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A Detainee Claims There's a New Crackdown on Prisoners at Guantanamo

In a letter to his lawyers, a longtime detainee alleges that Gitmo inmates have recently been subjected to beatings by a team of guards.
Photo by Jason Leopold

Guantanamo detainee has alleged that prisoners at the detention facility have recently been subjected to beatings by a special guard force that conducts forced cell extractions.

The claim was leveled in a short August 22 letter [pdf below] written by Yemeni detainee Emad Hassan to his attorneys at the UK-based human rights charity Reprieve. Hassan's lawyers say the alleged beatings are evidence of a new crackdown against detainees who are protesting their indefinite detention. Last June both a new warden overseeing the guard force and detention operations, and a new commander of the Joint Task Force that runs the facility, took over.

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Hassan, who has been cleared for release since 2009, has been on a hunger strike for seven years. For the past year, he has also been waging a legal battle over his detention and Gitmo's force-feeding practices. The detainee told his lawyers that Shaker Aamer, the last British detainee held at Guantanamo, was "beaten and the medical team drew blood by force." He alleges that another detainee's hand was broken and another is unable to walk because his leg was "twisted."

Watch the VICE News documentary 'Guantanamo: Black-Out Bay.'

"Over the last four days an FCE [forced cell extraction] team has been brought in to beat the detainees," Hassan wrote in his letter. "Any who refuses to comply will be beaten… the group has an order to break hands and legs."

Because of the secrecy that shrouds Guantanamo, it's extremely difficult to independently verify whether there is any truth to accusations detainees have shared with their attorneys about their treatment. Guantanamo officials have taught personnel visiting the facility that detainees use their lawyers to "discredit the US government."

'Guards are trained to use minimal force necessary for mission accomplishment and force protection.'

Navy Captain Tom Gresback, a Guantanamo spokesman, denied the beating charges to VICE News.

"All personnel at the detention facilities at Joint Task Force Guantanamo are committed to the care and custody of all detainees through safe, legal, humane, and transparent care of those in our charge," Gresback said. "All detainee movements are highly scripted and documented where approved Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are followed. If there was ever an SOP which was not followed, for any reason, the case would be routed through the chain of command to the Commander of the Detention Group for review."

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He added that the SOP governing forced cell extractions and "other movements" have not changed.

"The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have completed more than 100 visits to [Guantanamo]," Gresback said. Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF) "continues to support quarterly visits enabling the ICRC to fulfill its charter to monitor that detainees held at the JTF are treated in accordance with applicable international laws and standards."

In a little-known sworn declaration filed in federal court in May — it concerned the case of a detainee challenging his indefinite detention and the detention facility's hunger strike policies — the former warden of Guantanamo described how forced cell extractions work.

"The FCE team is a small group of military members specializing in the extraction of a detainee who is combative, resistive, or possibly possesses a weapon at the time of the extraction," Colonel John Bogdan wrote in the declaration. "Guards are trained to use minimal force necessary for mission accomplishment and force protection."

Bogdan said the forced cell extraction team is not used as "punishment" but "only on those who indicate or demonstrate the intent to resist, refuse to follow guard staff instructions, cause a disturbance, or endanger the lives of themselves, other detainees, or any [Joint Task Force-Guantanamo] member."

The former warden added, "detainees seldom sustain injuries… that require medical treatment" during forced-cell extractions.

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Aamer, the British detainee, is a high-profile captive who is seen as a leader among the other detainees. He has been held in Camp V, the home for non-compliant detainees, where he has spent a majority of the time in solitary confinement, according to his attorney, Cori Crider.

Aamer was cleared for release by the Bush and Obama administrations and has never been charged with a crime. He has been detained at Guantanamo for more than 12 years.

Pleas for mercy and 'Game of Thrones': A Gitmo detainee's letter to a federal judge. Read more here.

According to Crider, an independent medical examination concluded that Aamer suffers from severe edema, tinnitus, and debilitating headaches among other physical and psychological ailments. Last June, Reprieve sent a letter to former UK Foreign Secretary William Hague raising concerns about his condition. Hague responded by assuring Reprieve that Aamer's health "remained stable" and that he had access to a "detainee welfare package."

Crider said she doesn't know what a "detainee welfare package" is. Gresback, the Guantanamo spokesman, told VICE News, "we are not familiar with that moniker for anything here."

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold