Joseph Hickman spent most of his life in the military, first as a marine, then as a soldier in both the army and the National Guard. He has deployed on several military operations throughout the world, sometimes attached to foreign militaries. The recipient of more than twenty commendations and awards, Hickman was awarded the Army Achievement Medal and the Army Commendation Medal while he was stationed with the 629th Military Intelligence Battalion in Guantánamo Bay.He is currently working as an independent researcher and Senior Research Fellow at Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Policy and Research. On the evening of June 9, 2006, when the world was told that three Guantanamo detainees had simultaneously committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells, then Sergeant Joseph Hickman was serving as sergeant of the guard at Camp America. He is the author of ” Murder at Camp Delta: A Staff Sergeant’s Pursuit of the Truth About Guantanamo Bay” On February 19, 2015, I had the privilege of interviewing Joseph Hickman by telephone. What follows are my interview notes, as corrected by Mr. Hickman.
The Talking Dog: My traditional first question is “where were you on September 11th.” We know from your book that on September 11, 2001, you were working as a correction officer in Maryland for Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties, but you had previously served in the military, and as a result of the September 11th attacks, you believed it was your duty to rejoin the military and you joined the Maryland National Guard, which eventually activated and deployed you to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In your case, my first question will be two part: (1) what specifically were you doing at the time of the attacks, and what went through your mind at that moment and shortly thereafter, and (2) reminiscent of the scene in The Matrix involving two capsules, one of which would support happy delusion and the other would show unpleasant reality, do you ever wish that you had never been deployed to Guantanamo and learned the unfortunate reality of what the United States intelligence community and military were up to there?
Joseph Hickman: On the morning of September 11th, I was transporting twelve prisoners from a jail in Anne Arundel County (MD) to a commissioner’s office in the county. In the courthouse, we saw an F-16 flying overhead, very low… the courthouse is a 30-minute drive from the Pentagon. Once in the courthouse, we saw a black and white t.v. in the commissioner’s office. We saw the towers on fire. People in the hall could see the television. It was surreal: me and my partner, and the prisoners, all watched the t.v. screen together.
As to the Guantanamo mission, in hindsight, I believed in the mission at the time, and ultimately, I am glad I saw what I did so that I could report it to the outside world.
The Talking Dog: Your book describes aspects of training at Fort Lewis, in Washington State, that had, unfortunately, a racial aspect (your unit included mostly people of color, and received significantly less favorable treatment than other units), and you also described the limited utility of your training. In an interview I conducted in 2009 with a GTMO guard named Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., we had the following exchange concerning his pre-deployment training:
The Talking Dog : … Before deploying to GTMO, regardless of “cultural or religious training” (for which, I understand the answer was “none”) did you have any specific prison guard training (under any applicable Army Manual, Geneva Conventions, anything like that?) Can you describe any training and/or indoctrination (such as what you have described as “propaganda films”) that you did receive? Can you comment on the overall “professionalism” of your fellow guards, and tell me why you come to this assessment? Were they generally from military police backgrounds?
Terry Holdbrooks : Well, we were given an introduction to detention tactics for a week or two in the course of training, but I did not find it particularly meaningful, or particularly realistic compared to what we eventually encountered. This was conducted at Fort Dix, New Jersey just before we left for GTMO. This was a crash course given to us by 5 random sergeants of the “31c mos”, meaning, correctional officers. It was nothing like what we were going into, and in no way a real preparation for the experience ahead.
We also did see quite a number of what I would call propaganda films: films of towers falling, pictures of bin Laden, people crying and flags flying, and then random presumably Muslim individuals, all with heavy metal music playing, usually in three minute song length segments. Before going to Guantanamo (and even at Guantanamo) we saw a lot of these things, I just thought that this is how the Army stoked up people during training. Drowning Pool’s Let the Bodies hit the Floor was a common song for this. It is simple to see how it is propaganda and programming. We also took a trip to “Ground Zero” just before the day we flew out, this was to really nail in the idea that “these people are bad” and to get us riled and ready for hatred. I remember reading a quote someone had left on the wall there, “this is the worst tragedy to happen to mankind”. It really made me sad to think our educational system is so lacking, that this was the worst someone could think of to mankind . Never mind the Holocaust, Josef Stalin, the Crusades, the Armenian Genocide, they don’t count, they’re not American-related, I suppose.
