Former Guantanamo Guard Interview
By Maryam Hussain

May 26, 2009
Brandon Neely, a former Guantanamo guard speaks to Youth Troopers with Global Awareness about his time at Guantanamo. He highlights the atrocities, brutalities and abuse that go on in the prison. Recalling the painful events he hopes one day justice will be served to the detainees and their families.

Let me rewind in your life a bit. Where were you born? How were you as a kid etc?

I was born June 2, 1980 at Fort Benning Georgia which is an Army post, which is most famously known in the army as home of the infantry.

I would say I was a normal kid. I have two parents that worked hard and raised us to respect people and be responsible. I grew up playing sports, baseball and football through out high school. I was always a very adventurous kid especially in high school. I would always be the first to try something new as I always had to be a leader.

Did you always want to join the military or was it by chance? Tell us about the training you achieved.

I did not always want to join the military. My father retired from the Army so I grew up in a military household. My father never pushed or tried to get any of us to join the military actually he did the quite opposite. He always told me if you want to join the military I should get a college education first.

I graduated from high school in 1998 and at the time I knew I was not ready to go to college. At that time in my life I felt like I had better things to do than go to school. Then about 2 years after I graduated I was working full time stocking groceries at a local store. I knew I needed to do something with my life, but yet I was not ready to go to college, instead I decided to join the army. Not for college money, like a lot of people do but I was joining it for direction maturity. I knew I wanted to be a military police officer as I had always been drawn to the law enforcement field since I was a child.

August of 2000 I left for basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The training lasted for 17 weeks with 9 weeks of basic training. After that was over we would start 8 weeks of AIT to become military police officers. During basic training you learn basic soldiering skills, including rifle marksmanship, first aid and skills of that nature.

During the 8 weeks of AIT we were taught how to conduct ourselves as military police officers. Military police officers have a non-combat mission and a combat mission. Most of the time when MP’s are not deployed we do regular police duties i-e patrol the streets of an army post, answer 911 calls concerning to stolen vehicles to domestic violence. During combat we have a lot of different missions. Some are convoy escorts, patrolling the streets of a war zone, enemy prisoner of war camps and so on.

What year did you join Guantanamo Bay? And how did you get involved to begin with?

I was at Guantanamo Bay when it first opened on January 11th 2002 until June of 2002 around 6 months.

I actually volunteered to go to Guantanamo. I had just come back from a deployment in Egypt. I was working night shift at the gates. One morning around nine am a loud knock at my door woke me up. I opened the door to see a squad leader in my platoon who advised me that two deployments were going to happen really soon and if I wanted to volunteer I would have to tell them now. At that time I was highly motivated to do anything so I agreed. Later that night I was off to a local pub along with some friends when we received a phone call stating we needed to come back to company and report to our platoon offices. When I arrived I was instructed I was to report to the 410th military police company at 0700 hrs the next morning and that I would be deploying with them.

The next morning when I arrived to my new company we had a quick process of assigning us to our platoons. We all were told we would be deployed at Guantanmo Bay, Cuba in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. We were further informed that we would be watching over detainees that where captured in Afghanistan while fighting the American military. We were informed that these captured terrorists were very dangerous and they wouldn’t hesitate to kill us if we turned our backs to this operation. They also told that a detainee camp had never been run before as a detainee would and did not fall under the Geneva Convention.

I arrived to this company on a Saturday and the very next morning we left for Guantanmo Bay, Cuba.

What kind of jobs were the guards assigned?

There where a lot of different jobs within the camps that we did as guards. You could be assigned to block guard duty which consisted of walking around keeping an eye on the detainees, feeding them and emptying their buckets.

Escorting duties consisted of taking the detainees to and from their cells if they needed medical assistance, a change of clothes or shower etc.

There were sally port guards where you were supposed to just hold the keys and stand outside the blocks to control all the movements going on inside and outside the block.

