Interview with Brandon Neely, former Guantanamo prison guard (AUDIO)
I was also told that many are afraid of being prosecuted for war crimes, since low level soldiers are often the ones who shoulder the brunt of punishment and backlash; whereas higher ranking officials seem to escape scrutiny completely.
Brandon Neely, has been a vocal critic of both Guantanamo Bay, and the war in Iraq. And he speaks from experience, since he was both a guard at Guantanamo during the the first six months the camp was open, and served in Iraq during the US invasion. In the course of his advocacy, he has offered testimony to the Center for Human Rights in the Americas, and appeared in numerous articles and on television programs, including a BBC program that recounts how he contacted two of his former prisoners on Facebook to express remorse for what he did. You can also find him, where I did, on twitter, @BrandonTXNeely.
Hi Brandon, how are you?
Good. How 'bout yourself?
Pretty good. Thank you. So, tell me a little bit about yourself?
Well, I grew up in a regular household. Grew up with a mom and a sister. My dad was in the military, and he's retired. Grew up in a military household my whole life. Graduated high school. Didn't do too much for 'bout a year, and decided to join the military year after that. August of 2000. Got out August of 2005.
What was your experience of the military like?
It was good, overall. I joined the military to give back to my country, patriotic, all the right reasons. I didn't need money for college. My parents could afford college and stuff, but I wasn't ready at the time to go. My overall experience of the military was great. The military was a good place. It helped me a lot. I grew a lot. I got trained, I just didn't agree with a lot of the policies that were going on, so that was the whole reason I got out.
What were some of those policies you disagreed with?
After 9/11 happened, the military kind of changed. It went from a very family oriented place, to a...not stressful, but always on the go. Went from spending time with your family to staying deployed all the time.
But you know, I was as gung ho as anybody, if not more. I was ready to go to the front lines, and I did, you know, when 9/11 happened, I was ready to go. I thought, you know people really needed to pay for what happened, but then when I went to Guantanamo in June 2002, I was there for the first six months there at Camp X-Ray and then Camp Delta.
You know, being involved or seeing some of the stuff that I did see there, even at the time I thought, "Wow, this isn't quite right." But at the same time I kept thinking to myself, cause we were told everyday. "These guys are the worst of the worst. They're going to kill you. And, these guys were planning 9/11. And, these are the guys we caught on the battlefield, you know, fighting and killing Americans. And then, it was like, "Okay, so maybe they're getting what they kinda deserve."
And towards the end of that deployment, we were just kinda like...me, and a couple of guys got together and was kinda like ah, you know, let's just put our heads down, go to work and when we leave there...when we leave Guantanamo we're gonna just forget about this place and move on.
I came home in June 2002. Then a year later, little bit less than a year later, I ended up going to Iraq.
And the same thing. Okay, we're going to go into Iraq, and liberate this country...find all these weapons of mass destruction, do this great thing.
You know, we went there...was there for a year, then when no weapons of mass destruction. None of the stuff that we were told we were going to do, we did. And it was kinda of like, very disheartening...like I had lost...you know, just like, "Wow!" I was suprised. You never think that you'd be told to do something, and you find out...you know, it's pretty much a lie.
So, you know, when I was in Iraq, was when I really decided to get out of the military. My time's done. I'm not going keep spending a year away from home, doing something that, I can't get behind one hundred per cent. So, I left the military in August of 2005.
It's more than you just leaving the military, because you do go around...you do talk about your experience at Guantanamo Bay. So, obviously, something happened for you inside through that experience. Can you tell me a little bit about that? What happened for you?
Well, you know, there is a lot of Guantanamo. Most of the stuff that I know...that I took part in...I didn't have nothing to do with the interrogations. It was all basic stuff that happened on the blocks, or everyday dealing with detainees.
Cause, my primary job there...as an MP...was pretty much as a prison guard. Worked from 8 to 12 hours a day...interaction with the detainees all day. I've always been real open and public about it. I was involved in the first incident that ever happened there at Camp X-Ray on January 11, 2002.
Where me and my escorting partner were escorting a detainee to Alpha Block, and he wouldn't move...like he was like just frozen...and, you could tell he was real tense.
And, we took him inside the cell. Put him on his knees. Took off his leg shackles. And, when we started taking off his hand cuffs my escort partner went in to take one off and he jerked. I was standing to the left of him, had control of his elbow and his shoulder, and he jerked towards me. And. we started yelling at him, "Don't move! Don't move! Don't move!"
Then our are interpreters yelling at him, "Don't move! Don't move!" He did it two or three times, and the last time he jerked to the left, like it's hard to explain, but he just like jerked, and when he did...it was like out of reaction, I just slammed him face first, and got on top of him...and as he was trying to get up...just kept pushing his head down on the cement, until the five man internal reaction force team came in the cell, and pulled me off.
And, they hog tied him, and left him there for...I couldn't even tell you how long...I know it was a couple of hours 'cause when I left that day, he was still there.
And, I can remember coming back the next day. The next day, we were walking down the block, alpha block, and the side of his face was all scraped up. And one of the detainees on the alpha block was telling me, "Hey man you know the reason he kinda didn't listen to y'all because when we put him on his knees"...because at that time he still had their goggles on...goggles were the the last piece of equipment we took off him before we backed out of the cell...plus he was like, "he thought he was going to be executed."