Also part of the training was an actual mock detention facility, which featured 2 or 3 cell blocks, and a larger area for recreation, a mess hall and so forth, we practiced guarding other guards… but frankly, the anger and animosity that we were supposed to encounter just wasn’t there in this exercise (perhaps had we been trained in a real prison, like Leavenworth, it might have been more realistic).
As to “professionalism”… that was just not a word I would use to describe guards at Guantanamo, other than when VIPs such as my home state’s esteemed Senior Senator John McCain or generals, diplomats or other dignitaries showed up, when suddenly, everything would appear to be in perfect order. Otherwise, most guards were just eager to leave, and new guards were disappointed to be there. (While the guards were less than professional, the medical staffs, usually Navy and Marine Corpsmen were quite professional… patient care was patient care, whether the patient was an American or an accused terrorist.)
As to the backgrounds of the guards, almost all were military police, and not many of them had corrections background. We had a week of corrections training in military police school, but that is not enough to certify you to work in a facility as far as I am concerned.
– Can you comment on Mr. Holdbrooks’ description of his pre-deployment training, and compare it to your own, and your understanding of the training received by the naval personnel responsible for guarding of the individual cell blocks, and do you have any broader comments on the issues of training of guards (particularly in, say, compliance with Geneva Conventions and Army Field Manuals and the like), and your observations, and do you have any broader comment on issues of racism (i.e., broader than the limited context of the treatment of your own unit)?
Joseph Hickman: The training we received at Fort Lewis was terrible. There were problems with the command, but at least the soldiers were trying their best to be professionals. The command was disorganized at best– they did not set up for real training for the mission we would actually have- they kept saying “read the SOP [standard operating procedure]”. We had something like one hour of “cultural awareness training”, in which were were told not to call the detainees “Haji’s” or “Sand N*ggers”.. that was the gist of “cultural awareness training.”
We were also told that the detainees would kill us all, if they could. I was 41 when I was training and had some experience with hyperbole… but some of the soldiers believed this.
As to the matter of racism, I must say this was the first time I saw it in my time in the United States military. I was quite sensitive to it, as other than myself, I was in an all-Black squad. But this was still a surprise to me– after all, the United States military was one of the first institutions in this country to ban segregation. Nonetheless, it happened, and it was disgusting.
The Talking Dog: Moving right along on the subject of training which I think ties in to “SOPs”– or standard operating procedures– which members of the military are trained to follow (and apparent deviations from SOPs seem to be endemic to the story of the three deaths at Guantanamo in June 2006 discussed in Murder at Camp Delta)– let me ask for your comment on this observation made by former Army linguist Erik Saar when I interviewed him in August 2006:
The Talking Dog: Let me ask you about your training in the Army Field Manual 34-52 on interrogations, which I understand contains limitations consistent with the Geneva Conventions…
Erik Saar: Let me stop you there, because this is a critical point that isn’t discussed much. I was NEVER trained in the Army Field Manual on interrogations. Indeed, no Army linguists as far as I know were trained in interrogations. Linguists were ordered NOT to question what they saw. Military interrogators and linguists were supposed to “balance” each other. Of course, linguists had a conflict. This was especially so among civilian contractors, who would frequently tell interrogators that what they were doing was outside the custom and norm of the culture of the detainee, and hence, likely to be counter-productive.
Training is a critical factor– training is everything in the service; we do nothing unless we are trained to do it first. We were, of course, lectured as I described in the book that we had “detainees” who were not POWs because they didn’t wear uniforms and other legal explanations given and as such interrogators didn’t have to comply with Geneva Conventions. BUT– interrogators had been trained one way– don’t EVER violate the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, I recall one incident where an interrogation trainee made a joke during interrogation school about “now we go to the electric shock”– he was almost thrown out of interrogation school just for joking like that.
The drill was all Geneva all the time, BECAUSE INTERROGATION IS AND CAN BE MOST EFFECTIVE WITHIN THOSE LIMITS. At Guantanamo, of course, the constraints were “relaxed” by various orders, but the interrogators had never been trained in the new methods.
