SCOTT SIMON, host:
This WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
There have been few first-hand accounts of what the military prison at Guantanamo Bay is really like. Some former detainees have alleged harsh treatment bordering on torture. The new Attorney General Eric Holder toured the prison recently and said that he witnessed no rough treatment of prisoners and thought the staff was performing admirably now.
Brandon Neely was a military police officer at Guantanamo when the camp opened. He's out of the Army, and unlike some other former guards, he has been speaking out about what he saw there. Mr. Neely also served in Iraq and is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He joins us now from member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Mr. Neely, thanks for being with us.
Specialist BRANDON NEELY (Guantanamo Bay Military Police Officer): Thanks for having me on the show.
SIMON: And Mr. Neely, what did you see that eventually has caused you to speak out?
Spc. NEELY: Oh, there's been a lot of things as - I mean, it's pretty publically noted that I was involved in the very first incident ever at the Camp X-Ray, which, you know, is legally justifiable, but it still makes me feel bad. What happened was me and my escorting partner was escorting a detainee from the main processing center.
He was an older gentleman, probably in his 50s and he was real tense; he was shaking really, really bad. He wouldn't walk without us pulling him along. And the whole way to Alpha Block, we were yelling at him to get there. But once we got there, we put him on his knees. My escorting partner took off his leg irons.
I still had control of his upper body, and I could tell he started to tense up. So, when my partner went in to take the handcuffs off, he started moving, and we yelled at him again to stop moving, and the interpreter told him. Then he stopped.
But once again, once my partner went inside to take the handcuffs off, he made a quick move to me towards the left. And when he did, before I knew it, I had slammed him to the ground, was on top of him, holding his face down on top of the cement.
Then he started calling the code red, which meant there was an emergency on the block. And before I knew it, members of the IRF team had pulled me out of - off the block, out of the cage. And they got on top of him and hogtied him. And he laid like that for, I couldn't tell you how long, before they untied him. Then when I arrived to the camp the next day to work, I walked by the block, and I could see the side of his face.
It was all bruised and kind of scraped up from, you know, the initial fall, whatever happened when the IRF team went in there. And later on that day, I learned from another detainee that was on the block, he had told me the reason the detainee was so scared and he made that move when we put him down was that he thought we were going to execute him when we put him on his knees, as he had seen family members and friends had been executed in that manner, as well.
SIMON: This IRF team you keep referring to, it's an immediate response team when there's an incident?
Spc. NEELY: Yeah. The Internal Reaction Force was a five-man team that wore full riot gear, as far they had a vest, like a bulletproof vest and Kevlar with a shield on it, with a face mask on it. And the number one guy would carry a big riot shield.
SIMON: Well, what else did you see, Mr. Neely? Or what else did you do?
Spc. NEELY: There was an incident on a Bravo Block one day. The IRF team was called and the whole situation was that there was a detainee on the block that had cursed at a female MP. Well, so, when we unlocked the padlock to let the IRF team in, the detainee turned around and went to his knees and put his hands on top of his head like he was instructed to.
They went ahead and took the padlock off and the IRF team went in the cage. And the number one guy was not a small guy - he was a very big guy - kind of got like a running jump in the air with his knee and hit him in the back. And the next thing you know, the rest of the IRF team was on top of him, kicking and punching him, which seemed like forever, but probably lasted 15 to 20 seconds.
Then somebody from inside the cage called for the female MP that he had cursed at. And she came in and punched him a couple times. Then everybody in the cage stood up, and the detainee laid there shackled up and was unresponsive. The next thing you know, there was medics coming from the medical area with a stretcher, which they turned around and took him to the main hospital on post.
SIMON: Did you ever complain about some of what you saw?
Spc. NEELY: No. There was a couple of us that would talk somewhere in between us about, you know, how we felt about being there. But at the time, we were told so much before we got there that these were the worst people in the world. So, you know, at the time I was young. I was mad, too, about 9/11. It was just over time that I really started thinking about, well, this isn't all legit or what we were told it was going to be.
You know, I'm not, I'll never dispute the fact that there's very guilty people there. There's guilty people there - there's horrible people that should be locked away there - but on the other hand, there's a lot of innocent people and it's been proven there's a lot of innocent people that have been released. And the way they were treated should've never happened. Nobody knew what they were doing.
SIMON: We, and not just us, obviously are trying to determine about Guantanamo is - if the stuff you saw there was mistreatment. Was it outright torture? Was it ordered? Was it a way of life there at the camp?
Spc. NEELY: There was no standing operating procedure. It was a trial and error period. If this didn't work on a Monday, then we'll try it on this way on a Tuesday. As far as, you know, I never saw any interrogations. All I talk about is what happened on the blocks. I mean, as we were told when we got there, these guys did not follow the Geneva Convention as they were not enemy prisoners of war; they were detainees.
And I'm not the only former guard that spoke out, and there's been more stepping up. You know, in the last week or two, there's been five more former GITMO guards and a construction worker that helped build the camp that has come out, and they're telling their stories now to the Guantanamo Testimony Project at UC Davis.
And I hope one day that everybody's story comes out. And I hope they can archive all the witness statements and listen to detainees' stories and the guards' stories from, you know, the last seven years. That way, the American people know what went on there as, you know, they have the right to know.
You know, the sad part about it is the people who opened the camp will never be prosecuted. Nothing will ever happen to them. It's the detainees and the guards that are going to have to live with what they saw and what they did there for the rest of their lives.
SIMON: Former U.S. Army military police officer Brandon Neely, who served at Guantanamo when it was open. Thank you very much for speaking with us.
Spc. NEELY: Well, no problem. Thanks for having me.