SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Military authorities have previously disclosed some incidents of guard retaliation at Guantanamo Bay (search), which resulted in mostly minor disciplinary proceedings. What emerges from 278 pages of documents obtained by The Associated Press is the degree of defiance by the terrorism suspects at Guantanamo.
The prisoners banged on their cells to protest the heat. They doused guards with whatever liquid was handy — from spit to urine. Sometimes they struck their jailers, one swinging a steel chair at a military police officer.
And the American MPs at times retaliated with force — punches, pepper spray and a splash of cleaning fluid in the face, according to the newly released documents that detail military investigations and eyewitness accounts of alleged abuse.
Some prisoners at the U.S. base in eastern Cuba have gone on the attack, as in April 2003 when a detainee got out of his cell during a search for contraband food and knocked out a guard's tooth with a punch to the mouth and bit him before he was subdued by MPs. One soldier delivered two blows to the inmate's head with a handheld radio, the documents show.
"Several guards were trying to hold down the detainee who was putting up heavy resistance," recounted a translator who saw the incident. "The detainee was covered in blood as were some of the guards."
The soldier who struck the inmate, and was dropped in rank to private first class as a result, described it as a close call. "The detainee was fighting as if he really wanted to hurt us. ... We all saved each other's lives in my opinion," he wrote.
The documents, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act (search) lawsuit filed by AP, are far from a comprehensive look at Guantanamo and do not provide full details about each incident.
Names and some other identifying details have been blacked out by military censors. Handwriting at times isn't legible and pages appear to be missing or out of sequence. In some cases, it is not possible to decipher who did what to whom. Disciplinary measures against the troops were either relatively minor or unclear in some reports.
The internal investigative reports do, however, provide a snapshot of life behind the wire at Guantanamo, depicting a tense, hostile and sometimes chaotic place.
In one of the more serious incidents described in the documents, detainees told guards that an MP threw the cleaning liquid Pine-Sol in the eyes of a prisoner in the middle of one night in January 2004. In a written statement, another soldier said he came in immediately afterward to find what smelled like cleaning liquid dripping from the cell.
"The detainee could be seen rubbing his eyes intensely and moaning in pain," he said.
Documents show that the guard, from the 661st Military Police Company (search), did not admit throwing the cleaning fluid when questioned about it that night but did say the detainee had spit on him, and may have thrown urine.
A medic on the cell block flushed the detainee's eyes with water, a witness said.
A Department of Defense investigative memo written six months later concluded the soldier had mistreated detainees twice — the second offense involved cursing at inmates — and that his superiors failed to report either episode.
Investigators recommended disciplinary action against the soldier and a probe into why the incident wasn't reported up the chain of command, but the outcome is unclear from the papers.
In a statement to investigators, one service member said he hadn't seen the Pine-Sol incident but noted that U.S. personnel have been taught to use restraint with detainees: "The training we have received here at Guantanamo Bay has always stressed ... that no matter what happens on the block do not retaliate ... it will just get you into trouble."
Still, tensions between prisoners and guards have been high since the first suspects arrived in early 2002, hooded and shackled, mostly from the battlefields of Afghanistan.
The detainees' defiance discussed in the documents ranged from mild — prisoners getting matching haircuts in a show of solidarity or refusing orders to stop practicing martial arts in the exercise yard — to hostile acts like spitting or throwing unknown liquids at the MPs. One soldier used pepper spray on prisoners because, he said in a report to superiors, he feared that the unknown liquids hurled could pose a health danger.
One soldier told military investigators he punched a detainee's face because the man spit at him and hit him as he tried to put him in restraints at the prison hospital in October 2004.
"My instincts took over after the hitting and spitting," said the soldier. Documents show authorities recommended that the punishment include reduction in rank to E-4, loss of a month's pay and extra duty for 45 days, though the outcome is unclear.
In the prison camp's early days, inmates showed their anger over the heat and the practice of leaving lights on in their cells at night by banging on the bars throughout one guard shift in September 2002, the documents say. One detainee who was believed to be leading the protest threw what an MP said smelled like water from the toilet on him. The MP tried to spray water from a hose in response, but the detainee blocked it with a mat.
The guard who tried to spray the detainee was charged with assault, given a reduction in rank to private first class, which was suspended, and reassigned to other duties at Guantanamo.
In another case, an inmate threw a partially full urine bottle at an MP in May 2002, apparently because he believed the soldier had intentionally kicked his hospital bed. When the soldier threw the urinal back, the detainee grabbed a steel chair and swung it at guards before they subdued him.
A military witness defended the MP, writing: "I believe (name deleted) to be a good and honest soldier ... and just influenced by negative elements among us." The documents don't make clear what punishment, if any, the MP got.
Military officials at Guantanamo did not respond this week to questions about relations between guards and detainees at the camp, which has held some 700 prisoners from 45 countries since it opened. There are about 540 detainees there now.