There was also an Internal Reaction Force team, also known as an IRF team. It consisted of 5 men in full riot gear Kevlar with a face shield, flak vest and shin guards like a baseball catcher would wear. The first guard would carry a riot shield and his job was to be the first one to enter the cage, hit the detainee with the riot shield and gain control of the detainee. The second guards would come in and gain control of the left arm while the third one would control the right arm. Likewise the fourth guard would hold the left and the fifth guard the right leg.

Tell me about your feelings when you for the first time saw a detainee who arrived at the prison. How was he treated by rest of the officials and was he in a good condition?

I was at Camp X-Ray when the first batch of detainees arrived. I clearly remember before the bus arrived I was very nervous to come face to face with the men that were supposedly the most dangerous of all. They were those who had murdered thousands of Americans in cold blood on September 11, 2001. There came two buses that were escorted with a humvee in the front and one in the back. Marines with a .50 cal weapon were mounted on the top of the vehicles. Suddenly it got really quiet; there was pin drop silence inside the camp. When the first bus pulled up you could hear the Marines yelling at the detainees saying ‘you are now property of The Untied States of America’. The bus door opened and the first detainee was thrown into the waiting arms of the first escorting team. The detainee was wearing an orange jump suit, gloves, ear muffs, and goggles with tape on them, leg shackles, and handcuffs that were attached to a waist chain. They took control of the detainee yelling at him to walk faster, but I noticed the detainee was hopping as he only had one leg. Later his prosthetic leg was thrown off the bus. The detainee was then escorted to the holding area and placed on his knees.

As far as I remember I was honestly very mad at the detainees for what had happened on September 11th. At that time I thought all these men were terrorists and had killed people in my country. I actually felt they were getting off easy for what they had done.

Before you were sent to Guantanamo, were you told how to treat the prisoners held there or was it entirely up to you?

We did not really recieve much training on how to treat the detainees. There was some training during my AIT at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, but nothing much. No one really knew what to do as the Geneva Convention was not in affect in America and there was no standing operating procedure on how to run this operation.

How are the prisoners held there usually dressed?

The detainees always had on their orange jump suits. That was the standard uniform for the detainees.

Were the detainees injured when brought in or did the torture session start afterwards?

Some detainees arrived to us injured. Many of them were highly under weight some came with bruises and gun shot wounds.

Going more into detail, what were the typical torture methods?

There are a few things that I remember seeing first-hand and I believed they were totally unjust and plain abuse. I am not sure of the dates or times when they occurred, but it wasn't too long into the beginning of Camp X-Ray. One night I was assigned to the Charlie Block as a block guard. The medic was handing medication out on the block. He made his way over to one detainee on the block and instructed him to drink a can of Ensure (a lot of detainees were given this since they were underweight and malnourished). The detainee however refused to take the Ensure. The medic told him multiple times to take it and the detainee still refused. The medic then told the block NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge) of the situation. The block NCOIC then went to the detainee and gave him the same instructions to take the can of Ensure. Once again the detainee refused to follow these orders. Next the on duty OIC (or Officer in Charge) was notified of the situation. The OIC then made his way to the block where a discussion went on about the situation and the conclusion was that the detainee could not refuse any medications at all. However the detainee could not be convinced, not even by the IRF team. The IRF team then started to approach the cage the detainee was in. Since I was on the block I walked on the other side of the cage so I could watch what was going on. Once the IRF team was lined up and got in position to enter the cell the OIC unlocked the door. The detainee just stood there, facing the IRF team. BOOM! The first man hit the detainee with a shield causing him to fall to the cement floor of the cage. Quickly the whole team was on top of the detainee. They made him stand up and hand-cuffed him to the fence in the cage. The person who had the shield held the detainee's head so he could not move. The medic then entered the cage with the can of Ensure. Once he entered the cage he looked up and saw me. He then motioned for me to move over to my left (his right). He then opened the Ensure can, grabbed the detainee by the neck, and started to pour it down his throat. The detainee was attempting to move his head, and he wouldn't swallow any of it. The Ensure just ran down his face. The medic looked up one quick time and punched the detainee twice on the left side of his face with his right fist. The medic then just turned around and walked out of the Cage as if nothing had happened. The detainee was then uncuffed from the cage and lay down on the cement floor. He was then hog-tied. (The best way to explain hogtie is when you tie a persons hands at the back. Next you cuff their legs and attach them to their hands). He lay in this position for a couple of hours. When the whole incident was over I turned around and noticed the guard tower where the Marines were watching over and realized that the medic had placed me in front to block the view of the Marines. I later learned through other detainees on the block that the reason the man refused the Ensure was because he thought he was being poisoned.

