Yesterday's rally in Canberra for David Hicks went smoothly-- unspoiled by violence or arrests. (I've posted my photos from the event here
. My friend's photos are here
). The rally was well attended (300+) and featured some solid political protest satire-- a caged, mock John Howard was offered to American embassy officials as a trade for Hicks (US officials declined). In addition to an array of outspoken politicians, ex-detainee Mamdouh Habib took to the podium and spoke about his torture at the hands of US and Egyptian interrogators. In particular, he spoke about "human experimentation" at Guantanamo by researchers given access to the facility. At one point, he took out a bottle of the drug Tamsulosin (Flomax) and recounted how he was forced to take this medicine against his will to treat non-existent prostate cancer. (The prescription sticker on the bottle appeared genuine and was clearly marked "NAVAL HOSPITAL GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA PH: 72190"). Afterwards, Habib told a reporter with the Canberra Times
that inmates were injected with HIV-AIDS. Habib has made similar allegations elsewhere, including in my book American Torture
. Other ex-detainees, like the Tipton Three from the UK, have also alleged human experimentation at Guantanamo (minus reference to HIV-AIDS). But are these claims true?
At their core, reports of "human experimentation" at Gitmo do have some merit. (Though the claims about AIDS appear unfounded). Given the prevalence of forced-feeding, forced-drugging at the base is likely. Habib may simply suffer from an enlarged prostrate and was prescribed Tamsulosin-- a prostate shrinking medicine with mild side effects. When he refused, he was told it was to treat "cancer" as an incentive. When he still refused, he was then force-fed the medication.
There is though another explanation for the reports about "human experimentation": the existence of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs). These teams are similar to those present in military SERE schools and are comprised of a clinical psychologist, a psychiatrist and a mental health specialist. According to the BSCT Standard Operating Procedures (available on-site here
), their job is to "consult on interrogation approach techniques" and "describe the implications of medical diagnosis and treatment for the interrogation process". In other words, BSCTs study the physical, psychological and medical
weaknesses of detainees, then advise interrogators on how to better exploit them. In particular, it has been reported
that some BSCT staff advised interrogators how to capitalize on a detainee's fear of the dark, another upon his longing for his mother. (More here
). Ultimately, it is the BSCT's job to make detainees feel worse, not better. Then, they provide incentives--pegged to cooperation with interrogators--to alleviate the stress. This tinkering with a detainee's mental and physical health to induce acquiescence is akin to human experimentation.
In the case of Habib, he may have revealed to a BSCT member a fear of dying of a cancer. In turn, the BSCT told him directly-- or via interrogators or medical staff-- that he indeed was doomed, his only saviour being tablets of Tamsulosin. Then, only if he cooperated with interrogators would he receive his "much needed" medicine. Selective use of medicine as an incentive has been reported in Guantanamo and in CIA black sites. In the case of Habib, it is not out of the question.
Whatever the case may be, as I discuss in my book, Habib is psychologically scarred from his time at Guantanamo. After five years-- one may only imagine the damage wrought on David Hicks.