In Guantánamo, the notorious but seldom-discussed thug squad, officially known as the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF), deployed by the US military remains very much active. Inside the walls of Guantánamo, the prisoners know the squad as the Extreme Repression Force.
In reality, IRF is an extrajudicial terror squad, the existence of which has been documented since the early days of Guantánamo. IRF has rarely been mentioned in the United States media or in congressional inquiries into torture. On paper, IRF teams are made up of five military police officers who are on constant standby to respond to emergencies. “The IRF team is intended to be used primarily as a forced-extraction team, specializing in the extraction of a detainee who is combative, resistive, or if [there is] the possibility of a weapon . . . in the cell at the time of the extraction,” according to a declassified copy of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Camp Delta at Guantánamo. The document was signed on March 27, 2003, by Major General Geoffrey Miller, the man credited with eventually “Gitmoizing” Abu Ghraib and other US-run prisons.
- Scott Macky (Sonoma State University)
- Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)
When an IRF team is called in, its members are dressed in full riot gear, which some prisoners and their attorneys have compared to “Darth Vader” suits. Each officer is assigned a body part of the prisoner to restrain: head, right arm, left arm, left leg, right leg. According to the SOP document, the teams are to give verbal warnings to prisoners before storming the cell: “Prior to the use of the IRF team, an interpreter will be used to tell the detainee of the discipline measures to be taken against him and ask whether he intends to resist. Regardless of his answer, his recent behavior and demeanor should be taken into account in determining the validity of his answer.” The IRF team is authorized to spray the detainee in the face with mace twice before entering the cell.
David Hicks, an Australian citizen held at Guantánamo, said in a sworn affidavit, “I have witnessed the activities of the IRF, which consists of a squad of soldiers that enter a detainee’s cell and brutalize him with the aid of an attack dog. . . . I have seen detainees suffer serious injuries as a result of being IRF’ed. I have seen detainees IRF’ed while they were praying, or for refusing medication.”
Binyam Mohamed, released in February 2009, has also described an IRF assault: “They nearly broke my back. The guy on top was twisting me one way, the guys on my legs the other. They marched me out of the cell to the fingerprint room, still cuffed. I clenched my fists behind me so they couldn’t take prints, so they tried to take them by force. The guy at my head sticks his fingers up my nose and wrenches my head back, jerking it around by the nostrils. Then he put his fingers in my eyes. It felt as if he was trying to gouge them out. Another guy was punching my ribs, and another was squeezing my testicles. Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. I let them take the prints.”
On January 22, 2009, newly inaugurated President Obama issued an executive order requiring the closure of Guantánamo within a year, and also ordered a review of the status of the prisoners held there, requiring “humane standards of confinement” in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. But one month later, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released a report titled “Conditions of Confinement at Guantánamo: Still In Violation of the Law,” which found that abuses continued. In fact, one Guantánamo lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, said that his clients were reporting “a ramping up in abuse” since Obama was elected, including “beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-force-feeding detainees who are on hunger strike.”
A year after Obama’s election win, Al Jazeera reports that despite the new president’s pledge to close the prison and improve the conditions of detainees held by the US military, prisoners believe that their treatment has deteriorated on his watch. While the dominant media coverage of the US torture apparatus has portrayed these tactics as part of a “Bush-era” system that Obama has now ended, when it comes to the IRF teams that is simply not true. “Detainees live in constant fear of physical violence. Frequent attacks by IRF teams heighten this anxiety and reinforce that violence can be inflicted by the guards at any moment for any perceived infraction, or sometimes without provocation or explanation,” according to the CCR.
The CCR has called on the Obama administration to immediately end the use of the IRF teams at Guantánamo. However, the abuse continues, and the White House and powerful congressional leaders from both parties fiercely resist the appointment of an independent special prosecutor to investigate the abuses.
Ahmed Ghappour, who represents several Guantánamo prisoners, has lodged several requests to initiate investigations since President Obama took office. “I have requested four investigations regarding prisoner abuse just this past year,” he said. “The military responded to my first request indicating that they would investigate, but have been radio silent since then.”
Released after a federal court found him to be entirely innocent, Mohammed el Gharani is now adjusting to life outside prison. He reports that the allegations made by current inmates match his experience of Guantánamo during the months leading up to his release. ”I recognize all of this,” he said. “There are still more than two hundred people in Guantánamo. Since Obama became president, less than twenty have been released. I don’t know why, but he has broken his promises.”
Jeremy Scahill, “Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama,” AlterNet, May 15, 2009, http://www.alternet.org/story/140022.
Andrew Wander, “Guantanamo Conditions ‘Deteriorate,’” Al Jazeera English, November 10, 2009, http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/11/10-0.