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Omar Deghayes and Terry Holdbrooks Discuss Guantánamo (Part Two): Terry’s Story

Andy Worthington

June 3, 2010

On April 30, 2010, as I explained in Part One of this three-part transcript, The UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas organized an event to mark the fifth anniversary of its excellent Guantánamo Testimonials Project, which, for the first time, enabled a discussion to take place, before an American audience, between a former Guantánamo prisoner (the British resident Omar Deghayes, speaking by video-conference from the UK) and a former Guantánamo guard (Terry Holdbrooks, who converted to Islam and is now known as Mustafa Abdullah).

As I also explained in Part One, a video recording of the event is available here (via RealPlayer), as is an audio recording, but in the hope of bringing the words of Omar and Terry to a wider audience I’m cross-posting a transcript of the event here. Part One featured Omar’s story, in which he provided some detailed insights into Guantánamo that many people will never have heard before, and in Part Three (to follow) Omar and Terry discuss other aspects of Guantánamo, including the deaths of three prisoners in Guantánamo in June 2006, which has a great resonance as the fourth anniversary of that dreadful day approaches, in light of revelations in an article by Scott Horton for Harper’s Magazine in January this year. In this second part, Terry tells his story, and he and Omar then engage in discussions that touch on other disturbing aspects of the prison’s history, included the use of menstrual blood by a female interrogator.

Amy Goodman: Omar Deghayes, I think this would be a good time to bring in Terry Holdbrooks also. Well, Terry, you said you’d rather be referred to as Mustafa Abdullah. First, tell us about changing your name.

Terry Holdbrooks: It was actually kind of a slow process that took place in Guantánamo. I had developed a reputation with a good number of the detainees as sort of being the good guard, or the nice guard, or maybe even lax — we can go with lax or lenient. Nonetheless, after I started taking interest in the Koran, and studying the Koran, and talking with the detainees about Islam, and just taking more of an interest in that and their lives and the culture and society and history and everything else behind what was going on –

Amy Goodman: Where were you born?

Terry Holdbrooks: In Phoenix, Arizona. After I started taking an interest in all of that, some of the detainees started calling me Istafa, others started calling me Mustafa. And I didn’t have an understanding at this point in time what the relevance was of that name, the significance of that name. I think it was Ahmed Errachidi [a Moroccan, resident in the UK for 18 years, who was released in 2007], as a matter of fact, who told me to go home and to read "Suratul Baqarah" [the longest chapter of the Koran, and a summation of the entire Muslim creed], and that I would find out the relevancy of that name. Evidently it stands for "the chosen one," it’s one of the names of the prophet Mohammed. So I can only assume, based on being given a name like that, that evidently they held me in high respect.

Amy Goodman: How did you end up at Guantánamo?

Terry Holdbrooks: Where do you want me to start?

Amy Goodman: Wherever you want.

Terry Holdbrooks: Well, that’s a long story. We don’t have enough time for that. That’s kind of like his story, we don’t have enough time for all of it. I graduated high school early, I was kind of bored with high school real quickly. I was probably bored in middle school, actually. In any case, I was bored with high school, and I graduated early and I went to a trade school in a conservatory of recording arts in Arizona, and studied audio engineering. After I finished that, I was kind of starting to go down the same avenue that my parents had both gone down — alcohol and other issues I’d rather not discuss. And I didn’t want to be like them. I wanted to amount to something, and be able to have pride and respect for myself. So I suppose, kind of out of an act of desperation, or perhaps out of an act of boredom, maybe just because I’ve always strived on structure and order — I’m not entirely sure of the reason, there were a number of things that went into it — but I decided to join the Army.

I went to the recruiters, initially, in the beginning of 2002, and I walked into the recruiters, and they said, "Hey! How are you doing today? What can we do for you?" And I said, "I want to get a job. I want to get paid to kill people. And I want the least amount of responsibility." And I don’t think they took me seriously. They kind of laughed, they talked to me, they gave me a pamphlet and sent me on my way. And I was just sort of, kind of confused. I was just, like, "Wait a second. Hold on. I’ve seen all these movies where the recruiters come to schools and they pick you up at your house and these guys just gave me a pamphlet and sent me on my way. That doesn’t make any sense."

