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Base report: Anyone read this book?

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    Base report: Anyone read this book?

    Has anyone read this book? I've seen one or two interviews with the guy...I am guessing a lot worse has been happening in overseas Military prisons ..

    Base report

    Inside The Wire

    (A Military Intelligence Soldier's Eyewitness Account of Life at Guantanamo)

    Erik Saar and Viveca Novak

    Published by The Penguin Press, New York


    Price: $24.95

    By Dr Afzal Mirza

    This explosive book was leaked to the press when it was submitted to Pentagon for clearance earlier this year. Its author, Erik Saar, testifies that US secretary of defense had clearly told the guards, interrogators and other concerned people at the Guantanamo Bay prison that they were dealing with 'the worst of the worst.'

    The policy towards the prisoners at Guantanamo was detailed out by the advocate general when he addressed the camp staff on the legal implications of the treatment meted out to the inmates. Erik reports: "More precisely he told us that the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 which deal with the treatment of prisoners of war and civilians didn't apply to more than six hundred suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban figures we had locked up in the Caribbean. "These detainees can't be considered prisoners of war in the conventional sense," he told us. We know that they were being called "unlawful combatants" and President Bush had signed an order to that effect. But he (President) had also said that the military "shall continue to treat detainees humanely and to the extent appropriate and consistent with the principles of Geneva.""

    How much the people manning the prison in Guantanamo followed the President's directions was clear from the fact that the interrogators assigned were young inexperienced soldiers, largely reservists who did not know the psychology of the prisoners. Their method was primarily to provoke the prisoners or beat them to extract information.

    Sergeant Erik Saar spent six months in Guantanamo as a linguist. He had learnt Arabic at the Defense Institute of Languages and was posted at the prison as an interpreter. For him the whole tenure at that place was frustrating and depressing. This clearly shows in one of his interviews in which he states: "A lot of people have called me unpatriotic. People have said that I'm just bashing our country. That's not the case at all. I wrote the book because I love my country. I wanted to give a firsthand account of what Guantanamo Bay was like for me. Maybe people have had different experiences. But, I wanted to tell how my experience contrasts with what the public perception is of Guantanamo Bay because I think we're making an enormous mistake in the war on terrorism. I think what we're doing there is not only morally inconsistent with who we are as a country, but it's also a strategic failure. If we look at how our actions are being perceived by the Arab and Muslim world, it's counterproductive in the long term."

    A map of Cuba given in the beginning of the book under review shows that Guantanamo Bay is situated at the south-eastern corner of the island, which looks like a prong. The base is the oldest overseas American military installation and the only one on the Communist soil. The United States first got the lease of the forty-five acres where the camp is built as a ship refueling station in 1903. In 1944 the lease was revised with the condition that it could be terminated only with the consent of both the parties. The author tells us the United States pays a paltry sum of around four thousand dollars annually as the rent for the land but Cuban President Fiedel Castro never encashes the checks paid by the US in this regard.

    The camp is cut off from the rest of the island with landmines laid along its fence. The Camp Delta, as it's called, is divided into two major parts -- Joint Detainee Operations Group (JDOG) and Joint Interrogations Group(JIG). Erik initially worked with JDOG for sometime.

    The duty of linguists or translators at JDOG was to assist the guards whenever they could not understand the detainees' requirements due to language constraints. Otherwise, the linguists would sit and wait in their rooms in shift duties. About his fellow linguists, Erik writes: "About a dozen guys were hanging out, most of them clearly of Arab descent and all somewhere in their twenties..." The boss was Captain Salim Mansur, a Sudan-born graduate of MIT, an aerospace engineer and a practising Muslim. The team comprised of Christians, Jews, atheists, Muslims -- and really conservative Muslims.

    Erik's colleague Mark confided to him once: "Between you and me, the camp is a disaster. Every pisssant agency under the sun has sent someone here to interview the detainees and they all fight about who gets to talk to the guy first. Then they realise he doesn't know ****."

    According to Erik there were two categories of people working in the group. "Those in one category force themselves to believe that every detainee here was somehow partially responsible for 9/11. That allows them to justify their hatred towards these men and detach themselves emotionally. They're lying to themselves, but it makes their lives easier and their time go by faster." About the other group, he writes: "The other linguists ... you can see the frustration in their eyes. They become more and more sympathetic every day to the detainee's circumstances. They ponder and argue about whether or not there are innocent men here."