"When you put him on his knees, and he couldn't see, he thought you were going to shoot him, because in his country he'd known or had seen people that had been executed that way" So that's what happened.
And, I felt bad about it, but at the same time people that night...or during the actual incident happening...people were like, "Yeah, dude, you know,"...cause the guy I was with when it happened left the cell, and they were kinda, like, "Yeah, you did a good job, man. You got your peace (piece), kinda thing."
I was like, "Yeah. Yeah." But I never really settled with it...like felt good about it. I was just whatever, kinda, went on with it.
There was a lot of other incidents, and one that really, really sticks out to me was...there was an incident on bravo block with a detainee named Juma.
He had I guess, he made a comment to one of the female MP's...I'm not exactly sure what was said...but, Jumo was kind of...I wouldn't say slow, I would say. Kinda didn't get everything going in. Actually, later I found out he had some mental issues that later have been dealt with since he's been released.
But he made a comment. I was in the back doing...hanging out with the internal reaction force team. I wasn't doing nothing. It was kind of a slow period in the day, and I was on escorting duties, and they got called to bravo block.
So me being nosy, and hanging out with these guys, I decided to go and see what was happening.
So they get there. And, they get briefed about a detainee refusing to comply. He made a comment to one of the female MP's, who were in here.
We're going to restrain him. And, we going to take out his goods. Like, they were going to take out his mat...and stuff like that. Just leave him with basic stuff, like the water bucket and the restroom bucket, and stuff like that...and his Koran.
Well they get there. They tell Juma to turn around and get on your knees. He kind of looks at them like...I'm not sure if he didn't understand or what.
The officer in charge of the block with the internal reaction force team... unlocked the padlock on the cell door...and didn't take it off. But when he unlocked it, Juma turned around, got on his hands and knees. And, when got on his knees and put his hands on his head like he was told to...but when he had opened the cell door...number one man, who carried a riot shield...threw the riot shield to the side, about three or four feet in between them...and he kinda like did a little gallop...and jumped up in the air and came back...on the back of Juma with his knee.
The other four guys came in there, and got on top of him...was punching him and kicking him, and while they were holding him down, they called the female MP to come in there, and they told her to hit him.
She hit him twice. And, then they tied him up, and then they stood up. There was just like blood all over the...on the cement of the cell.
Then the medics came in. They put him on a gurney and they ended up taking him to hospital that night, and he didn't come back for a day or two.
But, I can remember the irked internal reaction force team had to go with him. And, when we went back to our tents that night, and they didn't come back 'til late. I can remember them talking, we're all rounding them...talking and one of the guys made the comment, one of the higher ranked guys that was involved made the comment of, "I never heard my name and war crimes mentioned in the same sentence so many times."
And, somebody said, "Well, what about the video tape?" And, they were like, "Well don't worry about the video tape. It's taken care of. It's been destroyed."
That incident right there was really...No matter how gung ho I was and whatever...I was like that was truly, truly uncalled for. You know, and especially now that this guy is, you know, he was innocent. He's living a life now, you know, he's got a wife and he's got a kid. He was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Even that much. That was one of the things that really made...that was when I started seriously thinking about what was going on there.
Did you find yourself talking with other soldiers about it, or was is a really solitary process?
Are you talking about during back then?
I had one guy I was real close with, because I was new to that company, because I actually volunteered to go to Guantanamo. So all the soldiers were there I was new with. A couple of us were.
So there was one guy in particular, we used to talk about...I used to talk to a lot. He had been in the Army about a year or two longer than I had.
He was actually the one that was like, "Hey man"...you know, cause they told us from before we even left the United States that the Geneva Convention was not going to be held in effect.
Well I didn't know about the Geneva Convention. I mean, they really don't give you this training on it. So it's something you think the higher-ups would, you know...
But, he starts telling me this stuff like, "Hey, this is the way it's supposed to be. This is what you need to read.
This stuff," you know, "What's going on here is kinda wrong." You know, "It's messed up."
He was the guy that we, kinda like...okay...we should go to work, put our heads down, do our jobs, and when we leave Guantanamo we just gonna leave it like it is...like...we're never gonna talk about it. We ain't coming back...kinda deal.
So he was the only one I ever really talked to about it. We talked what the other detainees said to each other.
About what was going on...kinda like not...kinda talking with each other about what was going on and what we didn't agree with...but as far as talking to other soldiers...it didn't...you know you would hear people say stuff but it wasn't something everybody talked about...a lot of people, actually at the time a lot of people in
Guantanamo when they were off work were either drinking alcohol all day, or just staying away from the camp as much as they could...just to stay away from that environment in general.
Was there any particular reason why you had volunteered to go to Guantanamo?
Yeah, as a matter of a fact had just came off...I had went to Egypt right after 9/11 as part of a security detail, where we were doing like protection for this General. And, when we came back...I was actually kinda upset that I went to Egypt instead of going somewhere else...like you know, 9/11 just happened, I'm ready to go on the front lines and fight this war.
So, I end up going to Egypt it with like 15 other guys. Then...I was asleep one night in the barracks room, and they knocked on the door and said, "Hey, there's a couple of deployments that are supposed to happen. Do you want to volunteer for one?"
