What I found at Guantanamo Bay was that the American servicemen and women there are committed to standards well above those of the average citizen. For twelve hours a day, four days a week, for at least a year, these soldiers with a median age of 22 demonstrate inspiring discipline and dedication to duty. There are multiple assaults on guards every day, mostly verbal and sometimes physical. At least once a week, every week, at least one soldier is doused with a “body fluid cocktail” of feces and urine as they attempt to perform their daily routine. I asked one young female non-commissioned officer what happens after such an event. She explained that the soldier washes off and changes into a clean uniform, and after a medical evaluation is permitted to choose whether or not to return to the cell block.
The option is given so the soldier has the opportunity to calm down, process what happened, and seek out a chaplain or mental health professional if desired. Without my prompting, the NCO added that in the year that she had worked there, not one soldier had decided to take the rest of the day off. Instead, they return to the cell block to show the detainee that no level of provocation will be sufficient to break the soldier’s will or provoke a reaction. Indeed, every soldier is obsessed with performing their duty in a manner worthy of America’s praise and support. As the Joint Task Force commander, Rear Admiral David Thomas, put it, “Of course we’re doing it this way; we’re Americans, and we want Americans to be proud of their military and the way we conduct ourselves.” In order to confirm that the nasal feeding tubes were humane and effective, Rear Admiral Thomas instructed the medical staff to feed him with the device — for a week.
During a brief, Rear Admiral Thomas made a point that all Americans should understand. He said, “The debate about the right policy and the right legal framework for handling unlawful enemy combatants is extremely important and complicated, and should absolutely continue to take place. But Americans do not have to worry about the treatment of these detainees. We are committed to the safe and humane, legal and transparent care and custody of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and we do so in a manner that Americans can be proud of.” These soldiers are dedicated to upholding our highest values in their daily conduct, and are committed to their mission because they know that it helps to protect our nation.
As an Iraq veteran who led convoys transporting detainees, I know firsthand that these men and women represent the norm in our armed forces, not those involved in the Abu Ghraib incident. Due to time limitations on holding detainees at the battalion level, we would brave the roads of Anbar province in the summer of 2006 at all hours to make sure we met these expectations. Despite the frustrations of detaining the same individuals multiple times because of the slowly maturing Iraqi justice system, our Marines showed tremendous integrity and discipline and set an inspiring example. When faced with impossible split-second decisions, Marines would put themselves at incredible personal risk to avoid potential civilian casualties and collateral damage. These men and women volunteered to serve our country at a time of war, and all but a tiny minority are performing admirably in the most challenging of circumstances. They have proven themselves in the face of overwhelming adversity. They deserve our support and respect, not more doubt and disbelief.