Guantanamo Operations: Bureaucracy, rhetoric and how to use words like a scalpel

I just finished reading the Guantanamo Operations Manual, courtesy of Wikileaks (proper military name Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedure). The first (and most obvious) thing that comes to mind is, of course, the Panopticon and Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault analyzes justice systems prior to the 19th century prison model:

He begins by examining public torture itself. He argues that the public spectacle of torture was a theatrical forum that served several intended and unintended purposes for society. The intended purposes were:

  • Reflecting the violence of the original crime onto the convict’s body for all to see.
  • Enacting the revenge upon the convict’s body, which the sovereign seeks for having been injured by the crime. Foucault argues that the law was considered an extension of the sovereign’s body, and so the revenge must take the form of harming the convict’s body.

Some unintended consequences were:

  • Providing a forum for the convict’s body to become a focus of sympathy and admiration.
  • Creating a site of conflict between the masses and the sovereign at the convict’s body. Foucault notes that public executions often led to riots in support of the prisoner.

(emphasis mine)

In the Guantanamo Operations Manual, everything involving prisoners is carefully explained and coded. Every step, from arrival of the prisoner and onwards is framed and given its place in the bureaucracy of illegal detention:

4-6.    In-Processing Procedures
a. Prior to detainee arrival, prepare and stage the following:
(1) Water coolers with ice water and cups for
(2) Water cooler with water (without ice) and cups for detainees

A small, almost insignificant detail that the bureaucrats need to be reminded of, “without ice”. Upon new prisoners arrivals, someone’s humanity might get in the way, and, without the reminder, serve ice to one of these men.

Then the proper prisoner processing begins:

Once in the holding area, seat the detainees; legs folded and head down with their backs to the processing trailer door. Remove the earmuffs and leather mitts and put surgical masks in place after seating and securing all detainees.

Detainee remains shackled while clothing is cut off and disposed of.

Dressing/Shackle Exchange (Station 4)
a. Kneel the detainee down on the floor or chair; remove the Air Force leg irons and place them in the storage box to go back to the Air Force
b. Place orange pants and leg shackles from three- piece suit on detainee.
c. Remove hand irons and place in the storage box.
d. Put the orange shirt on the detainee while the MPs have positive control of arms.
e. Place    handcuffs    from    three-piece    suit    on detainee.

Imagine, for a second, that you are this guy captured in some street in Karachi, put on a plane, landed in Cuba (you, of course, have no idea at this stage of where you are) and while you are shackled, your clothes are cut off you. Seriously, indulge me for a second. Close your eyes and think that you are this person.

Then the daily life at the detention camp begins and of course, there are phases in the “Behavior Management Plan”:

(again, emphasis mine)

4-20. Behavior Management Plan
a. Phase One Behavior Management Plan (First thirty days or as directed by JIG). The purpose of the Behavior Management Plan is to enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process. It concentrates on isolating the detainee and fostering dependence of the detainee on his interrogator. During the first two weeks at Camp Delta, classify the detainees as Level 5 and house in a Maximum Security Unit (MSU) Block.

Suicide attempts and how to “manage” them are covered in different sections of the manual. However, this section caught my attention:

Delta Block Mental Health Facility (MHF) 30-1. Operations
a. Any attempt at self-harm will cause the cell to be considered a crime scene. […]
d. All blankets in use in this section will be of the self-harm prevention type. This blanket will stay in the assigned cell.  Periodically check all seams of the blanket. If any seam has been chewed, or otherwise compromised, the blanket should be repaired before reuse.

“If the blanket seams have been chewed”. I paused when I read that. Imagine the mental anguish that would drive a man to chew on a blanket. Again, think for a second what would drive a fully grown human being to chew on a security blanket to the point that it must be such a common occurrence that they thought it necessary to include it a military operations manual.

Interrogation techniques are not included in this document. However, there is this other file available at Wikileaks (CIA briefings to US congress on “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, 2009) that does provide more insight into the daily lives of Guantamo detainees. "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (ETIs) described in the document:

02/04/03 Congress Briefing on EITs, including the fact that interrogations of Zubaydah and Nashiri were taped. EITs “described in considerable detail,” including “how the water board was used.” The process by which the techniques were approved by DoJ was also raised.


07/15/04 Congress Briefed on Interrogation Techniques, including waterboarding, abdominal slap, and sleep deprivation. Also briefed on actionable intelligence derived from use of EITs.


11/01/05 Congress Briefed on interrogation techniques, including waterboard, facial slap, abdominal slap, sleep deprivation, and walling,


09/06/06 Congress Briefing: Significant details of EITs were provided in this briefing to include mentions of waterboarding, diet manipulation, nudity, walling, and stomach slap, The Director named all 13 EITs at this briefing and verbally described most. Specific mention of waterboarding, water dousing, stomach slap, walling, and the methods used in carrying out these techniques.

This is the systematic documentation and procedural instructions to detain, manage the daily lives and torture sessions of hundreds of men since the inception of the detention camp. This is what Amnesty International had to say on the subject:

The small cells are made from steel and concrete. Food is delivered through a metal slot in the door. If the men yell loud enough, they can speak with each other, but to do so risks punishment. Weeks can go by without the men seeing sunlight. The everyday reality for these men is sensory deprivation, environmental manipulation and sleep deprivation, not to mention the daily psychological and physical torment. Toothbrushes, blankets, soap and deodorant are considered privileges, so can be taken away as a form of punishment. ‘Recreation’ for ‘compliant detainees’ consists of two to four hours outside the cell, sometimes in the middle of the night so the men do not see sunlight or have any contact with any living thing. In Camp 6, ‘recreation’ time is spent in a pen surrounded by two storey high concrete walls with wire across the top.

European countries discuss (or enact) Burqa bans; Muslim women are objectified as passive and voiceless victims; politicians suggest deportation of Muslims; a burning of Korans is planned for 9/11 and in the meantime, the bureaucracy of torture and prisoner abuse produces manuals to improve the dehumanization. I mentioned Foucault and the unintended consequences of public torture (Providing a forum for the convict’s body to become a focus of sympathy and admiration/ Public executions often led to riots in support of the prisoner).

Is this how we were supposed to win the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide? Is this how we bring “Western values” to the Middle East redacted by the hands of copywriters creating these manuals?  I believe something got lost in the path to Enlightenment.

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