Former Army Prosecutor: Some Prisoners ‘Asked to Stay in Gitmo’ Rather than Go Home

Katie Bell and Andrew Herzog | June 30, 2011 | 12:24pm EDT
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Detainees play soccer in the recreation area of Camp Six at Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, March 1, 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elisha Dawkins/Released)

( - Former Army Gitmo prosecutor Kyndra Rotunda told that some prisoners at GuantanamoBay have asked to stay there in U.S. custody rather than be released to return to their home countries.

“Interestingly, some detainees were offered release, and asked to stay in Gitmo. They prefer captivity in Gitmo to freedom in their own countries!” Rotunda told by e-mail.

Far from being tortured, as some protestors outside the White House alleged last week, Rotunda said prisoners at Gitmo are allowed to take classes (with some even receiving “home-schooling”), can read Harry Potter books in Arabic and are given their choice of athletic shoes for playing sports.

What’s more, the Defense Department has even flown in special fruits and nuts for detainees to observe Ramadan, Rotunda said, although the detainees’ request for a goat to be sacrificed was declined--in deference to PETA.

“Most Gitmo detainees live in group housing with open bays and about 10 people to a bay,” she said.

A detainee learns typing skills during a life skills class in Camp Six at Joint Task Force Guantanamo in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Oct. 20, 2010. The purpose of the class was to enhance literacy in reading and writing in subjects of health and finance. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elisha Dawkins/Released)

“They are outside of their housing bays for up to 12 hours a day. During that time, they can take classes, visit the library--which has over 5,000 titles, including the Harry Potter series translated into Arabic, which are very popular--exercise, check out movies or games, play sports--detainees can chose from a selection of athletic shoes--or even visit the computer lab.”

Rotunda, who served as a prosecutor in the Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office while stationed at Gitmo, is now a civilian who teaches military and international law at ChapmanUniversityLawSchool in Southern California and lectures at the University California at Berkeley.

The author of “Honor Bound: Inside the Guantanamo Trials,” a book about her experiences at Gitmo, Rotunda said she recently learned about one detainee who asked, through his lawyer, “for an academic course offering that was more closely tailored to his educational interests and needs.”

“The Pentagon responded affirmatively and assigned lawyers to 'home-school' this detainee,” she said. “These lawyers regularly travel from Washington, D.C., to GuantanamoBay to tutor the detainee--carefully following a curriculum that was agreed upon by the Pentagon and the detainee’s lawyer.”

Rotunda said that while most detainees live in open bays and “enjoy a lot of flexibility and freedom of movement,” a small handful of detainees (including those awaiting trial), live in a brick and mortar prison, which, she said, is modeled after a prison in Indiana.

“They have fewer freedoms and privileges, but the conditions meet U.S. standards,” according to Rotunda. “Prisoners awaiting trial in the U.S. are often imprisoned--consider for example Casey Anthony, who is presently on trial in Florida.”

But all detainees are allowed to freely exercise their religion, the former Army prosecutor said.

“The Muslim Call to Prayer is broadcasted over loud-speakers 5 times a day,” she added. “During this time, the prison guards are instructed to give each detainee 20 minutes of uninterrupted time, even if the detainee is not praying.”

In fact, the U.S. goes out of its way to host events to mark important religious holidays.

(Photo courtesy Prof. Kyndra Rotunda)

“When I was in Gitmo, the camp commander hosted a celebration for detainees to mark the end of Ramadan and flew in seasonal nuts and dates for the celebration,” Rotunda said. “The detainees asked the commander to fly in a goat that they could sacrifice. The commander declined that request because he did not want to upset PETA.”

Last week, activists wearing black hoods, protested outside the White House, claiming in a news release that the Obama administration was culpable for the “ongoing torture, mistreatment and indefinite detention of troops at GuantanamoBay.”

“Black hoods that are now emblematic of the policies of torture and abuse that the Obama administration inherited from President Bush and has further entrenched,” the group Witness Against Torture said in the press release.

But professor Rotunda said detainees at Gitmo do not wear black hoods and denied that torture had occurred at GuantanamoBay.

“We know that some detainees were water-boarded by the CIA,” the former Army major said. “However, nobody was ever water-boarded at GuantanamoBay, or at the hands of U.S. soldiers. GuantanamoBay has undergone several investigations and all have reached the same conclusion--that detainees were not water-boarded or otherwise tortured in Gitmo.

She added: “After assuming office, President Obama launched yet another investigation, which resulted in a finding that the prison camp in GuantanamoBay, in fact, fully complied with the Geneva Conventions.”

Rotunda points out that the detainees the U.S. is holding in Gitmo are not domestic criminals but enemy combatants.

“The U.S. holds detainees in Gitmo who are 'enemy combatants,' which essentially means that they took up arms against the U.S.,” she said.

“International Law requires a hearing, which affords very basic procedural protections," she said. "The U.S.--without any legal obligation to do so--has adopted procedural protections that exceed what International Law and the Geneva Conventions require.”

In fact, every detainee receives a hearing--called a Combatant Status Review Tribunal--before being detained.

“Additionally, each detainee then receives an annual hearing--called an Annual Review Board--which is essentially a yearly parole board,” she said.

“The U.S. has released hundreds of detainees through the ARB Process,” she said. “About 25 percent of the released detainees return to the battlefield to fight against U.S. forces.

“Releasing enemy combatants back to the battlefield during a time of war is unprecedented and extremely dangerous," Rotunda said. "Some claim that the U.S. releases too few detainees--I think it releases too many.”

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