When I had the Power Point presentation telling us Geneva didn’t have to apply, I left, not particularly outraged, but kind of confused. My thinking was a process– when I left that meeting, my thought was– this is contrary to Army practice– we are not TRAINED for this… how can we use techniques that we are NOT TRAINED IN and how do we know this is effective?… Its not just the interrogation methods themselves that are contrary to every aspect of Army practice– but using improvised, untested techniques that interrogators were not trained in, regardless of what they were– is contrary to procedure as we were drilled.
— OK… I realize that you were involved in the detention aspect rather than interrogations, of course, but my question does concern a “cognitive dissonance” of training to comply with Geneva conventions and military norms in general and suddenly being told “the gloves are off” when it comes to Guantanamo and its prisoners– just as you noted that you had complete control of the perimeter of Camp America (the area incorporating Camp Delta and most of the “official” detention facilities at Guantanamo) except for “the pizza van”, or paddy wagon moving actual detainees, perhaps to interrogation, and “the ice man,” or director of interrogations, whom you were not permitted to search at all… my question is… wait for it… how did you and your men deal with the cognitive dissonance of it all?
Joseph Hickman: The explanation from the command at Guantanamo was that the soldiers were repeatedly told “just follow the SOPs for Guantanamo – these are detainees not subject to the Geneva Conventions, they are not prisoners of war.” Now, I was there serving as a sergeant– and I was well aware that the Geneva Conventions applied to non-uniformed freedom fighters. The French Resistance was treated as POWs during World War II, despite its members bombing German facilities and being considered “terrorists” by the Germans.
I personally questioned why these people held at GTMO would fall under a category any different from French Resistance fighters.
Nonetheless, most soldiers did what they were told… it certainly makes your life easier if you do. I will say I certainly questioned the SOPs, and with respect to the particular gaps in security that were imposed on us (the “pizza van” and the “Iceman”)… all of us questioned those gaps.
The Talking Dog: I know in the case of others I’ve interviewed, particularly in the interrogation area (interrogator Matthew Alexander and linguist Saar come to mind), their books had to be vetted by the military and the intelligence services before publication (presumably to ensure that no “national security secrets” were disclosed; in particular, others have had to use the term “Other Government Agency” for what I call “the Company” and you call “the CIA…” ); was your book vetted as well?
Joseph Hickman: My book was not submitted for government vetting. I note that it is based on research including over 125,000 publicly available government documents from official government sources. While the book did go through a lengthy and extensive legal review process with my publisher Simon & Schuster, it was not vetted by the government.
The Talking Dog: I understand you were the first soldier who gave the order to fire on GTMO detainees, in the course of responding to a prisoner riot at Camp 4, the supposed “compliant prisoner” camp, where, in responding to prisoners attacking your squad members, some of the prisoners had make shift weapons and you directed your men to fire “rubber bullets” or more accurately plastic pellets (called muppets?) at range so close it may have been lethal; your book indicates that you were strongly pressured to write a report that fudged the range of the discharge, and that you left out a key detail or two… As a career military man and/or corrections officer, how surprised were you about that, and if you could, please tell me what your general understanding is of the purpose of “after action reports” and why fudging them (or worse) is a problem? Also, please tell me about how these events (you can summarize them if you want) primed you for the “main event” of the night of June 9, 2006?
Joseph Hickman: Being pressured to write up a misleading report disturbed the hell out of me. An after-action report is supposed to describe what went right, what went wrong, and most importantly, how we can correct it later on. In my case, I was told to keep re-writing my report, for hours and hours after the incident. I felt like I was being interrogated. I eventually gave in, and felt horrible about it. I was up for over 24 hours, and was told that my report was going to Donald Rumsfeld personally, and that it was up to me to protect myself, my men, and to protect the command.
As far as the aftermath of the incident, the command came down really hard on the detainees after the riot in camps 1,2,3 and 4. Orders came down through the “DIMS” (Detainee Information Management System) not to tolerate any uncooperative detainees– they got two strikes, and on any third strike (that would be, refusing a direct instruction), they would be “IRFed” (subject to intervention of an “Immediate Reaction Force”). The QRF (“quick reaction force”) I was in charge of was actually moved outside the camp boundaries (it had been in the medical clinic), because detainees were protesting the new rules with a hunger strike, and they needed to make room for force-feeding in the medical clinic.