Another day, while on duty at Camp X-Ray, I was assigned to escorting duties. I was at the very back of the camp. The IRF team was told to move over to the Bravo Block. At the time, I was not doing anything, so I made my way down to the block to watch from the outside of the block. The situation on the block was that a detainee had called a female MP "bitch" a couple times. For punishment, the IRF team was called upon to enter the cage and hog-tie the detainee. The female MP was very upset, yelling "Whip his ass!" The IRF team lined up in position to enter the cage. The OIC unlocked the lock on the cage door and. The detainee instantly turned around, went to his knees and placed his hands on top of his head. The first man on the IRF team with a quick run towards the detainee hopped in the air and came down on the back of the detainee with his knee (the guy was not a small guy). This caused the detainee to fall with the man on top of him. Then the whole IRF team was on top of him hitting, punching, and kicking him. It seemed like a long time, but in reality it lasted 15-20 seconds. The female MP entered the cage and punched the detainee a couple times in the head and then left. The detainee lay there cuffed-up but motionless and unresponsive. Next thing the medics appeared with a stretcher. They detainee was taken to the main hospital. I went back to work not fully knowing what was wrong or what happened to the detainee. Later that night the IRF team came back from the hospital. They talked about how they hit and punched the detainee and held him down so the female MP could hit him. One of them even stated the detainee went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance. I do not know if this statement is true or not. Eventually the detainee returned back to the camp from the hospital. About a week or so later I was assigned to work Bravo Block, and the block NCOIC happened to be a member of the IRF team. He was the ‘first man’ on the day of this incident. When the NCOIC walked onto the block a detainee named Feroz Abbasi yelled "Sergeant, have you come back to finish him off?"

When new detainees arrived to the camp, a detainee on Alpha Block began to yell so loudly that you could hear him all over the camp. Every time we would take a new detainee to Alpha Block he would get even louder. Eventually, the IRF team was called in to restrain this detainee. You could always tell when someone got ‘IRFed’, as the detainees throughout the camp would start chanting and screaming. So I could tell when the detainee on Alpha Block was IRFed that day. By the time the IRF team was coming off the block and I was walking back towards Alpha Block I noticed that a few of the guys had blood on their arms, hands, and uniforms. The detainee was escorted off the block for medical treatment. He was given stitches for multiple lacerations to his head. Later that day I saw the cage the detainee was IRFed in. The floor was a dull red color from the blood. You could tell that at one point before it was washed there was a lot of blood.

On the net I read about pepper sprays used by the guards, sexual abuse, force feeding, and medical abuse. Did you witness any of this? If you did will you please tell me about it in detail?

As far as pepper spray is concerned it was not used during my time there. I cut and paste below from the UC Davis Project about sexual and medical abuse.

I know that detainees could not refuse medication or it would be forced upon them as I stated in a previous incident. I talked about the detainee who came to Camp X-Ray wounded from a .50 caliber. His bicep was attached to his forearm as his arm was in that position for too long. I escorted this detainee for physical therapy as he could not bend his arm. On one occasion, when I escorted him, the medic began to massage the area that was attached and he keep rubbing harder and harder till a point that the detainee started to cry and squirm all over the bed. The medic stopped massaging and started to stretch the detainee's arm. You could tell this was very painful and uncomfortable for him. He then said to me "You really want to watch him scream." Then he stretched the arm all the way down until it was straight. The detainee started screaming and crying. And with that the ‘physical therapy’ was over. The entire time the medic just laughed at what he had done. I witnessed the physical therapy sessions a couple of times, and never were the sessions like what I described above. Usually they would just massage the area for a bit, then stretch the arm a little bit just to the point it got uncomfortable to him. But this medic had his own way.

