaps could be moved intact to a new location if that is the president’s decision. Can we really move the winning Gitmo template?
Cucullu: After six years of experience we have a formula that works — a safe, humane detention facility with proper interrogation procedures firmly in place. There is no other installation like this. It is a first-time, utterly unique facility. Physically moving it would be merely a physical planning exercise, and the military is absolutely capable of accomplishing that task.
What we need to address are issues that relocation alone will not satisfy critics who seem bent on release as the only acceptable outcome. Placing these detainees on U.S. soil will invite prison breaks and suicide attacks as we have seen repeatedly in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen, and trying to run them through a U.S. judicial system not structured to deal with terrorists could lead to release of some detainees into American society where many are certain to resume the fight.
Newsmax: Did Iraq’s Abu Ghraib spell the end of Gitmo?
Cucullu: Abu Ghraib was an awful aberration. It was a leadership failure of the highest magnitude. While the two facilities are inextricably linked in some activist minds, the two could not be more different. Unfortunately in the media and hence the public mind, Guantanamo has been stained by inappropriate behavior at Abu Ghraib. I take time in the book to show the differences between the two cases, but certainly the damage was done.
Newsmax: Did you have one particular moment of epiphany during your trips and studies as you researched this book?
Cucullu: My original visit to Guantanamo was in large part motivated by concerns that I had about the state of the military. Were the terrible things I was hearing really true? After touring the facility, speaking privately with soldiers, and seeing interrogations for myself, I came to realize that what we were hearing about Gitmo were some of the most egregious myths in modern history.
I took the mission on myself to do whatever I could to set the record straight, and that was the genesis for Inside Gitmo. I am continuing that effort by use of a unique companion Web site for the book at www.insidegitmo.com that keeps readers up to date on activities, invites discussion, and lists every reference used in the book.
Newsmax: I’m a retired Marine officer and I always get the impression when I meet the young men and women of today’s forces that they are better than we ever were: more professional, more motivated. I’m from the Vietnam War era. Should the American people be even more proud than they already are?
Cucullu: Unequivocally this is the finest, most professional military America has ever fielded. They are stronger, smarter, and more mission-aware than our generation and exemplify the American value of improvement: we just get better over time.
While I firmly believe that each generation produces its own “greatest generation,” my on-the-ground experiences with these soldiers in Iraq and Guantanamo have convinced me that they are superb. That was one of my motivations for writing this book. To get the true story of what these soldiers go through daily told to the American people. I established a special Support American Soldiers Web site on return from Iraq at www.supportamericansoldiers.com.
Newsmax: Give our readers a brief synopsis of your military career.
Cucullu: I enlisted in the infantry in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War. In so doing I turned back a three-year graduate fellowship (and draft exemption) at University of North Carolina. A year and a half later, I graduated from Infantry OCS, went to Airborne, Special Forces, and language training and shipped to 1st Special Forces Group in Okinawa. I was able to volunteer for Vietnam, served there with SOG, and on return to the U.S. did three years at Fort Polk, Louisiana, as a company commander.
Later designated as a Korea foreign area officer, I was the first American to graduate from Korean staff college, and while in Korea was asked to work for the secretary of defense’s office in the Pentagon. While there I ran Central American programs during the tough days of the early 1980s. I later was selected for the State-Defense exchange program and was pol-mil adviser to the assistant secretary for East Asia. I retired in 1987 and did a five-year stint with GE Aerospace in Korea.
[Editor’s Note: Get “Inside Gitmo: The True Story Behind the Myths of Guantanamo Bay.” Go here now.]
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