The Talking Dog: Please tell me about your discovery of “Camp No,” and in particular your colleague’s exclaiming: “we just found our Auschwitz.? Do you have any sense of perspective on this discovery, given that the events of June 9, 2004 took place almost two years to the day after the discovery of the events at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and the situations were seemingly almost a perfect parallel (i.e., military run detention facility with CIA “black site” operating right in its midst and out of the military’s control, occasionally “going a little too far” resulting in abuse and death)?
Joseph Hickman: It strikes me this way: Guantanamo was set up not because it was going to hold “the worst of the worst”– but to test out interrogation techniques on a group of prisoners isolated from the rest of the world, and to see what worked, and what didn’t work, and then send those techniques all over the world, including to places like Abu Ghraib.
Indeed, General Geoffrey Miller publicly stated in August of 2003, after a visit to Iraq and Abu Ghraib, that we would like to “Gitmo-ize” Abu Ghraib”… and then a few months later, the disturbing pictures came out.
At the time I first found Camp No, I did not know it was a CIA facility. No one knew it was a CIA facility.
When the Harper’s piece came out, I was criticized and my critics said “there was no CIA site at GTMO.”
But, in 2013, the A.P. published a piece reporting that “Camp NO” was a CIA black site after all, code named “Penny Lane.” The government keeps going back and forth on this… even in the Senate Torture Report that came out, government officials conceded that Camp No was a CIA black site, but they said it was a “good black site,” with fewer casualties than other black sites!
And amazingly, people buy these things.
The Talking Dog: Turning to the night of June 9, 2006, when the world was told that three detainees ( two Saudi detainees identified as Manei al-Otaibi and Yasser al-Zahrani and one Yemeni identified as Ahmad Abdullah) had committed suicide in their cells by simultaneously hanging themselves, despite constant monitoring of every aspect of their lives, we know from your book that you were Sergeant of the Guard that night , more or less in charge of “the perimeter” of Camp America, with a low-flying bird’s eye view of quite a bit… I know it’s in the book, but why don’t you walk us through that night and tell us what you did and did not see. Follow up to that, given the talk given to you and your men by Colonel Bumgarner the next morning, to wit, that the three men choked to death (presumably on fabric), but that news stories would indicate hanging (and the wonderfully Orwellian term “act of asymmetrical warfare” used by Admiral Harry Harris in briefing the press) and you were sworn to utmost secrecy… please tell us specifically what’s wrong with “the official story” and why even the most credulous member of the press should have spotted that right then and there. Bonus follow-ups… (1) the NCIS, or Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which also investigated the events of June 9th, unsurprisingly (to me) endorsed the “official story”… without, for example, interviewing you or your men… were you surprised by this, and why? and (2) you obviously didn’t see anyone stuffing rags down anyone’s throat and I understand you didn’t see the bodies of detainees… so other than being certain that “the official story” is a load of transparent hogwash, how do you know that what probably happened (detainees choking to death on fabric stuffed down their throats) constituted “murder” [title of your book] as opposed to, say, “negligent homicide” from an “enhanced interrogation” session getting a little out of hand, or maybe even an actual suicide from lax supervision (for example, a detainee named Juma al-Dossari tried to hang himself on a bathroom break during a meeting with his lawyer Joshua Colangelo-Bryan as described in my interview here)?
Joseph Hickman: The first thing that matters is that the NCIS immediately asserted that I was “only” a perimeter guard and not in a position to see what happened. That was, of course, a half truth. Half of my duties were inside Camp Delta. I was in a position to see what happened from inside the camp, and this “perimeter guard” characterization irritates me.
I was on duty. I was a reconnaissance soldier, which means you are trained in observation and what you see is important. That night I visited a number of positions. I was in charge of the solders at all of the towers inside Camp Delta. Tower 1 was only thirty-five feet from the medical clinic… it is also less than 50 yards from the walkway in Camp One, with a clear view of it. I was also next to the entrance to Camp Delta. In the tower, I saw the white paddy wagon (which, of course, could pass without inspection or having to sign in)… I saw it back up to Camp One, and I saw two guards get out and put a detainee in the vehicle. And then I saw the van make a right, and then a left– leaving Camp America. And then I saw the van return around twenty minutes later, and repeat the process with a second detainee.
Now this was a Friday night– there were no commissions scheduled, and there wasn’t a different camp outside the perimeter to take them to… but where they going?