The in-processing changed a bit, especially once Delta block was finished. The detainees were still taken off the bus and placed in the holding pin, but instead of walking to the back of the camp, they were directed across the holding area to an open spot where a big tent was put up. The doctor there would check their rectum area (we were told the rectal exam was to check for any kind of weapons that could be hidden there (apparently in Afghanistan, a grenade had been found in the rectum of a detainee). One of the escorting MP would pull the detainee's pants down and the doctor would instruct the detainee to lean over the table. Then, with a surgical glove on his hand, the doctor shoved his finger in the rectum of the detainee. Both times I witnessed this I never once saw any kind of lubrication used; they did not use the lube that was available for this purpose. This was not done in a gentle manner whatsoever. It seemed to me that the doctor just reached back and shoved his finger as hard as he could in the rectum area. Even when I was assigned duties elsewhere, I could hear the detainees scream. I even remember one detainee coming out of the tent in tears. I know through other people who witnessed this that the doctor would make little comments, such as "this won't hurt; it will only take a minute”. Also, each detainee was searched when he left his cage and when he returned to his cage. In the process of searching or patting-down the detainee we were taught a technique which we called the "credit card swipe". You would take your hand; put all your fingers straight together and go straight up the backside of a person. If this was done the correct way just a quick swipe it really was no big deal, but some people took it to the extremes, and would do it hard to cause them pain.

In articles it is said that female guards and officials perform obscene acts in front of the prisoners in order to mentally torture them. Is this any true?

I did not witness any of that during my time in Guantanamo. However it may have been done during integration which I did not see, but I do know that detainees where forced to shower in front of female guards.

Rumor has it that prisoners are held in cells that are only big enough for them to sit in, is that so in every camp or only some of them?

At camp x-ray the cages where very small yes. Probably the size of cages used for dogs. Detainees would have a hard time laying down or stretching out. As you may have noticed already I don’t call them cells because to me they look more like dog cages. Exactly the reason why I prefer to call them cages.

How was your behavior with the prisoners? Whatever you did, and however you treated them, was that out of free will or due to pressure exerted by your colleagues?

Firstly I was highly nervous, but yet I truly believed that these terrorist where getting off easy for what they has done to my country. I was involved in the very first incident at Camp X-Ray.

On the first day we had been taking detainees from the in-processing center to their cages for quite a while. The next detainee was an older man. Probably in his mid or late 50s; short and kind of husky build. I remember grabbing him and then starting to walk first heading towards Alpha Block. I noticed he was really tense, shaking really bad, and not wanting to walk or move without being forced to do so. When we reached the cage he was instructed to go to his knees, which he did. My partner then went down and took off his leg shackles. I still had control of his upper body, and I could still feel him tensing up. Once the shackles were off my partner started to take off the hand cuffs. The detainee got really tense and started to pull away. We yelled at him so he would stop moving. When my partner went to put the key in his first handcuff, the detainee jerked hard to the left towards me. Before I knew it, I threw the detainee to the ground and was on top of him holding his face to the cement floor. The block NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) was on the radio yelling ‘code red’ which meant emergency on the block. Before I knew, I was being grabbed from behind and pulled out of the cage by the IRF team. They grabbed this man and hog-tied him. He lay like that for hours that day.

A few days later I found out from another detainee that he was scared that we would execute him while he was on his knees. He then went on to tell me that this man had seen some of his friends and family members executed on their knees. I remember other guards coming up to me and saying "Man, that was a good job; you got yourself some". I however did not feel good about what I did. This man was old enough to be my father, and I had just beaten him. I still to this day don't know who was more scared before and during this incident me or the detainee. I remember seeing him the next day his face was bruised and scraped up. I was young and didn't question anything back then. But I was ashamed of what I had done.

I can not blame my actions solely on the people who where around me as I am my own man, but when you are told everyday over and over that everyone of these men are terrorists and the worst of people the world has to offer, you slowly start believing it.