So I came back a week later and I tried the same thing and I was like, "I want to join the military. What do I have to do?" And eventually, after about two or three months of persistence, they eventually took me to take my ASVAB [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery]. I scored, you know, off the roof with the ASVAB, they offered me any job that I wanted in the military. And that was probably when I made that fatal mistake that got me to Guantánamo. I asked, "What job is giving a bonus?" Right, yeah, not a smart question. So, for $2000 I chose military police. I would have much rather gone like linguistics or journalist or even psi-ops or human intelligence collector — there’s just a lot of other MOS’s [Military Occupation Specialties] that would have been a lot more interesting. But nope, I took military police. So I started the Army in August of 2002, graduated basic training in December, had a two week break between December and January, met my ex-wife, well, soon-to-be wife, but now ex-wife. I met her in that break. We got married in February of '03 and by March or April of '03 there were already rumors that we were getting ready to be deployed.

I had just recently gotten married, so I didn’t think to myself, you know, "What’s this Guantánamo place? What’s this about? Why are we going here? What’s going on?" I was more concerned about the idea that I had just gotten married, my wife gave up her entire life to come here and be with me in the middle of Nowhere, Missouri, and now I’m going to be leaving her for a year and she’s got no friends, no family, nothing out here. In any case, I was just spending the last little bit of time I had before I went to Guantánamo, basically just spending time with her. Just trying to get as much family time in as I possibly could. I never even once thought about the possibility of Googling Gitmo. But that’s the journey of the military, that’s how I got into the Army.

Amy Goodman: And what was your first experience of Guantánamo?

Terry Holdbrooks: Why is it so bright? It’s really hot, why is it so bright? Somebody use a dimmer switch for the sun, please? It’s really bright. That place is horrible.  Its, oh wow … I’m at a loss of words really to describe Guantánamo. Do you want to perhaps describe Guantánamo a little bit, Omar? I hated it, the actual climate I hated.

Omar Deghayes: Yes, it’s a bad place, I mean, it’s a bad place. I mean it’s been described so much in the media by many people, people from the CIA, people from the FBI who worked there, people who are former guards, like Mustafa and Chris [Arendt] and others. As described by many people from the United States themselves, because people might disbelieve or not completely believe, but when they hear from you, Mustafa, and from others who are from the other side of the wire, it’s different, it makes a big difference. So probably it’s best to hear you tell them a little bit about how they used the bright lights against us in our cells and how they used us like animals or something.

Terry Holdbrooks: He probably never had a single night’s sleep in the dark in the seven years, or, excuse me, the six years he was there. There was constantly lights on. Daytime, nighttime. At nighttime there was floodlights, as well as there was lights in every individual cell. It wouldn’t make a difference.

Omar Deghayes: It’s the air conditioning that used to be used in Camp 5. It was very cold, it was like living inside a refrigerator. When we were in Moscow isolation in Camp 5, when I was locked up, it was like, it’s not like the cages you’ve seen on television. It’s like isolation, where you have complete iron sheets. I mean the walls are made of iron, completely. Closed. It’s not like we can see anybody and then the whole wall, it’s very small, small even for those small cages, and the floor is made of iron sheets, and the ceiling is iron sheets. And then you have the air conditioner, which is very, very hard inside a small box of iron, and it’s like you feel inside of it, you then forget sometimes, and it’s like living inside a refrigerator. And again under extreme lights. You can imagine six or seven years you’re under a light, you cannot — you’re sleeping for six years, you’re living inside the bright lights. Mustafa, please speak, I’ve been doing most of the talking.

Terry Holdbrooks: Outside of the constant light and obviously the temperature issue, with the cold, there was two species that were on the island that we were not allowed to touch, to do anything with, etc. We had to give them privilege to do what they pleased. There was these giant iguanas that would grow to about six feet in length. They were basically like little dragons. I remember sometimes when they’d go running up and down the blocks, some of the detainees would be frightened, other detainees would just kinda laugh.