I was like, "Yeah, sure." I wanted to go wherever I could go. I wanted. I figured, "Well we're fixing to go on the front lines. We're fixing to go do something." I mean, if we're going to deploy this fast.
I wanted to be of service. I really thought I was going gonna go out and fight this war. That's where I thought I was going. And, I ended up at Guantanamo. I was actually...when I found out where I was going...me I wasn't the only one...but a lot of us...especially me...I was mad. I was mad that we were going to Guantanamo. I thought at the time, to go and babysit a bunch of people, when I should be out of here fighting some war. But that was the main reason I volunteered to go.
There's a saying, "War is hell." There's an aspect of the warrior life which is...it's not civilized right? If you look at history?
So, you are in the army. You are a soldier. Did your understanding of the prisoners at Guantanamo change, and...can you tell me...if it did change...can you tell me how it change? What you thought of the prisoners prior to going down there? While you were first there? And, then as you gradually progressed to where you are at now, where you are actually speaking out against torture and Guantanamo Bay?
Yeah, you know...here I am 20...21 years old going to Guantanamo. Everybody...I am upset about 9/11...and I'm like, I don't know what a terrorist looks like. I've always said, like, "What does a terrorist look like?" And, I didn't know if was going to be like some little green Martian coming of this bus or what.
And then...you know these guys get off the bus...and you've got guys like Dave Hicks that shows up. This white Australian guy. That could just be my next-door neighbor. And, and you're like. "Wow this is what a terrorist is?"
But, you know, at the same time, you were told over and over that these are the hardened guys. But, once you would actually speak to the guys that spoke English...you would hear them talk...I spoke to like Ruhal Ahmed on alpha block because I was over there a lot.
A lot of us did. You know, the guards used to work the block spoke to the English speaking detainees because when nothing was going on...which was a lot of the time...when they were fed and watered and stuff. There was nothing to do but walk around. And, we would talk to them.
I was speaking to Ruhal [Ahmed]. We'd talk about...we would talk about anything...from, like, women to Eminem, to Dr. Dre...which was the big music back then...going out to nightclubs.
I'm sitting here thinking, like, "Wow, this guy...I'm a year older than he is. We're sitting here talking about the doing the same things." Then he goes into detail back then...which he's later said, you know, now I went to London...like, "Yeah, man. We went over, across the border from Pakistan. cause we was trying to buy pot. We were potheads. And we wanted to smoke pot and we were going to sell pot. This is what we were doing in there."
It was almost kind of funny. But, I didn't know. He was like, "Hey, you know, my buddy is on bravo block. Shafiq [Rasul]...he's like, he speaks English too. So we'll talk to him."
So, you know, you were speaking to a lot of these guys. And, you were hearing these stories of...you know...like some of the stories were like, "Man, I wasn't even in Afghanistan, I was in Pakistan and they come in and picked me up out of the house."
I'm like, "What?" They're telling us, they are getting them all from Afghanistan. Because you hear all these stories, and then it was kind of like you know, most of the time I would think like, "Well, man, these guys have got to be making these stories up." Because, there is no way that we are going to pick all these guys up and lock these guys up for no reason...if they're innocent.
So I started seeing them more...instead of hardened terrorist...I guess you start seeing them more a person.
Like, "Wow! These guys actually have families," Like, I can remember when Dave Hicks was telling me...talking about his little girl and his family. And I'm like, "Wow! You know, that was his main concern...was hearing from them...not when he was going to leave. He was like, "Man, you know, I hope my family finds out where I am at."
Then you realize that these guys have families. And especially when years later for me...when you go back and you look at it and you start reading about these guys and seeing where their at now, like you know these guys are innocent. They're out now and they're free, and they have families and stuff. You're like, "Wow! I guess what they did tell me back in 2002 was right. And, they weren't these hardened criminals. And they're out living lives.
But they went through all this and look how their lives are.
And that's what kinda made me really angry. And made me really start, you know, kinda say anything. I didn't speak out for me to make any money or do anything like that. It was like, "Okay, maybe if some of us say something...maybe these guys...their story will be more believable. Maybe it gives them some kind of peace or closure for them. So they can be like, you know, not all the guys there, all the people there think or thought this way...or think this way now, you know, that some of these people are actually human.
You know it was one of the main reasons I said anything. That, that's what really got me going...when I reached out to Shafiq [Rasul] on the Internet...on Facebook...and, we just started having conversations back and forth.
You know. you find out a lot more about these detainees. They're innocent...that I remember.
There's been over 600 people released. It really made me mad that I was part of something that was so...wasn't ran the right way, because if you've got to do something with terrorism...and, you have to do something with it...you know I think everybody would agree on that...but you can't just pick up every person who fits a certain profile. It's wrong. But, you have to do it the right way. You can't pick these people up, and torture them or hold them without trials. You have to do it the right way. And that's the problem that I had with it: that it has never been done the right way and it's not being done the right way.
You said you reached out to someone on Facebook? Can you tell me what that was?
Yes. Shafiq Rasul. One of the guys who got shipped in through me. Actually, I found him on Facebook one day. I've been on Facebook since '07 or '08 or something. And, I sent him a message on Facebook, and we started having conversations on Facebook, which is quite weird.