And then the van returned a third time. This time, I went to ACP [access control point] Roosevelt, the exit from Camp America, and watched. If the van went right, it would be going to the main part of the Guantanamo base– where the McDonalds, the PX and other facilities were. But if it went left, that led only to the beach (for personnel’s recreation) or to Camp No– the road led nowhere else. And the van went left. I knew it wasn’t taking detainees to the beach. This made me curious, as my only conclusion was that the van was going to Camp No. And so, I continued to do my duties of making rounds of my men’s positions.
At 11:30 pm that night, the van returned to Camp Delta. I was back in Tower 1. The van backed up to the medical clinic. I was back in Tower 1, with a clear view of the medical clinic. The van backed up to the medical clinic– my view was obstructed by the van’s doors– but I watched the guards take stretchers into the clinic. Twenty to thirty minutes later, the lights in the camp all went on, and all hell seemed to be breaking loose.
I got down from the tower, and found a Navy corpsman (or medic) who I knew, and she told me that three detainees had stuffed rags down their throats and killed themselves. I knew something horrible was happening.
I asked the guards under my command for their observations. Three guards were stationed 20 feet from the medical clinic– and they reported that no detainees had come from Camp One– the only movement of detainees had been the paddy wagon. In fact, none of the guards in my command– who were watching the camp all night– saw anyone transported from any camp– other than the paddy wagon.
The next morning, of course, Col. Bumgarner gave us his talk about what “actually happened”– the detainees choked to death on rags– and what we would see in the news– that they simultaneously hanged themselves and were found that way in their cells… and we were ordered not to talk about it. Nonetheless, I was sure we would be asked about what we observed, by someone. Again, I asked the tower guards in camp 1– was anyone transported? The answer was consistent– no. And so, if they didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. And they did not see detainees taken from Camp 1 (where they supposedly hanged themselves in their cells) to the medical clinic. It did not happen.
And the NCIS did not contact me, or my men– ever.
At the time, I tried to put this behind me. But some details stick with you: it is just so hard to kill yourself at Guantanamo. I am aware of the suicide attempt during an attorney visit you described… that was a gap in security that was solved– and even the detainee in that situation still failed in his attempt. It’s just so hard to do it.
But the biggest thing is what just couldn’t add up: three men simultaneously (in non-contiguous cells) tying their hands together, putting masks on, forming nooses, shoving rags down their throat, and then managing to hang themselves simultaneously while being watched by soldiers every three minutes.
I should also note than I came forward to speak to the Justice Department– it was not just me. Seven guards came forward to tell them what we observed.
And finally, I can tell you that the way I ended the book– noting that I can’t name names, but nonetheless, from all I know, I consider what happened on June 9, 2006 “murder” (notwithstanding that a clever lawyer might characterize it as something else)… I put out the evidence I found– this is what I believe, but the reader can decide. I still think it was murder.
The Talking Dog: Within a few days of June 9, 2006, I interviewed former British detainee Shafiq Rasul who gave me the following statement:
I think the American Government needs to stop using phrases like “warfare against the U.S”, and “Jihadi Code of conduct” for these recent deaths and stop blaming the detainees for what is happening in Guantanamo and start blaming themselves for what is happening . I mean it is very sad and shocking that these deaths have happened for me personally because we were all like family to each other and we would do anything to help each other in any way but knowing that these guys are never going to get any kind of justice and never be able to see their families is hard and hurts a lot. Inevitably, it was going to happen because of the despair that they were going through. People have to understand that when we say that these people have no rights that we mean that they do not have any rights at all, they are being treated much, much worse than if they had actually been convicted of a crime. They have now been incarcerated for four and half years in Guantanamo with no form of justice. They are in constant fear, worry and despair. For some reason the American Government thinks that these people have no values and are not human, and that this situation that they are in is not enough punishment for them. We in the west believe in democracy and in justice, so I believe it is about time that these people got some form of justice.
In particular, I’d like you to comment on Rasul’s statement that ” these people have no rights that we mean that they do not have any rights at all, they are being treated much, much worse than if they had actually been convicted of a crime.” Given your perspective as both a member of the military and a stateside corrections officer, can you comment on Rasul’s characterization?
Joseph Hickman: Rasul’s comments are dead on. Animals in zoos get far better treatment than the detainees got.
