‘Black Shirts’: The Guantanamo Bay ‘Extreme Repression Force’

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Crossposted from Antemedius

The picture at left,  from The First Statement of David Hicks,  at  the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, depicts an Immediate (or Initial)  Reaction Force (IRF) training exercise, demonstrating the manner and formation in which an IRF team would rush at a detainee, slamming the detainee to the ground. Normally, however, members of the team would be wearing body armour, helmets and shin guards,  and would be accompanied by dogs.

‘Soon after arriving at Guantanamo Bay, it became apparent that physical force would be used against the detainees. This was done most openly by the Initial Reaction Force (“IRF”), which consisted of a group of approximately half a dozen soldiers, wearing body armour, helmets and shin guards, and carrying shields and accompanied by dogs. The IRF team would rush in to a cell and slam the detainee to the ground, at which point, in the majority of cases, the soldiers would also strike or kick the detainee”, said Hicks in his opening statements taken from an affidavit filed in the United Kingdom in support of his efforts to retain his British citizenship, in that article.

The remainder of David Hicks  ‘first statement’ goes on to describe much worse treatment of Guantanamo detainees.

I also witnessed many other types of physical abuse of the detainees. I witnessed a Saudi detainee being beaten by an Army guard while at Camp X-Ray. The Saudi, whose name is Jumma, was arguing with a guard by the name of Smith, who was a member of the IRF team and wore kneepads and IRF gear. This incident happened close to when I was transferred from X-Ray to Camp Delta. Jumma was ordered to lie on his stomach in his cell. Jumma lay down as ordered, but continued to argue with Smith, who became very angry, jumped up and came down with his knees on Jumma’s back. Smith then grabbed Jumma by the head and slammed his face into the concrete 10 to 20 times.

Jumma was not moving at that point. Other guards came in and began kicking Jumma. Then Smith began punching Jumma in the face. Jumma was unconscious and not moving. He was picked up and carried unconscious from the cell, and placed in the hospital, where he remained for two weeks. Jumma had a broken wrist and broken ribs from the beating. Approximately 40 detainees witnessed this beating, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was made aware of it. Also, I could see afterward that the guards had great difficulty in removing Jumma’s blood from the concrete floor, and had to use hoses, and great exertion scrubbing over a period of time.

The UC Davis article is part of The Guantanamo Testimonials Project, a project begun in 2005 to gather testimonies of prisoner abuse in Guantanamo, to organize them in meaningful ways, to make them widely available online, and to preserve them there in perpetuity.

Pursuant to its mission, the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas (CSHRA) launched, in Fall 2005, a long term research project to assess the effects of the U.S. war on terror on human rights in the Americas.

Whether invoked as the rationale for the “extraordinary rendition” of Canadian citizen Maher Arar to Syria or as the basis for the suppression of indigenous movements in South America, the war on terror has had significant effects on human rights in the Americas. But nowhere have these effects been greater than at the detention facilities of the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Consequently, it seemed appropriate to begin our project by looking into the human rights situation at these facilities.

Now a new article published by journalist Jeremy Scahill, Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama,  says that in teams of five men dressed in ‘Darth Vader’ full riot gear, the IRF teams, or ‘Black Shirts’ as Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner has dubbed them,  of Guantanamo Bay Prison operate as “as an extrajudicial terror squad that has regularly brutalized prisoners outside of the interrogation room, gang beating them, forcing their heads into toilets, breaking bones, gouging their eyes, squeezing their testicles, urinating on a prisoner’s head, banging their heads on concrete floors and hog-tying them — sometimes leaving prisoners tied in excruciating positions for hours on end”.

The force is officially known as the the Immediate Reaction Force or Emergency Reaction Force, but inside the walls of Guantánamo, it is known to the prisoners as the Extreme Repression Force. Despite President Barack Obama’s publicized pledge to close the prison camp and end torture — and analysis from human rights lawyers who call these forces’ actions illegal — IRFs remain very much active at Guantánamo.

The existence of these forces has been documented since the early days of Guantánamo, but it has rarely been mentioned in the U.S. media or in congressional inquiries into torture. On paper, IRF teams are made up of five military police officers who are on constant stand-by 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 the possibility of a weapon is in the cell at the time of the extraction,” according to a declassified copy of the Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta at Guantánamo. The document was signed on March 27, 2003, by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the man credited with eventually “Gitmoizing” Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons and who reportedly ordered subordinates to treat prisoners “like dogs.” Gen. Miller ran Guantánamo from November 2002 until August 2003 before moving to Iraq in 2004.

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 memo, 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.

Perhaps the worst abuses in the Spanish case involve Omar Deghayes, whose torture began long before he reached Guantánamo, and intensified upon his arrival.

After 9/11, Deghayes was detained in Lahore, Pakistan, for a month, where he allegedly was subjected to “systematic beatings” and “electric shocks done with a tool that looked like a small gun.”

“The camp looked like the Nazi camps that I saw in films,” Deghayes said.

When Deghayes finally arrived at Guantánamo in September 2002, he found himself the target of the feared IRF teams.


“They brought their pepper spray and held him down. They held both of his eyes open and sprayed it into his eyes and later took a towel soaked in pepper spray and rubbed it in his eyes.

   “Omar could not see from either eye for two weeks, but he gradually got sight back in one eye.