Was there a social life between prisoners and the soldiers? I mean, you said, you talked to them. So obviously, you had casual conversations with them. Did you develop relationship with them?
Like, you know, we would work different blocks...like different duties at the camp, so if I was on alpha block...like, I knew who spoke English. And, you know you'd like speak to those guys in passing...having a conversations with.
I mean if I worked on another block, and knew who spoke English, and you would joke around with them and the guys. It wasn't just like me or two...it was pretty much everybody that worked at the camp. Even the Marine General at time the camp spoke to them.
But it wasn't like you were sharing, you know...at the time I know I wasn't... most people were still kind of cautious. You didn't tell them, "yeah, I'm from Houston, Texas or something." We didn't say anything like that. But, you know, we would talk. We would just talk about like I said, women, food, cars...whatever it was. We would have just any conversations, that, you know, a lot of 20 years old would have. But, you know, it was just casual conversations.
You talked about two experiences where you found yourself feeling...I am not going to put words in your mouth...but it sounds to me like basically your conscience...it didn't sit right with what was going on, and you're in this position of the perpetrator and not the victim. So would that be a correct characterization?
Yeah. Exactly. It just weighed on me. You know, it just some of those incidents that you just don't forget about. It's just stayed with me.
Were there other incidences? Did you find yourself having to conceal how you felt...or where you able to express it...I'm trying to just...sort of...understand...I don't know...the kind of circumstances inside and outside for you as a soldier.
Yeah. You know, there were incidences early on too on charlie block, where a detainee refused to drink his Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink]. You know, the little carton of Ensure. So, I was working the block and it was the night. I happened to being working nights that night, cause we were still the only MP company there. So they called the Officer in charge of the camp at the time. I think it was the E-7 Star First Class with loops in it. And, then they came over there.
Well, they were like, "This detainee refuses to drink his Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink] can." The medic called them over there. So, what this guy can't refuse...
At the time...well at Camp X-Ray...I don't know how it is now...but back then if they refuse to take medication the internal reaction force team would come in and force the guy to take the medication or drink their Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink].
So they called the internal reaction force team...
That is so crazy by the way...
And they have the interpreter tell the detainee to take his Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink]...
It's like some kind of totalitarian brand awareness campaign...
Yeah. Well it's true. It's so true.
Well this guy he's shaking his head, "No." Like, he doesn't want drink his Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink]. So, the internal reaction force team goes in there. And, I'm like sitting there watching.
So, I'm on the block and I'm acting like I'm walking around. And, they go in there and, man, "POOW!" They hit the guy with the shield? "BOOM"
They push him up against in the corner of the cage...and they kind like...I'm trying to think of the best way to describe it, like...his right hand is handcuffed to one side of the cage, and his left hand is up there. He was kind of like, spread-eagled on the cage...if you can picture that. Kind of like he's on a cross, but he's against the cage.
And, the one man grabs his face, and the medic opens the can of Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink], and shoves it down his throat...like, pouring it in his throat. But, you know, the guy is moving his head...and its not even going on down his throat. It's going all over his chest.
Well, the detainee...or the medic looks around, looks at me starts pointing at me to move over to the right. I'm like, "What's he doing?" So, he's like, "Move over to the right."
So, I move over to right. Well, I'm like, "What is this guy doing?" He hits the detainee twice...right in the mouth. "BOOM! BOOM!"
They take the guy down, hog-tie him and leave him in there.
So, I turned around. I realized that what happened was...he kind of position me and another guy I was standing with...positioned us so we were right in front of the Marine guard tower.
So, I guess, since we moved over he...I guess we were blocking for him punching the guy in the face.
Yeah, that was another incident I..and that was early on in the camp...within the first two weeks. I said, "Wow! Do you seriously have to do that? When this guy didn't even drink the Ensure [Commercial Vitamin Supplement Drink] can, anyways.
And, then later we found out, on talking to another detainee in bravo block...it was weeks and weeks later: "So, hey man...you know the whole reason he didn't drink that? He didn't know what it was. They didn't explain to him what it was. He thought he was getting poisoned."
The whole thing was that it could never happened, if they had the interpreter to explain to him exactly what it was.
What happens? You leave Guantanamo, and you are basically stationed...?
Yeah. I was at Fort Hood, when I left Guantanamo...I was at Fort Hood.
We go back to Fort Hood in June of '02 and then early March of '03 is when we leave and we are in Iraq in March of '03 to March of '04.
And, what was that like?
It was just an experience. It was just like you say, "War is hell."
As a soldier, you train, and you train, and you train. Okay, you train for war. You train for war. And, you've grown up with a military father. You know him, you know, 20 years, retired and him never going. He never had to go to war.
And, usually with training it was kinda like, "Wow! I'm going to get to do what we was trained to do." So, it was kind of like...I didn't want....I wanted to go. It was nervousness. But I had...when I left home like, I wasn't okay...I was leaving my wife and my kid...but I wasn't upset about it.
You know, you don't want to leave them, but at the same time I was excited about going. Like, "Okay, man. We're really going to do this."