Omar Deghayes: They had better protection than the detainees. You weren’t allowed to touch them, but you were allowed to abuse the detainees and do what you like to the detainees. But the iguanas, if you touch one of them you’d be fined, how much? Thousands of pounds?

Terry Holdbrooks: It was something ridiculous like that. It was a thousand or two thousand dollars for touching them or the banana rats. And the banana rats, mind you, these things were maybe like four-month old puppy rotweillers, they’re gigantic rats. You couldn’t touch them, you couldn’t chase them. "It just took off with my lunch, what am I supposed to do about that?" "Well, go buy another one." That’s not right. In any case, 98 degrees all the time. It’s right on the ocean front obviously, so 98 degrees, 100 percent humidity, the land is burned and barren and miserable. It’s just cactus and dirt, it was awful.

Amy Goodman: Did you see any prisoners tortured?

Terry Holdbrooks: Is this being recorded? Uh, yeah, on a number of occasions I saw what I would consider to be torture. I draw a fine line, personally, between what I say is abuse and what I say is torture. And much like Omar was saying, it’s a great disgrace to myself when I remember some of the things that I saw down there because it was in fact 100 percent torture. It’s not some type of physical or emotional abuse. It’s torture.

Amy Goodman: Like what?

Terry Holdbrooks: How foul do we really wanna get on this? Obviously we’ve had the availability of some of the de-classified memos that that took place. The working canine dogs, those would be put in front of detainees that would be chained to the ground, and these dogs would be riled up and barking and literally within an inch of a detainee’s face. I think sometimes the detainees were bitten. I never saw that, but I saw evidence of it afterward, I never saw it directly.

The stress positions. You know, six, eight, twelve hours of being inside a room that’s 40 degrees with a strobe light in front of you and the same awful Celine Dion song for twelve hours. I hear little rumors of laughter, but I mean, honestly, any song for twelve hours, especially Celine Dion, that’s awful. It’s absolutely awful. The stress positions themselves were specifically designed to induce muscle failure within the victims, as well as bowel failures. And it wouldn’t be uncommon that detainees would have excrement or urinate on themselves while they’re being interrogated. It wasn’t out of fear, it was strictly out of stress.

There was an incident that took place — what I think to be the most frightful of incidences that I saw take place. I kind of caught the beginning of this and the tail end of this. We took a detainee from Sierra Block to interrogation, and what was odd about it was we didn’t take him to interrogation outside of that camp. We took him to interrogation at the camp over by the JIF, which is the Joint Interrogation Force, but that’s where all the individuals who were in charge of interrogation — that’s where all of them kind of have their offices. It’s probably where the majority of the worst interrogation took place. I would imagine it would be there, or the General’s Cottage, one of the two.

But this individual was brought in and he was sat down, and what was odd about it was it was a female interrogator. It wasn’t so much that it was odd that it was a female interrogator, but it was a female interrogator and she was kinda scantily dressed, so to say. You’re in a military uniform, but you don’t have your top on, you’re just running around with your brown undershirt and the pants, and it’s just kinda weird to see anyone out of uniform, especially officers. Officers obviously have certain standards they have to hold themselves to and she wasn’t, you know, wearing her headgear; she didn’t have her top on. It’s just — kind of a little odd. In any case, I saw this detainee and we took him into there and we chained him down, and the linguist came in and the interrogator came in and they asked us to leave, which was obviously standard protocol. MPs weren’t ever usually — I can’t say never, but we weren’t usually present for interrogations. We took 'em and we brought 'em back, but we weren’t ever inside.

In any case, we slipped out to have a cigarette. And myself and the friend that I was working with at that point in time, we didn’t necessarily want to go back to work. We didn’t wanna go back to the block or pick up other detainees or anything. So we just kinda hid out there and smoked a few cigarettes and went and had lunch and then came back, smoked a few more cigarettes. And about an hour, hour and a half later, this detainee is being brought out by two other interrogators, and he’s crying.  And he’s just screaming and is stark-raving mad, and he’s got what looks like blood on his face. I’m kind of like, wow, I wonder what happened, I haven’t seen anything like that before.

