Guantanamo cell tapes turned over to U.S. officials

Sun 13 June, 2004 10:00 PM

By Jane Sutton


U.S. NAVAL BASE, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Reuters) - Officers at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay have turned over to military authorities more than 500 hours of videotape showing guards subduing prisoners and forcibly moving them from cells, senior officials saY.

The tapes are expected to be released in a few weeks to Pentagon and congressional investigators examining abuses of prisoners by U.S. troops, and many will likely be made public, the officials told journalists visiting the base in the past week.

Most of the almost 600 prisoners at the base in Cuba were captured in late 2001 during the U.S.-led war to oust al Qaeda and their Taliban protectors in Afghanistan; most have not been charged with a crime.

The tapes show five-member teams of guards subduing prisoners who break camp rules, throw bodily waste at guards or refuse to leave their cells when ordered to, said Colonel Nelson Cannon, who serves as the prison warden.

They document 500 to 600 instances where the teams, called the Immediate Response Forces or IRFs, were called in to move or restrain prisoners, Cannon said.

"Forty-five percent of IRFs are ones who don't want to go to interrogations," Cannon said. "Sometimes you've got to carry them all the way."

Some prisoners released from Guantanamo said detainees were beaten during that process and some suffered broken limbs. Guantanamo officials denied that and said they were confident the tapes would show the guards do not rough up the prisoners. They confirmed former prisoners' reports that pepper spray was sometimes used.

The treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo has come under scrutiny since the abuse of prisoners in Iraq by U.S. troops was revealed in April, when pictures emerged of bound prisoners being sexually humiliated and threatened by dogs.

"Given events around the world and the great interest in how the detention and intelligence-gathering mission is being conducted, nearly every aspect of our operation here has been reviewed by one group or another," said Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, who commands the task force running the prison.

"I have no concerns about providing those (tapes)," he said.

The unarmed IRF team members wear padded suits like police SWAT teams and each of four grabs one of the prisoner's arms and legs. The fifth handcuffs and shackles the prisoner, base officials said.

The tapes were turned over to the military's Southern Command in Miami, which has jurisdiction over Guantanamo. They will be sent to the Pentagon in a few weeks, when they have been transferred to digital format, Hood said.

Before the tapes are made public, the images of soldiers faces and name tags will be blurred to protect their identities, he added.

The general, who took over the prison's operation two months ago, said he was confident military police guarding prisoners were adequately trained and that safeguards were in place to ensure detainees were treated humanely. He said he and visiting government officials regularly made surprise inspections and have found nothing awry.

The United States does not consider the al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, and their indefinite detention without legal proceedings is being challenged in the U.S. courts.

However, Hood said, "We are complying with the rules of the Geneva convention in terms of how we maintain the custody mission and the intelligence-gathering mission."