And then once you get involved in it, and once you really see what happens, and once you see the outcome of the war...like, what the outcome is when you have to point your rifle really at a person and pull the trigger...or you look over and see this IED going off and you see the effects...then you realize that you were told what you were going to war for...and you kind of think, "Wow! This isn't what the real reason is." And you're seeing all this violence and all this loss of life and what it's really like...
...I think the violence is enough that it effects people...but, then you're put on top of it that you really felt like you were lied to. And, it's just...there's no way to explain. It's just like the lowest thing in the world.
And, you join the military to defend your country, and you are patriotic. And, you realize that you basically were lied to. The is no lower feeling than that.
I mean you know...like I said before...it was my main reason for getting out.
You know, even now, I'm not anti-American and I'm not anti-military, but...I couldn't...I mean a mass of guys that had been in 12-15 years....after getting out the military, around that same time, when they got back from Iraq. They were like, "I'm not putting my life on the line for this. I'm not doing it. There's no way I'm going back."
You say you were lied to, right? Okay? So, did you get a sense of why you where there? Or is it just a question of we don't know why? What is your sense why we were there?
Well, my thing was, if they knew from the beginning like...the first letter...lets go back a little bit...the first letter that I ever wrote home was probably two to three weeks in.
I actually had a chance to write. I wrote to my father, and I told him, "This is BS, pretty much," from the first letter I sent my father.
Then, you know, after I came back and years later...well, before I had went, I remember asking my Dad on the phone "Hey, why are we going to Iraq technically?" Cause my Dad follows politics.
He, like, "I can't give you a real answer. I have no clue." But, I just kinda blew him off...like, okay...whatever.
But, I can remember going into Baghdad in Iraq thinking, "Okay. They know where these weapons of mass destruction are at. There is no reason we can't find them quick."
Then, like a year later we still hadn't found them. I'm like, "What's going on?"
But, I can remember going into Baghdad...early days in the war. I can remember going to this oil refinery...and there being a masses of soldiers, I don't know if it was a battalion, and them being a mass of soldiers. I don't know if it was a whole battalion, but just crazy a amount protecting this oil refinery.
We had a hard time even as soldiers getting into the headquarters. So, where are we supposed to stay at. And, we're out on the streets of Baghdad and there are no soldiers.
All this shooting is going on and all these people on the streets that are dead and all this hell going off in the middle of the streets, and there's no soldiers.
They all at oil refinery.
I'm like, "What are doing to protect these people? When we are supposedly spreading democracy when all were doing is out guarding these oil refineries that is right down the road here?"
I didn't understand that part. That's really what had me like, "Yeah. I don't know if it's all about oil, or what...but I really got a bad taste in my mouth...along with other people.
They were like, "We're out in the street in four Humvees getting shot at, and there's a whole battalion of people at the oil refinery. Why aren't they out here?"
So, that was probably....that was the early days in the war that kinda made me: "What's going on here?"
What do you think the effect or the consequences of that kind of lack of common purpose...or just purpose does to a soldier?
The morale! Especially in a combat zone...low morale is a horrible thing to have. A lot of guys...It's just not like one or two people...
You know, there was like a lot of people going, "Man, what is going on here? What are we doing?" They were questioning themselves.
At the same time, you have to go out and do these missions. You have to do it. So, you end up fighting not because you are fighting for what you believe in. You are fighting for the guy next to you...the guy to the right of you and the guy to the left of you. So all y'all can get home in one piece.
You know, it's what it turns out to be is...it's what guys end up fighting for.
Out of the whole platoon of guys that I went with, which would be about 41 people, I think 11 are still in the military. And, the other ones got out...I don't know if it is solely based on the war...but a lot of them will tell you it has to do with, "I was going back."
...and that's out of 40 something people that I was with the whole year...like constantly with...not at the company but I was with them every day
You know, I still talk to these guys and the effects this...I mean just going there has had on their lives is like outrageous...
I was talking yesterday to a buddy of mine about it. We were talking one of my other buddies, who was like, 'You lose your innocence. You go there as an innocent kid, and you come back different."
My wife made that comment to us yesterday when we were talking. She is like, "Your facial expressions have never been the same." I mean it's just something little like that change forever...
I suppose that is probably pretty common for any man or woman who goes to war or witnesses war...
Do you think there is something particular about being in Iraq or being at Guantanamo that's different than just a soldier going to war and seeing what war is like?
Well, I don't know about Guantanamo. I think going there and actually you are in a war zone. You might get shot at and shoot back. You might even kill somebody. You might never get to see them face-to-face. You might just, you know, shoot what you got to do and go on.
Like Guantanamo you're coming face to face with these guys. And, you talk to them so it kind of get humanized. So you kind of see them as humans.
Then you start seeing some of the stuff going. I guess, at Guantanamo you would see it more first hand like. You would actually see the General and the Colonel on down there, giving his orders.
I guess it was more personalized. Like you actually got to see more of the action. I don't know, I just think that in general that war is hell, like you said in the comment earlier.
I think its already hell just to go to war, if it's something you truly believe in, but when you put on top of it, you know...like you sais, you were lied to. It just makes it that much worse. And, makes you...
I know guys who were taking peoples lives, and they were like, "You know, if I really believed in what I was doing it might not bother me as much. But then you put on top of that...with you feel like you were lied to...it makes it a hundred times worse.
