Hostile Atmosphere Permeates Guantanamo

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 17, 2006; 9:17 PM

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- A military officer probing new charges of prisoner abuse here will encounter a pervasive atmosphere of hostility and suspicion between the detainees and U.S. troops who consider themselves at war.

Even on a recent, controlled visit, an Associated Press reporter and photographer found that the prison brims with hatred. Former prisoners say the guards kick and punch them for no reason and treat them as subhuman. Guards say the inmates fling excrement at them, along with racial slurs and death threats.

Guantanamo is under renewed scrutiny after a U.S. Marine working for a detainee's defense team said she heard guards boast about beating detainees and depriving them of personal items without provocation. The guards described the abuse as commonplace, the Marine said in an affidavit, prompting the Pentagon's Inspector General to order an investigation.

In an interview at the base, a guard told the AP journalists a detainee used an ugly racist epithet in an attempt to provoke him. A defense attorney accused an interrogator, in an unrelated incident, of using exactly the same language against his client.

"I get threatened all the time. Harassed all the time," the Navy guard, sitting at an umbrella-shaded table in a sun-splashed courtyard, said after finishing his shift.

The sailor, who is African-American and from Fairfax, S.C., said he was threatened only hours earlier.

"This morning, a detainee woke up as I was walking past his cell, put his hand to his throat and, after using a racial slur, said, 'I will kill you. I will kill you in Iraq,'" he said. "I thought, 'OK,' and kept on going."

The 19-year-old guard refused to give his name for security reasons, but his tale is hardly unique.

From July 2005 through August, the military recorded 432 assaults by detainees using "cocktails" of bodily excretions thrown at guards, 227 physical assaults, 99 instances of inciting or participating in disturbances, and 726 threats against guards.

Meanwhile, attorney Clive Stafford Smith, who represents Mohammed el Gharani, who is of Chadian nationality, said interrogators repeatedly used racial slurs against him as part of a pattern of verbal abuse "which has upset him a lot, and he has attempted to harm himself on more than one occasion."

Stafford Smith said in an e-mail that el Gharani, 19, lived in Saudi Arabia before traveling to Pakistan, where he was arrested at age 14.

Sometimes, the antagonism between the guards _ many of them still in their teens or early 20s _ and the detainees turns violent, according to some former detainees.

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