Saturday, May 21, 2005

AMY GOODMAN of Democracy Now! interviewed Erik Saar on May 4. Saar is the Army linguist who spent six months translating for interrogators and Arabic-speaking detainees. By the time he left Guantanamo, he had reached the conclusion that the treatment of detainees there and the interrogation procedures used are ineffective in getting usable information from detainees; have actually done harm to U.S. national security; and are not in keeping with the American values of democracy and due process that we cherish in our own country and say we want to spread around the world.

Erik Saar has written a book called Inside the Wire: A Military Intelligence Soldier's Eyewitness Account of Life at Guantanamo. I am reading the book now, and reviewed it a few posts ago.

Here is some of what Saar says in the interview:

AMY GOODMAN: You translated for the interrogators at Guantanamo?

ERIK SAAR: I did. In the second half of my six-month assignment, I did serve as a translator in a number of interrogations.

AMY GOODMAN: You describe one scene of a female interrogator. Can you talk about what happened that day and start from the beginning?

ERIK SAAR: That day, a technique was used in the interrogation booth where sex was used as a weapon to create a wedge between the detainee we were speaking with and his faith. For example, more specifically, the female interrogator I worked with that day sought to sexually entice the detainee. The logic behind that was that if he would be sexually attracted to her, he would feel unclean, and therefore, she believed, in Islam, he would be unable to go back to his cell and pray. One thing she additionally did in order to humiliate him and also to make him feel unclean was wipe what was red ink on his face, but it was done in a way that he believed it was menstrual blood. All of this again was in an attempt to create this wedge between himself and his religion and not only was it ineffective, but I thought it was unethical.

AMY GOODMAN: Could you describe the events in detail? I mean, what happened? You were sitting in the room translating, and she walked in the room, the prisoner already there or brought in after?

ERIK SAAR: I walked in with her. The prisoner had already been there waiting for a good period of time before we arrived. He was shackled to the floor and forced to hunch over. We were asking him -- telling him to be cooperative. She was explaining -- saying that, you know, this is going to be unpleasant for you. After a break, we then returned to the interrogation booth, and that was when she started taking off her outer blouse, where she was wearing a tight t-shirt underneath, and she was touching herself and trying to arouse the detainee.

AMY GOODMAN: What was she saying to him?

ERIK SAAR: She was saying, you know, it doesn't have to be this way. We could sit across a table and talk like adults, but I could tell -- and then she went on to say -- I could tell that you're aroused by me. How do you think Allah feels by you being attracted to an American infidel?

AMY GOODMAN: Did she describe her body to him?

ERIK SAAR: She did describe her body, and she walked around, and she rubbed her breasts on his back. And she was basically attempting to entice him.
AMY GOODMAN: Had you had this behavior that she was exhibiting described to you before? Did you know that this was going on in other cases?

ERIK SAAR: I simply knew from other cases and colleagues that worked in interrogations and from seeing a skirt that hung up on a door that sex was used in other interrogations to create this sort of wedge between the detainee and his faith. But I really didn’t – I hadn’t sat in and seen one of these interrogations until that day.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, in that case, as she was rubbing her body on him and she took off her outer blouse, what did she do then?

ERIK SAAR: Well, we took a break and then we went back. That was when she went and found a red marker to wipe red ink on her hands. We returned to the interrogation, where she told him that she was menstruating and walked around and began to put her hands in her pants and walked around the detainee and then wiped the red ink on the side of his face and told him that it was menstrual blood.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, he was still shackled on the floor?

ERIK SAAR: No. At that time, actually, when we returned to the interrogation booth, he was actually in a chair, but he was shackled. His ankles were shackled to the floor.

AMY GOODMAN: And as she smeared this ink on his face, what did he do?

ERIK SAAR: He lunged from the chair and actually he came out of one of the ankle shackles that was on, and the M.P.'s had to come in, the guards had to come in and put him back in the shackles. And all of this, I'd like to say, was with someone that personally based on the intelligence I had access to was someone who was an individual that, to be honest with you, I hope never sees the light of day, and -- but of course, goes through some process of justice, in order to be -- to face a just punishment, but at the same time, what convinced me and what was so troubling was that, first of all, this was ineffective; secondly, even if it was effective, it was apparent to me that what we were doing there was not in keeping with the values we stand for as a country.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, when she took the red ink and smeared it on him, did she say to him, this is menstrual blood?

ERIK SAAR: Yes, she said this is menstrual blood. And then she also said, you know, have fun attempting to pray in your cell tonight when your water is going to be turned off. So they would turn off the water in his cell so he couldn't become ritually clean.

AMY GOODMAN: And his response?

ERIK SAAR: His response was really non-verbal. The only thing I can make out that he said was some profanity, but other than that, he really was just despondent, and I guess that's the best way to put it.
AMY GOODMAN: Erik Saar, was the words Geneva Conventions ever used at Guantanamo?

ERIK SAAR: One time, ma’am, I can say, when we were talked to regarding the Geneva Conventions, and there was a meeting that I describe where our leaders of the intelligence group explained to us that the Geneva Convention does not apply at Guantanamo Bay. And they gave us reasons as to why they rationalized that it did not, and that now the detainees, we should understand -- of course, we knew this beforehand, but this was in a meeting where they were explaining to us the reasons why -- we should understand that these individuals were enemy combatants and to be treated as detainees. And one of the frustrations regarding that is someone who interacted with and had friends who were interrogators, is that the essence of their training, ma'am, when they go through school, is that you were taught a couple of things about the Geneva Convention. First of all, all your training is under the umbrella of the Geneva Convention, and you are told that you never violate the Geneva Conventions as an interrogator, because – for two reasons: Number one, it's illegal; and number two, they're taught that it's ineffective. And if you need to use tactics outside of the scope of the Geneva Conventions, you are going to get bad intelligence anyway. But somehow, no one quite understood how it was determined that now those rules don't need to apply. Plus there's limited, if no training, for how these new rules should be implemented in the interrogation booth, and what is the rationale for why previously, I was taught as an interrogator or one of my colleagues was taught, that these techniques wouldn't work, but now we're saying that maybe they will?

Read the entire transcript here.

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