Did you always feel what you did was wrong or did your view change gradually? If so will you please tell what made you change your opinions about the treatment of the prisoners held captive there?

At the time I witnessed these incidents or took part in them I felt that they were somewhat wrong, but at the same time I thought some of the detainees deserved it. Then once I returned home and came back from a year tour in Iraq I started to question everything. I had been told many people were released from Guantanamo because they were innocent. The more I looked into what was going on I realized that everything that happened and continues to happen is wrong and illegal.

Did you decide on your own to leave Guantanamo or was there no need for you to stay there any longer? If you decided on your own, didn’t you face any problems by the higher officials?

I left Guantanamo with my company after our 6 month tour was over. We had been relieved by another military police company that were to take over our duties. The day before we left we all wrote a piece of paper that stated that we were never to talk about what we witnessed Guantnamo and if we didn’t sign this statement we would not be able to go back home so we all signed.

Were you able to befriend any detainee or more during your stay there? Were you by any chance able to apologize to the detainees you might have ill-treated?

I actually spoke to a few of the detainees especially the ones that spoke English. I spoke to Ruhal Ahmed most famously know as one of the Tipton Three. We spoke of everyday, life, music and anything people at the age of 20 or 21 would speak of.

Since I have spoken out I have been able to speak to some former detainees. I spoke to a detainee by the name of Juma he was the detainee that was IRFed on Bravo block and taken to the hospital. We spoke on the phone for about 30 minutes about everything Guantanmo, life in general, our families etc. I did get a chance to tell him I was truly sorry for what he suffered and that I wished I would have spoken out sooner. He then went on to tell me that it was time I made peace with myself and move on and that I had a good heart. It was actually very nice to hear him say that. I think speaking to him may have helped me more than it helped him. Seven years ago our relationship was that of a guard-detainee, and now seven years down the road I am happy to be able to call him my friend.

When you started to talk about the ill behavior that goes on at the prison, were you threatened by you seniors?

To this time I have not been contacted or threatened by anyone.

When you came back to America, did you maybe go through a period of depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress? Did you seek any psychological assistance?

I came home in March of 2004 from a year tour in Iraq to a wife and three beautiful children. I was unable to recognize the man I was. It was, and continues to be a struggle to this day. I went through deep depression and for comfort turned to alcohol. It was easier to do this than to deal with what I was feeling inside. I was destroying not only myself but my family as well. One morning and realized I needed to get my life back in order not just for myself, but for my family as well. I left the Army in August of 2005 and was ready to start a new life. I thought by leaving the Army I would leave behind me all the bad times. However that is easier said than done. Not a day goes by where I don’t re-live whatever I did or saw in Guantanamo or Iraq. It does not get any easier; it just eats you up inside with every day that passes by.

I have not spoken to any psychologist. The way I deal with this is by speaking out and talking to other veterans. This helps me more than any medication the VA (Veteran Administration) can give to me.

How are you keeping up now? Do you feel the past haunts you or are you over that period?

I am doing well. I am moving on with my life, taking care of my family and raising my children the best way I can. And I keep on voicing what I have been through.

The past will always haunt me as I tried for the longest time to forget what I went through, but now I don’t want to forget the past. Its a part of the person I am today. I want to take my past and hopefully make the future better for people.

Brandon thank you very much for this interview. I highly appreciate the effort used on recalling these painful events. Before we finish, imagine a detainee was reading this interview, what would be your message for him?

First, I would want to say that I am truly sorry for the pain and suffering you and your family has had to endure for the past 7 ½ years and that I hope one day justice will be served. Also I would like to say that not all the individuals at Guantanamo are bad. In fact most of them honestly thought that it was the correct thing to do. The Untied States is today looked down upon as a country that tortures people. I want everyone to know this is something that I am not proud of. This is not what our country is all about; on the contrary this is the choices of a few individuals in the White House. Last, but not least I hope one day you and your families can find peace in your heart and lead a happy life.

Questionnaire and interview by Maryam Yasmin Hussain

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