Like, "Okay. Is this guy even fighting before we got there? Or, did he fight because he thought we were trying to do something to him ordeal? So, it makes it just like 10 times worse.
No. I can definitely...I can feel that. I get that.
What are you doing now? I came across you on twitter...and you have spoken at Congressional hearings...and, you talk about your experience...what is your purpose right now?
When I came back from Iraq...how do I put it? You know, I went through the whole depression phase, where you would drink, and you would just kind of stay to yourself. For years. For years.
It's just ridiculous. You never think, well it'll never happen to me, but it does. It just happens over time.
Like I lost...you jut lose drive. You don't do nothing. You quit working out. You just...you stay away from people. And, it's really...that's the way it happens.
So, I got out of the military in 05. We moved back to my hometown. I got a job. And there was days I was just so...my head wasn't there.
I would get half way to work, and just call in and just come back home. And it was all like...my wife would said, "What's wrong?" I'd said, "I just don't feel like dealing with it today."
And then around 2008, you know, I would just talk to some friends ...and I don't know...I was angry at what was going on in the news.
I kept hearing Dick Cheney talking about it...you know I remember him making a comment, "In February 2002 in Guantanamo, this was what was going on." And, I can remember looking to the TV, and I just being mad.
This was not true. He's lying. I used to always keep up with a lot of the issues like Guantanamo...so I happened to be on the Internet one day, and I was reading some article and I came across that UCDavid [University of California at Davis, Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas] thing.
And, exchanged emails with Almerindo [Ojeda, Director] from there. And, then over a couple of months it turned into the...put my energy with them... and which in return...they asked if they could give it to people they knew in the media. [He is referring to his testimony at theCenter for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas]
But, honestly I never thought in a million years that it would have got the mainstream media press that it did, so I was quite surprised.
It's just, you know...it kind of grew over the years...about me talking to the media and whoever...but at the same time, it's really helped me too.
It's kind of like. I've met some good people. I've met some other Guantanamo guys, more and more veterans that have actually reached out to me....
Like you know, you've probably heard of Joe Hickman the guy that spoke about the Camp No with the murder-suicides? Like, I spoke to him right before he even spoke out. He was all like, "Dude, I would never have spoken out, unless I heard you first."
Wow. So, I was kind of like, maybe by me speaking and these guys are feeling better about it...now they are coming forward. So, it's like this kind of like this fraternity of guys, who kind of like, stay close together, by doing this. But it has helped me.
I went to London at the end of 2009.
Then, I came back in December 2009, and it aired in January of 2010...and it was like...that was like my big push to, "Wow! It's time to maybe do something with myself."
So, kind of like it was a big life change event for me. I really got focus back into school. Got focus back on getting myself better.
It really helped me a lot. Like, I really changed. And now, I kind of went on the whole...I didn't speak to anybody in the media for it's been over a year, except in the last couple of months.
I was just getting my life back in order. But you know, I just want this, you know like the whole...at least my story...no...not even mine story...but some of the detainees stories, and those first couple of months I was there...at least let some people know what it was like in my experience...and some of the stuff that what went on. That's all. That's the only thing I was looking for at the time.
What is powerful for me about what you just said was the fact that...you know, I think that something really inherently good about being of service to our fellow man. Now, obviously there is a sphere a life that is uncivilized...in certain cases if you just look at human history. But fundamentally, when we go to war with an unjust cause...and a dishonest mandate...it creates essentially misery and destruction. And you go, and you...through a serious of events you find yourself...it sounds to me like making amends, and suddenly that situation gets turned around. I think it's actually quite beautiful to tell you the truth. I mean, in its ugliness. Sometimes, and I am speaking to you personally...maybe...this probably won't go in...I think that sometimes the worst things that happen to us actually...we regret them...but at the same time they make us useful, because we are able to be of service to people...and actually speak from a point of actually having been there.
There have been like so many responses I've got from TV. It's crazy the amount of emails or stuff I have had sent to me.
I think one of the best emails or comments I got was after the BBC documentary.
The BBC got an email form a woman...she was a school teacher in Iraq in Baghdad, and she emailed them and asked them could they send her a DVD of the documentary, because she wanted to show her students that Americans weren't bad people. That they do get along with Muslim people, and that they're not anti-Muslim and that they're not out to kill them, like some of the people, some of the soldiers were.
She said the way the some of the kids were being raised she wanted to show them that all people of all walks of life could get along. That was kind of like good...this woman is already in Iraq, and she's seen the show...but she wants to spread the message there for her school kids there.
It's like, "Okay, if this is the only person that sees it and it did that." I mean well that was good enough for me. I mean that was it. That was one of the bright spots of doing something like that.
That is so awesome. Totally awesome, man. How long have you been on social media? You connected with a lot of people through Facebook and I came across you on twitter.
Well twitter, I just got on.
I got on twitter for a reason. And, I hadn't been on very long at all.
But Facebook, you know, I have been on Facebook for a while. Facebook was actually where I came across Shafiq [Razul]. It's amazing, there is a lot of former detainees that are on Facebook.
You just go to Facebook and type in their name and they are on Facebook.