Well, evidently, what had took place was, while he was in interrogation one of the interrogators, the female interrogator, had set something up behind the detainee, either blood capsules, or red marker or something like that. And she, throughout the process of the interrogation, was making sexual comments and sexual advances to him, you know, perhaps touching him in inappropriate means, and talking about certain things. You know, sexual acts that can be performed between a man and a woman and then making references to the prophet Mohammed at the same time. And, evidently, she went behind this detainee and put her hand into her pants and came back around to the front side of this detainee, and the detainee saw her hand come out of her pants, and then she wiped this red liquid across his face. So he was under the impression that –

Omar Deghayes: It’s not a red liquid, I know the man. He was a young kid, His name is Abdul Hadi, he’s from Syria. And after they did this to him, they took him back to the blocks, to the cages, and he had to wash his face. But it wasn’t, sadly, you know, it wasn’t like he described afterwards, she said it was only red liquid. But it wasn’t, it was like dirty blood from herself. She used it on his face. But afterwards when she was interviewed and asked, it came out in the news, she said I was using red liquid. It wasn’t the case, I was there in the cages. He’s a young boy, his name is Abdul Hadi, from Syria. It was really — she used her own stuff.

Terry Holdbrooks: Right, right. How in fact does he know that? I can obviously think of a couple answers, but how in fact did he know? Because I’d hate to think that that actually really did take place.

Omar Deghayes: Say that again?

Terry Holdbrooks: How in fact does he know that that’s what happened? Because I would hate to think that that actually took place.

Omar Deghayes: Because he had to wash it — he went back with it to the cell.

Terry Holdbrooks: Right, I remember, we took him back.

Omar Deghayes: And he had to wash it and, you know, you can tell. The smell and there’s dirt in it and stuff. It’s not like normal red ink or red liquid. It was like — Anyway, I’m sorry.

Terry Holdbrooks: No, no, no. I was always under the impression that it wasn’t true.  We were given the instructions to take him back and then turn the water off in his cell. What they were ultimately trying to do was, we weren’t gonna turn the water on for four days. It was basically just to inadvertently stop him from being able to pray. If he wasn’t able to present himself properly, then that was the idea that they were going for.

Almerindo Ojeda: The story was also told by Erik Saar, the translator.

Amy Goodman: Terry, the abuse by psychologists, psychologists. Did you see how they were used?

Terry Holdbrooks: Actually, what’s interesting about that — I’m surprised Omar didn’t bring it up — every time we were going inside or outside of an interrogation building or the visit rooms or anything like that, did you ever happen to read any of those posters that were on the wall? You know like the posters of the little boy, "Where is your dad for this Eid?" Did you ever read any of those?  Did they ever have an effect on you?

Omar Deghayes: Which ones you mean — say again?

Terry Holdbrooks: Like, you remember the Eid posters, where they showed the little boy and he didn’t have a family, basically.

Omar Deghayes: Oh yeah, and sometimes they had them in the rec yard, this after 2005. Yeah, posters, yeah I remember, no they didn’t have an effect.

Terry Holdbrooks: You just kind of blindly looked at them and laughed?

Omar Deghayes: Yeah.

Terry Holdbrooks: That’s what I figured was gonna be the overall impression of those. There were these posters that were up over the camp, various places in the camp. They depicted a broken family, or a child without his father, or a woman going through hardship or struggles because, you know, her husband’s gone and there’s no provider. And they’d be written in various languages: Pashto and Urdu and Arabic. I guess the initial design behind them was to get people thinking of a home and longing for a home. But I would imagine wrongly being accused of something, or not being accused, and being taken away from your family, you don’t really need posters to remember home. In any case that was their idea for psychological abuse.

Amy Goodman: What about the use of the Koran?

Terry Holdbrooks: Yeah, wow, that was an awful day. So, one of the biggest problems about Guantánamo — and Omar brought this up — we were both there under General Miller. I served under General Miller the entire time I was there and you had to deal with this whole tyrant. I’m sorry about that, that’s awful.

