Witness to Guantanamo

  • March 25, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Peter Jan Honigsberg, professor of law at the University of San Francisco and Director of the Witness to Guantanamo project and author of Our Nation Unhinged, the Human Consequences of the War on Terror

    Damien Corsetti was an interrogator at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan in 2002, where, according to The New York Times, he was known as the “King of Torture.”  In 2006, he was prosecuted for alleged abusive treatment he committed while an interrogator, but was acquitted.  Nevertheless, he told our Witness to Guantanamo project that he had mistreated his prisoners.

    When he began working in summer 2002, Corsetti believed in what he was doing.  He thought they were all guilty and, like most Americans, he was angry.  He explained how he had obtained information regarding several alleged plots through his interrogations in time for the U.S. to intervene and prevent the incidents from occurring.  He saved American lives.

    In the months that followed, however, he and other interrogators began to have doubts about their work. They asked a Judge Advocate General, or JAG lawyer, for advice.  The JAG attorney assured them that their actions were legal because the Bush administration had decided not to adhere to the Geneva Conventions. After hearing the JAG assessment, Corsetti felt obligated to follow orders.

    Corsetti told us how he would hood prisoners, tighten the cord at the neck, and then pour water over the hood.  The process wasn’t quite the same as “waterboarding,” but the detainees did experience the sensation of drowning or suffocating.

    He forced prisoners into extremely uncomfortable and awkward “stress positions” for hours.  He noted how the military later renamed the term “stress positions” to “safety positions,” explaining that the safety positions were for the safety of the interrogators and the military personnel on the base, not the detainees.

  • November 28, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Peter Jan Honigsberg, Professor of Law, University of San Francisco School of Law, and Founder and Director of the Witness to Guantanamo project. He is also the author of Our Nation Unhinged:  The Human Consequences of the War on Terror  (University of California Press).

    People who have been following the cycle of violence after 9/11 -- in particular the human rights and rule of law violations that occurred in the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- are aware of the solitary confinement and isolation abuses that were endemic to Guantanamo.  Isolation and its pernicious effects, however, did not only exist in Guantanamo. In the system of injustice that speaks to the decade following 9/11, high-ranking officials in the Bush administration who did not step firmly in line with the Bush/Cheney policy of torture and disregard of the rule of law were also isolated. 

    Certainly the isolation endured by the high-ranking government and military officials was not of the mental ruination, mind-numbing and sensory deprivation kind that the detainees suffered at the naval base detention center. Nevertheless, high-ranking officials in the Bush administration who preserved their integrity and adherence to the rule of law – and thereby stood in conflict with Bush administration policy – were isolated and marginalized from policy-making decisions.