The Talking Dog: Let me ask you about a discovery by another British man, U.K. resident Shaker Aamer (last British man at GTMO), code named “the professor” and one of the 2006 hunger strikers, who, in statements given to his lawyers, suggested that he was pulled out of his cell and had fabric shoved down his throat and thought he would be killed that very night. Now, I take it you are absolutely clear in your observations (as correlated by reports of the men in your command from their positions) that only three detainees that were observed being removed from their cells (and Camp Delta) that evening, and three dying or dead detainees returned to the medical clinic… so I’m trying to get a time and space correlation with when and where Aamer might have received this particular treatment… did you ever reach any conclusions about that? (Bonus follow-up… what in particular was the reaction of the camp commanders to hunger strikes, and why?)
Joseph Hickman: I can tell you that I believe Aamer’s statement. He was in Camp 5, a “less-compliant” camp, in isolation most of the year (a camp not within my observation that night), so Aamer, from his isolation, would not have known what else happened on June 9th, and yet he described treatment that same night very similar to my understanding of what killed the three detainees.(He could keep track of time as daylight was discernible in the Camp 5 cells).
As far as hunger strikes, the medical doctors assigned to Guantanamo– not the BSCTs responsible for interrogations, but the regular doctors, were good doctors, concerned with the welfare of their patients. They came up with SOPs providing that a detainee on a hunger strike more than a short period could not be interrogated. The joint medical group has enough power to make this happen.
The interrogation program was running over 200 interrogations a week. Hunger strikes crippled interrogations– and infuriated the command..
The Talking Dog: Let’s turn to drugs… as a matter of the question! Specifically, you tell us that you were told that following the cell-extraction riot in which you ordered the discharge of “the muppet” (and earned your moniker “Satan” from the detainees), there was a significant calm in the camps following that incident, and you were told that sedatives had been administered to all of the detainees. Later, I understand that in the course of your later research, some which made its way into a Seton Hall University Law School report called “Guantanamo: America’s Battle Lab” you discovered that at the time of their arrival, all Guantanamo detainees were administered an anti-malarial drug called Mefloquine, an anti-malarial medication, at excessive (5X recommended) doses at levels known to induce anxiety, paranoia and other mental harm. Aside from “everything”… what exactly is wrong with doing that?
Joseph Hickman: The administration of these drugs is absolutely a war crime, as I see it.
I can tell you that my discovery of the use of Mefloquine was a turning point in my figuring out that Afghanistan was “America’s Battle Lab.” When you consider how the detainees were transported from Afghanistan– under total sensory deprivation (gloves, masks, goggles, ear plugs– totally cutting them off from use of any of their sentences_ – we saw techniques taken right out of the Russian playbook from the early 1970s. So the detainees were deprived of the use of their senses for over 17 hours, and then they are administered a dosage of 5X the recommended dosage of a fat soluble drug that induces psychosis at that level– that will remain in their system for 30 days or more, with an SOP providing that for 30 days, they will get no Red Cross visits, no books, no Korans, or anything– other than interrogations.
In short… the whole thing was all some kind of a game.
The Talking Dog: Jumping back to my interview with Erik Saar… from his closing comments:
A military organization’s good order and discipline requires that soldiers follow their orders– you cannot run an army if orders are routinely questioned. But…
Since leaving Guantanamo I have discussed this with JAG officers… I asked “does this mean we all violated international law?” Needless to say, they couldn’t give me a response!
What would have happened if a junior soldier– an interrogator or a translator, or both– said “I’m sorry, sir, this order violates international law and I will not comply”? Best case their career would have been over. Worst case they would have faced discipline, if not outright court-martial and jail. Yes, they would have just been vindicated by the Supreme Court, but… who would do it?
I WISH someone would have done it. They’d be justified now. But all along the way, no E-3, E-4 or E-5 should be deciding this. Culpability for this goes all the way up the chain of command…
Please comment on Sgt. Saar’s observations there, in light of your own experience (i.e., feeling that as a matter of conscience you had to retire from the military just a few years before being eligible for a nice pension in order to be able to tell your story, having to respond to criticism from the military that “you were on the perimeter and didn’t see anything,” etc.).
Joseph Hickman: I would agree with Saar’s comments. I am only aware of one case of military personnel refusing their orders, that being the navy nurse who refused to follow orders with respect to force-feeding a detainee on hunger strike. That nurse was threatened with court martial.