    Erik's interaction with detainees made him believe that "Islam was their primary source of strength and I had to admit that in these circumstances their devotion was impressive." He tells the readers that there was a call for prayers five times a day through the loudspeaker in the camp and every detainee had been provided with a copy of the holy Quran and a prayer mat. A sign in each sell pointed to the direction of Mecca. "Most of them wanted to be martyrs for Allah. Nearly all of them prayed five times daily... and had memorized portions of Koran -- a few could recite the entire book," he writes.

    About the handling of Quran at the camp, he says: "Any mishandling of the sacred book was not only a personal insult but an insult to Islam itself. The problem was that the detainees fervently objected to non-Muslims handling their Korans. This presented a huge quandary since the guards needed to inspect the cells regularly for security reasons and almost every cell had one... Sometimes an MP inspected a Koran himself which would stir the detainees in near riot complete with spitting at the guard and loud choruses of Allah-o-Akbar."

    Most of the members of the linguist group wanted to treat the detainees respectfully to give them fair trial except some including Len who felt personal hatred against them. "'Trials my ass,' Len shouted. "We should take them all out on a boat with six hundred f...g anchors and send them to the bottom of the ocean. Problem solved.""

    Erik was one who felt frustrated. That's why he feels: "When I volunteered I had a vision of what I thought Gitmo should be, what I had expected it to be: a well-oiled, smartly run facility where our best intelligence personnel sucked information out of the worst terrorists we had captured... Yet that picture wasn't matching up with what I was seeing... And from my perspective the signals that something wasn't right -- the reports of bounties paid, the captives who weren't being questioned -- were just too glaring to ignore."

    Erik tells the readers that nearly one hundred detainees had been sent back to their countries from the camp. That means that they were in the first place innocent and were wrongly picked up.

    When a detainee would refuse to come out of his cell, he was forced to do that. A special team of guards was called. This is how Erik writes about a similar incident: "I watched as the team knocked the detainee to the ground and swarmed him to put on his shackles. The detainee shouted obscenities at the guards calling them American dogs and *******s. The guy was as thin as a rail but had decided to throw himself into resisting and screaming at the top of his lungs. Hatred bred disproportionate strength and his shrieks only fueled the chaos inside the cellblock. As the guards struggled to make the detainee's arms conform to the shackles I heard the unmistakable crack of a bone shattering."

    After working in JDOG, it was an altogether different experience for Erik to join JIG (Joint Interrogations Group). He writes about the change in this manner: "Joining the JIG team was like sinking into a warm bath, a far cry from the interpersonal water torture of JDOG... Pentagon restrictions prevent me from describing exactly what we did but most of the linguists found it tedious. As the head of the office I worked with not only military interrogators but also representatives of the FBI, DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon Intelligence outfit) and our nation's largest overseas intelligence gathering agency which I'm permitted to identify only as the other government agency... I had seen files of many men who claimed to be and apparently were conscripts for Taliban. They argued that they were forced to fight simply because they were of age. What about the guys who were really in the wrong place at the wrong time rounded up by opportunists who collected handsome rewards for their prey from the United States?"

    In JIG, Erik was in charge of about 40 linguists whose job was to assist interrogators in translating the replies of the detainees while they were interrogated. These linguists had no other mandate. Erik himself assisted in many interrogations. About one, he writes: "The man in the shackles was already waiting for us in the interrogation booth., a bare room with a couple of folding chairs and a D-ring in the linoleum floor. The air conditioning was turned up too high. The captive's ankle chains had been shortened and attached to the ring so there was no play in his feet and a short chain connected his handcuffs to the ring as well." To most of the questions of Ben, the interrogator, the detainee remained quiet. Ben had no patience of an interrogator. Ultimately in frustration he hollered at the detainee, "Listen to me, you little *****, I'm going to make you hate life! Do you understand? Start talking! Why were you in Afghanistan?" He called the detainee a liar and "every obscenity in the book ... he sensed my bewilderment. "Just translate the f...g interrogation," he said looking me in the eyes. "I don't need **** from you too.""

    About interrogators, the author of Inside The Wire writes: "Some of the interrogators thought they held all the aces. They knew how many of the detainees had been trying to kill themselves; they knew how miserable their lives on the blocks were; they knew they missed their wives and their kids... What too many interrogators didn't seem to understand was sustaining power of the detainee's commitment to their faith."

    Erik has also described in detail the interrogation of a detainee by a woman interrogator, using all the tricks of the trade including sexual provocation. And it was embarrassing to know that the tricks were used under the advice of a Muslim linguist named Adel.

    How can a man die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the Temple of his Gods?