Female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man’s face with fake menstrual blood, according to an insider’s written account.
A draft manuscript obtained by The Associated Press is classified as secret pending a Pentagon review for a planned book that details ways the U.S. military used women as part of tougher physical and psychological interrogation tactics to get terror suspects to talk.
It’s the most revealing account so far of interrogations at the secretive detention camp, where officials say they have halted some controversial techniques.
“I have really struggled with this because the detainees, their families and much of the world will think this is a religious war based on some of the techniques used, even though it is not the case,” the author, former Army Sgt. Erik R. Saar, 29, told AP.
Saar didn’t provide the manuscript or approach AP, but confirmed the authenticity of nine draft pages AP obtained. He requested his hometown remain private so he wouldn’t be harassed.
Saar, who is neither Muslim nor of Arab descent, worked as an Arabic translator at the U.S. camp in eastern Cuba from December 2002 to June 2003. At the time, it was under the command of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had a mandate to get better intelligence from prisoners, including alleged al Qaeda members caught in Afghanistan.
Saar said he witnessed about 20 interrogations and about three months after his arrival at the remote U.S. base he started noticing “disturbing” practices.
One female civilian contractor used a special outfit that included a miniskirt, thong underwear and a bra during late-night interrogations with prisoners, mostly Muslim men who consider it taboo to have close contact with women who aren’t their wives.
Beginning in April 2003, “there hung a short skirt and thong underwear on the hook on the back of the door” of one interrogation team’s office, he writes. “Later I learned that this outfit was used for interrogations by one of the female civilian contractors … on a team which conducted interrogations in the middle of the night on Saudi men who were refusing to talk.”
Some Guantanamo prisoners who have been released say they were tormented by “prostitutes.”
In another case, Saar describes a female military interrogator questioning an uncooperative 21-year-old Saudi detainee who allegedly had taken flying lessons in Arizona before the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Suspected Sept. 11 hijacker Hani Hanjour received pilot instruction for three months in 1996 and in December 1997 at a flight school in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“His female interrogator decided that she needed to turn up the heat,” Saar writes, saying she repeatedly asked the detainee who had sent him to Arizona, telling him he could “cooperate” or “have no hope whatsoever of ever leaving this place or talking to a lawyer.”‘
The man closed his eyes and began to pray, Saar writes.
The female interrogator wanted to “break him,” Saar adds, describing how she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against the prisoner’s back and commenting on his apparent erection.
The detainee looked up and spat in her face, the manuscript recounts.
The interrogator left the room to ask a Muslim linguist how she could break the prisoner’s reliance on God. The linguist told her to tell the detainee that she was menstruating, touch him, then make sure to turn off the water in his cell so he couldn’t wash.
Strict interpretation of Islamic law forbids physical contact with women other than a man’s wife or family, and with any menstruating women, who are considered unclean.
“The concept was to make the detainee feel that after talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength,” says the draft, stamped “Secret.”
The interrogator used ink from a red pen to fool the detainee, Saar writes.
“She then started to place her hands in her pants as she walked behind the detainee,” he says. “As she circled around him he could see that she was taking her hand out of her pants. When it became visible the detainee saw what appeared to be red blood on her hand. She said, ‘Who sent you to Arizona?’ He then glared at her with a piercing look of hatred.
“She then wiped the red ink on his face. He shouted at the top of his lungs, spat at her and lunged forward” — so fiercely that he broke loose from one ankle shackle.
“He began to cry like a baby,” the draft says, noting the interrogator left saying, “Have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself.”
Events Saar describes resemble two previous reports of abusive female interrogation tactics, although it wasn’t possible to independently verify his account.
In November, in response to an AP request, the military described an April 2003 incident in which a female interrogator took off her uniform top, exposed her brown T-shirt, ran her fingers through a detainee’s hair and sat on his lap. That session was immediately ended by a supervisor and that interrogator received a written reprimand and additional training, the military said.
In another incident, the military reported that in early 2003 a different female interrogator “wiped dye from red magic marker on detainees’ shirt after detainee spit (cq) on her,” telling the detainee it was blood. She was verbally reprimanded, the military said.
Sexual tactics used by female interrogators have been criticized by the FBI, which complained in a letter obtained by AP last month that U.S. defense officials hadn’t acted on complaints by FBI observers of “highly aggressive” interrogation techniques, including one in which a female interrogator grabbed a detainee’s genitals.
About 20 percent of the guards at Guantanamo are women, said Lt. Col. James Marshall, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command. He wouldn’t say how many of the interrogators were female.
Marshall wouldn’t address whether the U.S. military had a specific strategy to use women.
“U.S. forces treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur, humanely and consistent with U.S. legal obligations, and in particular with legal obligations prohibiting torture,” Marshall said Thursday.
But some officials at the U.S. Southern Command have questioned the formation of an all-female team as one of Guantanamo’s “Immediate Reaction Force” units that subdue troublesome male prisoners in their cells, according to a document classified as secret and obtained by AP.
In one incident, dated June 19, 2004, “The detainee appears to be genuinely traumatized by a female escort securing the detainee’s leg irons,” according to the document, a U.S. Southern Command summary of videotapes shot when the teams were used.
The summary warned that anyone outside Department of Defense channels should be prepared to address allegations that women were used intentionally with Muslim men.
At Guantanamo, Saar said, “Interrogators were given a lot of latitude under Miller,” the commander who went from the prison in Cuba to overseeing prisons in Iraq, where the Abu Ghraib scandal shocked the world with pictures revealing sexual humiliation of naked prisoners.
Several female troops have been charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Saar said he volunteered to go to Guantanamo because “I really believed in the mission,” but then he became disillusioned during his six months at the prison.
After leaving the Army with more than four years service, Saar worked as a contractor briefly for the FBI.
The Department of Defense has censored parts of his draft, mainly blacking out people’s names, Saar said. He needed permission to publish because he signed a disclosure statement before going to Guantanamo.
The book, which Saar titled “Inside the Wire,” is due out this year with Penguin Press.
Guantanamo has about 545 prisoners from some 40 countries, many held more than three years without charge or access to lawyers and many suspected of links to al Qaeda or Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime, which harbored the terrorist network.