Friday, February 23, 2007
By Tony Bartelme
The Post and Courier1
Officials at the Navy's brig in Hanahan developed elaborate plans to dodge public scrutiny of its operations to detain enemy combatants, plans that include destroying "critical info," scrubbing public Web sites, and warning brig staff about the temptations of "high priced offers from news agencies," a Navy report shows.
The 17-page document also describes how, with relatively short notice, the Naval Consolidated Brig created an expensive prison-within-a-prison, in part to prevent regular inmates from retaliating against the detainees. In this separate facility, a brig official said detainees are accorded protections under the U.S. Constitution, "except where curtailed by higher guidance."
The document provides a rare insider's glimpse into what has emerged as one of the most secretive installations in the government's anti-terrorism effort. It reveals new details about the challenges of housing high-profile terrorism suspects. It also comes amid a backdrop of lawsuits alleging that the solitary confinement of detainees constitutes torture, and that the administration's policy of holding terrorism suspects without charges is unconstitutional.
Brig officials prepared the paper "Preparing for Enemy Combatant Detainment" for a presentation last summer in Charlotte at a national conference organized by the American Correctional Association. The Navy supplied the document to The Post and Courier in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The presentation begins with an introduction by Sandy Seymour, technical director of the brig. He declined to comment for this story. In the presentation paper, Seymour describes how the brig's mission evolved after 9/11. Before, it was a medium-level security prison capable of holding 364 inmates, and that its main focus was on rehabilitating inmates. He touted the institution's low recidivism rates.
After 9/11, the Bush administration declared that certain terrorism suspects were "enemy combatants," more akin to prisoners of war than criminals. As such, the administration argued, enemy combatants could be held without criminal charges until the war was over.
Seymour said that brig officials were given five months to prepare to confine enemy combatants.
The first, Jose Padilla, arrived in June 2002, under heavy guard. Two others followed: Yaser Hamdi, an American citizen by birth picked up on a battlefield in Afghanistan; and Ali Saleh al-Marri, who authorities say was an al-Qaida sleeper agent.
Seymour said in the report that security became the brig's overriding concern. "The enemy combatant concept of operations mean establishing two separate facilities on the same real estate," he said, adding later: "There is no rehabilitation mission in detainment." He said one of the brig's challenges was to make sure other inmates didn't come into contact with the detainees.
"Emotional responses by the prisoner population to the events of September 11th made it clear that criminals can be patriots, too," his report said. "We concluded that it was likely, given the opportunity, an inmate might attempt to harm an enemy combatant out of patriotic sentiment." Brig officials paid close attention to such "crossover" contact, making sure, for instance, that staff, instead of regular inmates, prepare and serve detainees' meals.
Seymour said brig officials also had to learn about the detainees' cultural traditions. "Be prepared to explain what some of the basic tools are and the expectation for their use: For example a flushing toilet ... Even which hand is used to deliver food or religious material to a person from a Muslim culture can have great significance."
While the Pentagon has allowed more than 1,100 visits by reporters and others to detention facilities in Guantanamo, Cuba, military officials have denied media requests to tour the Hanahan brig. In fact, much of the brig's presentation was devoted to how officials sealed the facility from public scrutiny.
"Taking on a nationally newsworthy mission brings its own pitfalls," the report said. "High-priced offers from news agencies for information or pictures can be very tempting to staff." (Like most daily newspapers, The Post and Courier does not pay for such information.)
The report said brig officials scrubbed public access documents and Web sites and destroyed "critical info," including information about rosters and internal operations. "Staff training to counter media probes paid dividends on several occasions," Seymour said without further explanation.
The presentation eventually took on the tone of a primer for corrections colleagues on how to dodge reporters and prepare their institutions for enemy combatant missions.
"Defeat surprise queries by preparing standard answers and keep them near common phone access points and available to all staff ... Focus on where the vulnerabilities are for camera footage by interested parties and look for unconventional access to your operation." Doing so will "starve the query."
Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a Navy spokesman, said Thursday the report "shows the amount of effort and care taken in preparing for the enemy combatant detainment mission supporting the ongoing war on terror." He pointed out that the document stresses "the requirement to treat all detainees humanely, and summarizes the extraordinary steps taken to provide for the safe confinement of enemy combatants while at the same time protecting those responsible for carrying out the detention mission."
Seymour also touched on the legal netherworld the enemy combatants inhabit. "In detaining American citizens, full constitutional rights are afforded except where curtailed by higher guidance or accepted prison practice," the report said.
Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney for the lone detainee in the facility, Ali Saleh al-Marri, said the document shows how the Bush administration is trying to build a separate detention system unbound by the Constitution. "They're saying, 'We'll follow the Constitution, unless the president tells us not to.' That's very significant."
Jacob Hornberger, president of The Future of Freedom, a libertarian think tank near Washington, D.C., added that "the brig officer has it all wrong. The rights enumerated in the Constitution are not privileges bestowed by federal officials subject to discretionary curtailment. Instead, they are inherent, fundamental rights and guarantees that the Constitution expressly prohibits federal officials, including those in the military, from infringing."
Plexico said the term "higher guidance" refers to "guidance higher in the military chain of command than the brig and alludes to rights" that are commonly restricted in detention facilities to ensure order. He added that "even active duty military members in good standing do not have the full benefit of the Constitution, i.e., the First Amendment."
The report also touched on the financial burdens of holding the detainees.
The report doesn't specify how much has been spent to accommodate enemy combatants but did say an entire wing was set aside for one detainee. (The Post and Courier has requested information about costs under the Freedom of Information Act. The military has denied these requests, citing national security concerns.)
In the report, Seymour concluded that "the enemy combatant mission is a fluid task without full definition." One thing was clear, he added, "this mission costs money," urging his colleagues, "get access to the money!"
1 Tony Bartelme. "Inside Navy's Secret Brig: Report: Hanahan facility geared to dodge scrutiny, keep inmates apart." The Post and Courier. February 23, 2007. Link. (last accessed: Thursday, March 01, 2007.). Return to text body.