   “He’s totally blind in the right eye. I can report that his right eye is all white and milky — he can’t see out of it because he has been blinded by the U.S. in Guantánamo.”

A report prepared by British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, documents the alleged abuse of a Bahraini citizen, Jumah al Dousari by an IRF team. Before being taken to Guantánamo, al Dousari was widely known to be “mentally ill.” On one occasion, the IRF Team was called into his cell after al Dousari allegedly insulted a female soldier. Another prisoner who witnessed the incident described what happened:


“There were usually five people on an ERF team. On this occasion there were eight of them. When Jumah saw them coming, he realized something was wrong and was lying on the floor with his head in his hands. If you’re on the floor with your hands on your head, then you would hope that all they would do would be to come in and put the chains on you. That is what they’re supposed to do.

   “The first man is meant to go in with a shield. On this occasion, the man with the shield threw the shield away, took his helmet off, when the door was unlocked ran in and did a knee drop onto Jumah’s back just between his shoulder blades with his full weight. He must have been about 240 pounds in weight. His name was Smith. He was a sergeant E-5. Once he had done that, the others came in and were punching and kicking Jumah. While they were doing that the female officer then came in and was kicking his stomach. Jumah had had an operation and had metal rods in his stomach clamped together in the operation.

   “The officer Smith was the MP sergeant who was punching him. He grabbed his head with one hand and with the other hand punched him repeatedly in the face. His nose was broken. He pushed his face, and he smashed it into the concrete floor. All of this should be on video. There was blood everywhere. When they took him out, they hosed the cell down and the water ran red with blood. We all saw it.”

As the abuse continues at Guantánamo, and powerful congressional leaders from both parties and the White House fiercely resist the appointment of an independent special prosecutor, the sad fact is that the best chance for justice for the victims of U.S. torture may well be an ocean away in Madrid, Spain.

“The Obama administration should not need pressure from abroad to uphold our own laws and initiate a criminal investigation in the U.S.,” says Vince Warren, CCR’s executive director. “I hope the Spanish cases will impress on the president and Attorney General Eric Holder how seriously the rest of the world takes these crimes and show them the issue will not go away.”

You can read Jeremy Scahill’s entire article published at AlterNet May 15, here, if you can stomach it.


Skip to comment form

    • Edger on May 16, 2009 at 18:14

    SHOULD be in the White House, and in the office of the Attorney General. Not across the ocean in Spain.

  1. I had just read and printed out “Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prizoners at Gitmo Under Obama” yesterday a.m. and was planning on trying to do an essay on it, but did not have the time ultimately.  We must have been on the same wave length.

    I also scanned down through the comments on that article and there were some saying that Scahill’s article was one more for the tabloids.  I’ve never found anything wrong with Scahill — he’s the one that exposed the Blackwater crimes and excesses.  But, nonetheless, I was curious and did some research and everything he has said has backup.  The IRF has had different names at different times, but, yes, they have been in use, as Scahill says.

    Through Judge Garzon’s investigations, he has learned the various tortures of the four detainees (all four were accused of being Al Qaeda members) referred to Spain for trial, Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed and Lahcen Ikassrien were acquitted by Spain’s High Court, and Abdul Latif Al-Banna and Omar Deghayes had their warrants for arrest in the UK cancelled.  Their tortures were spelled out in this article pertaining to Judge Garzon’s investigations, as well as that of Scahill’s article.

    . . . . Many of the abuses suffered by the 4 men have had long-lasting effects. According to the indictment, the court received reports relating to Al-Banna and Ikassrien on February 18, 2008, signed by Drs. Jonathan Derek Fluxman and Helen Bamber, who said many of the injuries were consistent with the testimony submitted by the detainees.

    Al-Banna was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression and had developed diabetes, hypertension, pain in the lower back, osteoarthritis of the knees and wrists. There was a lesion of the knee and obstruction to the nasal passageways. Dheghayes was also afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression, was blind in his right eye and had a fractured nose and index finger.

    I was literally sick inside after having read all of that.  I had such an urge to get out of this country — of course, it’s not that easy.  But I really can’t stand it anymore — and we continue to dither over whether there should or should not criminal investigations.  Maybe, it’s that that makes me the sickest.

    Thanks, Edger.

  2. no fucking, not even remotely,  reason…. sheer terror.

    On paper, IRF teams are made up of five military police officers who are on constant stand-by 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 the possibility of a weapon is in the cell at the time of the extraction,” according to a declassified copy of the Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta at Guantánamo.

    give me a break! a weapon in their cell? what!?

    This force “was designed to disabuse the prisoners of any idea that they would be free from physical assault while in U.S. custody,” he says. “They were trained to brutally punish prisoners in a brief period of time, and ridiculous pretexts were taken to justify” the beatings.

    This is a … they are MP’s? This is absolute pure sadism.

    Disgusting beyond belief. I dont want to say b/c it sounds so frikkin ludicrous, but… interrogations… as big a lie as it is, at least they PRETEND they have a reason  (indicating they have a vague clue that it is wrong or at least illegal.. or something) This is really sick. Demented.

    • Edger on May 17, 2009 at 03:37

    I think…

    I was going to repost it all over the world… but I felt like I had to take a break from it today… I hope other people will write abut this….

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