US guards 'filmed beatings' at terror camp
Dozens of videotapes of American guards allegedly engaged in brutal attacks on Guantanamo Bay detainees have been stored and catalogued at the camp, an investigation by The Observer has revealed.
The disclosures, made in an interview with Tarek Dergoul, the fifth British prisoner freed last March, who has been too traumatised to speak until now, prompted demands last night by senior politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to make the videos available immediately.
They say that if the contents are as shocking as Dergoul claims, they will provide final proof that brutality against detainees has become an institutionalised feature of America's war on terror.
In the wake of the furore over the abuses photographed at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has continued to insist they were the work of a few rogue soldiers, and not a systemic problem.
The disclosures come as the top American commander in Iraq, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, announced he has barred all coercive interrogation practices, including forcing prisoners into stress positions for long periods and disrupting their sleep, except in very rare circumstances.
British military police made four arrests over allegations that British troops abused Iraqi prisoners. All four men were later released without charge, pending fur ther interviews. It is the case of Dergoul, however, that is likely to be the most damaging. The 26-year-old, from Mile End in east London, spent 22 months at Guantanamo Bay from May 2002. Today he tells The Observer of repeated assaults by Camp Delta's punishment squad, known as the Extreme Reaction Force or ERF.
Their attacks, he says, would be prompted by minor disciplinary infractions, such as refusing to agree to the third cell search in a day - which he describes as an act of deliberate provocation.
Dergoul tells of one assault by a five-man ERF in shocking terms: 'They pepper-sprayed me in the face, and I started vomiting. They pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed.
'They tied me up like a beast and then they were kneeling on me, kicking and punching. Finally they dragged me out of the cell in chains, into the rec[reation] yard, and shaved my beard, my hair, my eyebrows.'
After their release last March, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhal Ahmed, the so-called Tipton Three from Staffordshire, told of similar ERF attacks.
Rasul said they led to a new verb being coined by detainees: 'to be ERFed'. That, he said, meant being slammed against a floor by a soldier wielding a riot shield, pinned to the ground and beaten up by five armed men.
However, it is Dergoul who now reveals that every time the ERFs were deployed, a sixth team member recorded on digital video everything that happened.
Lieutenant Colonel Leon Sumpter, the Guantanamo Joint Task Force spokesman, confirmed this last night, saying all ERF actions were filmed so they could be 'reviewed' by senior officers. All the tapes are kept in an archive there, he said. He refused to say how many times the ERF squads had been used and would not discuss their training or rules of engagement, saying: 'We do not discuss operational aspects of the Joint Task Force mission.'
The Observer can also now disclose that a British military interrogator posted to the now notorious Abu Ghraib abuse jail raised the alarm about maltreatment of detainees by US troops as long ago as last March.
While ministers insisted last week that the three Britons working in the jail did not see any of the systematic and sadistic abuse, an unnamed lieutenant - a debriefer trained to deal only with co-operative witnesses - made an official complaint to US authorities after seeing what he considered to be 'rough handling' of prisoners.
But it is the revelations about Guantanamo Bay that are the most damaging for a White House desperately trying to draw a line under the Iraq abuse allegations.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has been an outspoken critic of the Abu Ghraib abuse, said he would demand that Rumsfeld must produce the videos this week.
'Congressional oversight of this administration has been lax in many areas, including detention policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo,' Leahy said. 'It is past time for that to change. If photos, videotapes or any other evidence exists that can help establish whether or not there has been mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, it should be provided without delay to Congress.
'I have asked the Pentagon for sufficient information to allow Congress to evaluate the effectiveness and propriety of the treatment of those in our custody. Pentagon officials owe the Congress a comprehensive response. I have made clear that compliance must include any tapes or photos of the activities of the ERF or any other military or intelligence units there.'
In London, Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said: 'The Government must demand that these videos be delivered up, and the truth of these very serious allegations properly determined once and for all.
'The videos provide an unequalled opportunity to check the veracity of what Mr Dergoul and the other former detainees are saying.'
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
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