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Military clears guards of abuse charges
Guantánamo whitewash

By Nicole Colson | February 16, 2007 | Page 2

U.S. MILITARY officials cleared several officers of charges that they beat prisoners at the U.S. prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba--despite the fact that investigators never interviewed the prisoners who were allegedly assaulted.

Marine Sgt. Heather Cerveny, a member of a detainee's legal defense team, filed an affidavit with the Pentagon's inspector general's office, saying she was present at a bar inside the U.S. base in September when a group of at least five Navy guards talked about routinely beating prisoners.

One reportedly said, "I took the detainee by the head and smashed his head into the cell door," Cerveny told ABC News in October. Another "was telling his buddy, 'Yeah, this one detainee, you know, really pissed me off, irritated me. So I just, you know, punched him in the face.'"

An investigation was opened into the allegations in October, and was later expanded when a similar accusation was made by a civilian employee who recounted a conversation between a female guard and a male interrogator. But earlier this month, the Miami-based Southern Command, which oversees operations at Guantánamo Bay, released a statement saying, "The evidence did not support any of the allegations of mistreatment or harassment."

No detainees were ever interviewed about their treatment--even though physical, mental and psychological abuse has been reported by both current and former detainees. A Southern Command spokesperson explained to the Associated Press that chief investigator Col. Richard Bassett "talked to all the parties he felt he needed to get information about the allegations that were made."

But while he didn't bother to interview a single detainee, in a sick twist to the case, Bassett did recommend that a "letter of counseling" be sent--to the female guard who initiated a "fictitious account" of detainee abuse. Bassett recommended in his report that "disciplinary or other action be taken against Sergeant Cerveny."

Cerveny's superior, Marine Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, defended her actions, however. "[Bassett's] interview of [Cerveny] was ridiculous and oppressive," he told ABC. "The investigating officers, a colonel and a captain, walked straight into her office with the intent to accuse her of a crime before she even opened her mouth. The colonel already had the form in his hand to read her her rights and accuse her, before the interview started...

"This was outrageous and sends a dangerous message to all our service members: you'd better not report anything that goes on at Guantánamo Bay, or you'll be threatened or charged with a crime."

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