From my perspective, this was the first time in my military career that I felt that I had to question the people over me, and what they were asking me to do..
The Talking Dog: In bringing your story out to the world, you eventually sought out Professor Mark Denbeaux at Seton Hall Law School, who helped you engage the services of (his son) attorney Joshua Denbeaux [interviewed by me here]… and you presented your story to, among others (my former employer), the U.S. Department of Justice. And although your story did result in some award winning journalism by Scott Horton at Harper’s, much of the so-called mainstream media and of course, the Justice Department, just concluded “nothing to see here folks, move along.” I note that your actions in this regard took place after you left the military and after George W. Bush left the White House to be replaced by (my college classmate) Barack Obama, he of “I will close Guantanamo within one year [of taking office]”… which was over six years ago. Did you ever reach any conclusion as to why (1) the new government supposedly committed to closing the place and (2) a media supposedly interested in salacious stories (such as your provocatively titled story of Murder at Camp Delta)… had no interest whatsoever in disturbing the official narrative?
Joseph Hickman: When ABC News, or any other major media outlet looked at this story, they immediately brought questions to the Pentagon, the Pentagon would keep saying “he was only a perimeter guard and not in the camps that night”– and the media simply believed it, without further questions. They had no interest in investigating further. I can tell you that I wish that I was “only a perimeter guard” on May 18th of 2006– the night of the riot when I had to fire on the detainee. But the media uncritically bought the government’s story, much more than it should have.
With respect to the Justice Department, Obama kept saying that he was trying to put torture and dark sites behind us, without accountability– by “looking forward and not backward.” And so it is not surprising that the Justice Department had a strong interest in not having my story go forward and reveal the existence of a CIA black site– indeed, that alone might be a major reason “not to look backward.”
The Talking Dog: Professor Denbeaux and his team at Seton Hall have been researching this area for nearly a decade; you now have a title at Seton Hall Law School (“Adjunct Professor and Senior Research Fellow, Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research”)… can you comment on the methodology used in preparing its reports, and why you believe it is a reliable account of what it purports to present?
Joseph Hickman: The Seton Hall reports strictly rely on only the government’s own publicly released documents. By doing it that way, we can rely on government sources and government documents to use the government’s own words against it– such as pointing out a vast number of contributions in the recidivism area in the Seton Hall recidivism report.
The Talking Dog: Anything else I should have asked you but didn’t, or anything else that you believe needs to be told to my readers and the public on these important issues?
Joseph Hickman: I just want the story out there– especially the families of the men who died that night, particularly al-Zahrani’s… his father was actually a Brigadier General in the Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) police… I wanted him to know that his son did not die the way our government said he did. I want accountability for our government’s actions, and I want a real investigation. I am by no means sure how or if that will happen, but that is what I want to see, and what I believe is needed.
The Talking Dog: I thank Joseph Hickman for that eye-opening interview, and encourage all interested readers to check out”Murder at Camp Delta: A Staff Sergeant’s Pursuit of the Truth About Guantanamo Bay”.
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the “war on terror” may also find talking dog blog interviews with former Guantanamo military commissions prosecutors Morris Davis and Darrel Vandeveld, with Guantanamo military commissions defense attorney Todd Pierce, with former Guantanamo combatant status review tribunal/”OARDEC” officer Stephen Abraham, with attorneys Jon Eisenberg, David Marshall, Jan Kitchel, Eric Lewis, Cori Crider, Michael Mone, Matt O’Hara, Carlos Warner, Matthew Melewski, Stewart “Buz” Eisenberg, Patricia Bronte, Kristine Huskey, Ellen Lubell, Ramzi Kassem, George Clarke, Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in “the war on terror”), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing “unlawful combatant” Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with former Guantanamo military guard Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., with former military interrogator Matthew Alexander, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, with law professor Peter Honigsberg on various aspects of detention policy in the war on terror, with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, with Karen Greenberg, author of The LeastWorst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days, with Charles Gittings of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions, Laurel Fletcher, author of “The Guantanamo Effect” documenting the experience of Guantanamo detainees after their release, and with John Hickman, author of “Selling Guantanamo,” critiquing the official narrative surrounding Guantanamo, to be of interest.
gitmo graphic via shutterstock.com