MP Files Suit Against Pentagon Over Guantanamo Beating

By David Zucchino

Los Angeles Times

June 17, 2005

A U.S. military policeman who was beaten by fellow MPs during a botched training drill at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison for detainees has sued the Pentagon for $15 million, alleging that the incident violated his constitutional rights.

Spec. Sean D. Baker, 38, was assaulted in January 2003 after he volunteered to wear an orange jumpsuit and portray an uncooperative detainee. Baker said the MPs, who were told that he was an unruly detainee who had assaulted an American sergeant, inflicted a beating that resulted in a traumatic brain injury.

Baker, a Persian Gulf War veteran who re-enlisted following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was medically retired in April 2004. He said the assault left him with seizures, blackouts, headaches, insomnia and other psychological problems.

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Lexington, Ky., Baker demanded reinstatement in the Army in a position that would accommodate his medical disability. He said the Army put him on medical retirement against his wishes.

"Somebody has to step up to serve, and I still want to serve," Baker said Friday in a telephone interview from his home in Georgetown, Ky. "There's some task somewhere I can do in the Army."

A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment, saying she had not seen the lawsuit and could not discuss pending litigation.

The Pentagon first said that Baker's hospitalization following the training incident was not related to the beating. Later, officials conceded that he was treated for injuries suffered when a five-man MP "internal reaction force" choked him, slammed his head several times against a concrete floor and sprayed him with pepper gas.

The drill took place in a prison isolation wing reserved for disruptive al-Qaida and Taliban detainees who had attacked MPs or showered them with urine and feces.

Baker said he put on the jumpsuit and squeezed under a prison bunk after being told by a lieutenant that he would be portraying an unruly detainee. He said he was assured that MPs conducting the "extraction drill" knew it was a training exercise and that Baker was an American soldier.

As he was being choked and beaten, Baker said, he screamed a code word, "red," and shouted: "I'm a U.S. soldier! I'm a U.S. soldier!" The beating continued, he said, until the jumpsuit was yanked down during the struggle, revealing his military uniform.

The lawsuit says of the extraction team: "Armed with the highly inflammatory, false, incendiary and misleading information that had been loaded into their psyches by their platoon leader, these perceptions and fears . . . became their operative reality, and they acted upon these fears, all to the detriment of Sean Baker."

No one has been disciplined or punished for the assault, said Baker's lawyer, T. Bruce Simpson, Jr.

Last June, a military spokesman said an internal investigation in February 2003 had concluded that no one was liable for Baker's injuries. He said training procedures at Guantanamo had been reviewed following the incident.

"While it is unfortunate that Spc. Baker was injured, the standards of professionalism we expect of our soldiers mandate that our training be as realistic as possible," the spokesman said.

Simpson said the Army's Criminal Investigation Division told him last month that it had completed an investigation and had referred it to the Army's legal section for review. A CID spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Simpson said that while Baker receives $2,350 a month in military disability benefits, plus $1,000 a month in Social Security, he would give it up in return for a military job.

"Even in light of all that happened to him," Simpson said, "he still wants to serve his country."