Omar Deghayes: Yeah.

Terry Holdbrooks: Every time a new commander would come in, whether it was a colonel, lieutenant colonel, or one star, two star general, etc., they would go through the SOP — the Standard Operating Procedures — and they’d basically take out what they didn’t like, and put in what they did want it to be or how they were re-interpreting the laws that were coming. So, every time we learned the rules, that we were finally comfortable and content with the rules, there was new SOP given to us with new rules to learn. So basically there was just never a standing basis upon what the rules were. We were constantly just learning over and over and over the rules. It really made for a very ineffective environment.  In any case, I’m sorry.

Amy Goodman: The Koran?

Terry Holdbrooks: Oh, yeah, the Koran. I was trying to avoid that, but you went back. What the rules were in regards to it is we were supposed to wear medical gloves. We were supposed to touch it respectfully, and that when we opened it to look in it for any type of suspicious items — I really can’t imagine what you can hide in a book when you can’t hollow it out — but in any case, you would take it, flip it like this, upside down, you know, flip the pages real fast and set it back down. They were supposed to be putting surgical masks that were supposed to be hanging in the cells [to hold the Korans] and, like I said, we were supposed to use gloves, only one person was supposed to touch it, and we were supposed to use our right hand only. That was the SOP. That was the rules. That’s what some of us followed.

Unfortunately, what made my life a lot harder while I was down there was that some people would decide that they weren’t gonna wear gloves, some people would use their left hand. Some people would intentionally toss it on the ground to try to rile up detainees, or you know, stimulate trouble. I can only think of a number of occasions that I ever saw it kicked or thrown into a toilet. It’s not to say that it didn’t happen. I can just only think of a handful of them. It really wasn’t that many, but when it happened, obviously there was a great reaction, it was a terrible reaction every time. Kind of like flu shot day. You remember that day? Flu shot day?

Omar Deghayes: Yeah.

Terry Holdbrooks: Yeah, I worked 24 hours that day. They had every unit at work, because it was just constant ERF after ERF.

Amy Goodman:  What do you mean, ERF?

Terry Holdbrooks: What Omar was speaking about, Emergency Reaction Force, Emergency Response Force. The exact nomenclature eludes me at this point. Basically he described it perfectly. It’s five men who are getting their rocks off by running into a small cell and ransacking and beating a detainee unnecessarily. I was surprised he didn’t touch on the OC spray. There were a number of times the lieutenants were in charge of the OC spray and when the lieutenant would come out, you know, the standard operating procedure is to do the little Zorro "Z" of OC spray across the face. [But instead] I’d see cans, can upon can, drenched on a detainee.

Amy Goodman: OC?

Terry Holdbrooks: OC, I forget what that stands for, it’s a –

Omar Deghayes: It’s a spray, like pepper spray.

Almerindo Ojeda: Oleum Capsicum, pepper spray.

Terry Holdbrooks: Thank you, thank you. It’s a 60 proof spray, it’s very strong.

Omar Deghayes: It’s a blinding pepper spray. If it sprays your eyes, it blinds you.

Terry Holdbrooks: So, you know, having a can of that doused on you, it’s far more than necessary, especially if you’re on Mike, November, or Oscar block. All three of those were isolation blocks. If you’re in a closed room, and you had a can of this stuff doused all over you and then five men come running in while you can’t breathe and you can’t see and you can’t defend yourself, and they beat you, step on you, smash your hand and your feet in the doorway, put your head in the toilet and flush the toilet repeatedly, and then you’d be taken into the rec yard and you’d just be left there, they’d shave your beard and just leave you humiliated. I didn’t really understand the purpose of it, but nonetheless, that was ERFs. And flu shot day, we don’t need to talk about that.

Amy Goodman: What happened at flu shot day?

Terry Holdbrooks: No, we don’t need to talk about that. Flu shot day was just long and drawn out and it had a ridiculous cause and a ridiculous ending.

Amy Goodman: What was the cause?