And you see it's crazy how social media is contacting people. But at the same I've had people who've contacted me with messages or thanks...but also, at the same time other veterans, You know, "Hey man"...You know, there another guard...you know I've talked to a lot of the former guards, who have spoken out....but recently...I don't know if you have read the Truthout article with David Hicks, that Jason Leopold wrote?
The other guard in there, Albert Melise, who actually took part in some of the interrogations...he had actually talked about how he had short-shackled detainees...turn the AC all the way up...or turn the heat all the way up...turn loud music up.
He actually reached out to me two years ago. He was like, "Hey, Bro. Watching you and seeing what you're doing basically saved my life. All, I've done"...I mean he's never been to Iraq or Afghanistan.
All he has ever done was he was at Guantanamo for one year. But, I never realized...Guantanamo affected me...but not a much...for me it was a mixture of Guantanamo and a mixture of Iraq that kind of pushed me over the top.
To see the effects that Guantanamo alone has had on some of the other guards that were there after me. The effect it has had on their lives. It's amazing. I did not realize how much Guantanamo effects these guys, until they started to contact me.
But him in general. He was drinking a bottle of Bacardi 151 a night. He had no drive, nothing. And, that article was his first...where ever really said anything publicly.
But, he's just torn up inside...because he took part in that, and he feels horrible for it. And he's just lost. And it's sad to watch and hear him talk. It's just unreal.
I think that people like you have such an important voice. I am just so glad, and I am so honored that you allowed me to have a chance to talk to you about this. And, I just want to tell you keep doing what you are doing. It's just awesome.
Yeah. Definitely. I think like I told you before...I left. I refused any media and took a lot of heat for it.
But, at the same time I've told people if you would take pictures of me now...and go back to thatBBC documentary...I don't even look the same.
I am working out. I'm look like I did when I was in the army now...I'm back to, you know being myself. I'm more confident, like, I mean I'm not nervous when I speak to media anymore. I know what I want to say.
Because, honestly, when all that stuff went down when I first spoke out I had no clue it was going to. I was by myself. I had a couple of friend, but its kind of like...well on the Monday I'm talking to these guys at UCDavis, and on Tuesday I had the Rachel Madow Show and Sixty Minutes knocking on my front door.
I'm panicking, you know? Like, I was panicking, what do I do? I am gonna be most hated man. It was horrible.
So, once I did all that and after I did the documentary then, I'm like, I'm never doing any more media. I needed to calm down.
Well, now it's like...after seeing how important it is, and how many supportive messages I've heard from people...just real regular citizens like, "You know...like a lot of us don't agree with this, but we're not going to say nothing cause..."
I've heard from soldiers who say you know, "I would like to tell what happened." or tell my side of the story, but really Brandon, what does it matter? Nothing is ever going to change."
I really think that if something was going to happen, they are gonna be like. "Well. let these people talk out."
If more people would speak out...
I was talking to somebody the other day and it's like I've talk to a lot of people. I've talked to guards. I've even talked to some former interrogators.
I even talked to this psychologist one time, who worked inside the interrogation rooms, and so have other reporters, and stuff I've known talked to these people....and you hear their stories...but I can't tell in public what they told me, because I have nothing to back that up.
But, it's like, I know what they have said or what they have seen. And, I understand why they don't go public.
Guys come to me, and they are like, "What happens when you go public?"
I'm not going to lie to them. I straight up tell them, "This is probably what's going to happen. This might be what happens. If I was you, I would get a lawyer, because technically we did sign a non-disclosure statement when we left Guantanamo, not to speak to the media , write a book, make a movie, et cetera."
So, that's a big issue too with former personnel at Guantanamo was that non-disclosure statement they signed. That you can't get a copy of it now.
We've tried to get copies. But they won't release a copy. But they say they have it.
What have you faced? I mean, what do you tell them. I mean you, you said you say this. You said you say that, but what is it? What have you faced?
A lot of guys are worried about it...
Okay, honestly, with me...it's really split my family down the middle. I don't even talk to my extended family anymore. I almost got fired from my job.
People are asking, "What kind of comments are you getting"" I'm like, "Dude, like literally 98 per cent of comments I read I got from people were all positive."
I said you are always going to have people, no matter what side you are on that don't agree with you, and they're going to be nasty about it.
That's just a part of what happens.
You know, I'm always honest...and tell people exactly the backlash I have gotten, but at the same time I tell them, "Look, I still have my job. I'm still doing this, and it's not as bad as it seems, but this has happened, and you have to weigh those options for yourself. The majority of the things, don't worry about that. Cause they never came after nobody that has spoken out."
Have people asked you about Bradley Manning when you talk to the media?
Usually, when I do something lately like a lot about David Hicks and the basic Guantanamo stuff, nothing apart from that.
Do you have an opinion about on it *privately*?
Like, Bradley Manning?
I believe he became the fall the guy of the whole situation. Like, we have to pick one person to show the American people that were going to take down and it's going to be him.
Has the military said anything? Or commented on you? Or have you gotten any letters? Or has it simply been more personal conflict, like you said with you extended family or the threat of losing your job?
No. They've never directly say anything. There was rumors that well..they made comments we're coming after the non-disclosure statements, and some of the lawyers I had at the time...were kind of like, "Okay. If you're going to do it, let's do it! Because this is what they are going to come at you with, and you're going to have to get a copy of the non-disclosure statement."
