Saturday, June 05, 2004

Whoops! We only meant to abuse and torture non-Americans

The theory that torture of Iraqi prisoners was perpetuated only by "a few bad apples" is becoming more and more untenable. News has already come to light that Donald Rumsfeld personally approved brutal interrogation techniques used on the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and that those "successful" techniques were then used in Iraq.

Now a new story is coming to light: That of Sean Baker, a recently discharged U.S. Army soldier who had been stationed at Guantanamo Bay. It seems that one day in January, Baker was asked to take part in a training exercise. Baker would pretend to be an uncooperative detainee, and a group of other soldiers would practice extracting him from a cell. As part of the exercise, Baker put on a prisoner's uniform and a hood. To make the simulation as real as possible, the officer in charge didn't tell the other soldiers that Baker was an American.

With the soldiers thinking Baker was an actual detainee, this is what happened:

"They grabbed my arms, my legs, twisted me up and unfortunately one of the individuals got up on my back from behind and put pressure down on me while I was face down. Then he — the same individual — reached around and began to choke me and press my head down against the steel floor. After several seconds, 20 to 30 seconds, it seemed like an eternity because I couldn't breathe. When I couldn't breathe, I began to panic and I gave the code word I was supposed to give to stop the exercise, which was `red.' . . . That individual slammed my head against the floor and continued to choke me. Somehow I got enough air. I muttered out: `I'm a U.S. soldier. I'm a U.S. soldier.' "

Then the soldiers noticed that he was wearing a U.S. battle dress uniform under the jumpsuit. Mr. Baker was taken to a military hospital for treatment of his head injuries, then flown to a Navy hospital in Portsmouth, Va. After a six-day hospitalization there, he was given a two-week discharge to rest.

But Mr. Baker began suffering seizures, so the military sent him to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for treatment of a traumatic brain injury. He stayed at the hospital for 48 days, was transferred to light duty in an honor burial detail at Fort Dix, N.J., and was finally given a medical discharge two months ago.
The Army is denying that Baker was discharged as a result of the injuries he suffered in the training exercise, and refuses to release Baker's medical records. Baker told his story last week to a local TV station in his hometown. Nicholas Kristof read the interview and picked up the story in his New York Times column -- but ominously, Baker refused to talk to Kristof. I hope Baker wasn't pressured to clam up.

Let me rephrase that: I'm sure Baker was pressured to clam up, but I hope he doesn't give in to the pressure.

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