Terry Holdbrooks: We started this day very simply. We went into the camp, we had our briefing, there was a couple of medical personnel at the briefing, which was a little unusual. Usually it was just the platoon sergeants and the camp leader, but in any case, we had our briefing and these medical personnel said that we were going to be issuing flu shots. We started over in Camp 4, which is the minimum security camp, it’s communal living. That’s actually where I started working when I was in Guantánamo. I was in Camp 4, that was my first two months. It’s a completely different environment, it’s relaxed, it’s open — communal, like I said. They could have breakfast together, they can pray together, they had board games and books and all kinds of other such luxuries, so to say.

Omar Deghayes: We had 100 out of 800 people locked up there, or at the time you were there, about 600 were locked up in the other prisons. And this prison you speak about had 100, more or less.

Terry Holdbrooks: No, less than that. More like 65, 70. But in any case, we started over in Camp 4, issuing these shots. Everything went fine on Uniform and Whiskey and Victor Block. We got to X-Ray block, one of the older men, I guess, fainted from the sight of the blood or getting a shot. I don’t know, he fainted. And you know, a detainee sees this old man faint, he’s like, "Oh my God, they’re poisoning us, they’re going to kill us, they’re going to kill us!" He starts saying it, it spreads through all four of the blocks for Camp 4. Omar, I commend you guys. Still don’t know how you did it but you had an amazing communication system in Camp Delta. In five minutes, you guys could get a message from one side of the camp to the other. We couldn’t accomplish that with the radios and cell phones, so congratulations on that.

Omar Deghayes: Yeah, I remember I told you when we were inside one of the interrogations, they said they would start a rumor from one end of the room and they tried to realize how long would it take for a message to go from one side of the prison to the other side of the prison. They said it took about three minutes to go from one of the lock-ups to the most far away prison.

Terry Holdbrooks: And mind you, that’s going through at least seven different languages as well. It wasn’t like playing telephone, where we’re just playing in English. No, you’re going from Arabic to Urdu to Pashtu to Uyghur to French. It’s just like, really? Wow, that’s amazing. How’d you guys do that?

Omar Deghayes: I don’t know.

Terry Holdbrooks: In any case, he faints and whatnot. And these detainees start preaching, "Oh my God, they’re trying to kill us, the guards are trying to kill us. Don’t get the shot." And that spread through the entire camp in the course of five minutes. And what started off for me as a simple, eight-hour, 2 o’clock to 10 o’clock shift became a 2 o’clock to noon the next day shift. They called in the two units that were supposed to be sleeping, or off. They called them in as well to provide reinforcements because we had the same — unintelligent is the most nice word I can think of — the same unintelligent individuals running in and smashing detainees over and over and over and eventually you had to give them a break.

And when we realized we were going to be ERFing 38 out of 40 detainees per block, it really just became necessary to have you know, the more soldiers, the more manpower. And when you had people like me, who were going to be constantly dipping out and being like, "Oh yeah, I’m going to go put on my ERF gear," and just kind of fade to the background, go hide and smoke cigarettes and whatnot — I wasn’t a fan of the ERFing, it just didn’t really strike me as being effective or humane or civil so I did everything I possibly could to get out of that.

And I was very fortunate in the fact that there were always individuals who were ready and willing and excited to volunteer to go and ERF. It wasn’t something you volunteered for. There was five of us that were designated to do it every shift, but people could volunteer, and if they were ready before I was, they were the ones who went in. So when they’d call over the radio that there was going to be an ERF, I’d walk to the other end of the block, as far away as the exit could possibly be and I don’t know, find something else to do.

Note: Omar Deghayes features prominently in the new documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington) and has been touring the film with Andy in the UK since February this year. Copies of the DVD of the film are available here, and also see here for clips of Omar discussing the involvement of the British intelligence services in his interrogations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.



:: Article nr. 66611 sent on 04-jun-2010 01:18 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=66611

Link: www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/06/02/omar-deghayes-and-terry-holdbrooks-discuss-
   guantanamo-part-two-terrys-story/




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