I tried to get copies of it through various ways because we wanted to show it was illegal, and couldn't be held up in the court system.
But we could never get a copy of it. Nobody to this day can get a copy of it. Lawyers. You can't get it through the Freedom of information Act. No way.
But, they have confirmed that I did. That there is one in the first Associate Press article that was written about me. They did contact the Pentagon on the statement...and they said, "Oh, yeah. All soldiers leave there, signing some kind of confidentiality statement."
But they didn't go into detail about what you can do, and you can't do. But I know the day I left there, we were told, "You can't talk to the press. You can't write a book. You can't make a movie. Et cetera."
So, you know I even tell people: "I don't care if you are pro-Guantanamo or not. If you speak out, then you're just as guilty as me right now with the non disclosure statement."
"So, if they come after me, they are going to come after you too."
So, don't act like your better than God, because you signed it too," And, people are like, "Well it's different." I'm like, "It's not different. It goes both ways, you know."
Honestly, I'm not worried about it. If they were going to come after me, they would have already done it. But at the same time, I knew that speaking out that it was an option that they could do...but, at the same time, you just turn it around it give you a bigger platform...and, it turns around and puts the whole system on trial.
Absolutely. Yep. I kind of feel like a clean conscience sometimes is worth the sacrifice of whatever.
The thing is like, if I was a liar, you know if I was lying about anything, then they would have come after me. They would have come after me to make an example of me.
If anybody who was speaking out: If Joe Hickman was full of it...if any of these guys...or FBI guys...they would have make an example out of you.
And be like, "Look. This guys a loony. This is what we are doing to him. Look. He's a fraud." But they don't say nothing. They don't say nothing at all.
I mean if they came after me tomorrow, I'd be like, "Okay. Let's go ahead and do this." But, we've tried to like hearings in Washington like put us on...because I've heard people say: "Well I bet you wouldn't say that under oath." Well, I betcha I would.
But, they won't do it. You know. Just like, Joe Hickman, I mean, they wouldn't even...they didn't even do a real investigation about that.
And, he wasn't by himself. There was four other soldiers that vouched and backed up, and added to what he said.
But, they just want to sweep it under the rug and say well, "We don't need to go in the past. Lets go about the future."
I don't care if Guantanamo is the best place on earth right now. You can't forget about what happened there. You can't forget the history of it. You know we did this. You have to admit to it.
I've always said until we come out...until the government comes out and says, "Yes. This is what we've did done. We are wrong. We messed up. This is how we're going to fix it"...We'll never get over it. We'll always be looked at as, " Well this is what you all did!"
Nobody is ever going to start the healing process, until you know, you admit what you've done wrong. But obviously it seems like nobody wants to admit what they have done wrong, or what they allowed to go wrong...because it's not the thing to do. So.
You've talk to your fellow soldiers, in Iraq, in Guantanamo...and there is a resistance to talking about it...or a fear of the consequences of it. And, I am sure there are consequences, even personal ones, like you said. Do you think that the more people that talk about it, the easy it will be for everybody?
Oh, yeah definitely.
Just look how that was five years ago. Or even since I've spoke out.
I mean look at the amount of people that have came forward: You've got Albert [Melise]. You've got Joe [Hickman] (and those four guys there). You got me. You have medics at UCDavis that actually, because they've seen an article with my name on it...and they've seen was was going on...they've actually spoken out to them.
You have a civilian contractor who was welding on Camp X-Ray who had seen some of the abuse with the internal reaction force team, while he was working there. I mean he came forward.
All these people have come forward. So obviously the more people that come forward. Cause there's always power in numbers. I mean you start off with two or three guys speaking out, and now you have ten. And, next year you have 15, what are they going to do?
I mean if they come after one, they have to come after everybody. There is power in numbers. And, the more people that talk and tell their stories, the more people are going to listen.
And the thing is.. a lot of people in the country want to hear it. They're just are not going to say it publicly, because they don't think it's the right thing to say.
Cause people are scared. My thing is. People want to play this political line, like, "You have to be on the right or you have to be on the left."
You don't have to do nothing. It's not a right wing, left wing issue. It's a right or wrong issue. That's the way I look at it, personally.
I don't like to get into: "Well I'm a republican, or I'm a..." To me, it's right or wrong. I mean, you're doing the right thing or that's it.
But people are worried about that line: "Well, I don't want to be called a liberal. You know, but ok. "Well I don't agree with that, but I can't have the name liberal attached to me."
Or, "I don't want to be known as a right wing nut job." Then you get these messages from these people like, "Hey thanks for speaking out. I really want to know what it was like then. Thanks for your support."
You know, but it's like, it's amazing that you hear even some guys from the military, "Hey, man. Appreciate you speaking out. It's nice to know that someone out there is still abiding by the oath. I wish I could have the courage to speak out too."
So, there are people out there. They just...it's the fact that they have to do it.
I think the more they do it, the more that will.
I am like so...this is such an awesome experience for me. I am so, so...it is such a pleasure to meet you. I really, really look forward to hearing more about you, and I am gonna keep an eye on you.
You too. Thanks for speaking with me.