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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Patrick M. Walsh February 23, 2009

DoD News Briefing With Adm. Walsh From The Pentagon

STAFF: Good afternoon and welcome.

On January 22nd, the president signed an executive order requesting the review and disposition of individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and closure of the detention facility. As part of that executive order, DOD was directed to review the conditions of confinement at Guantanamo Bay detention facility and ensure that detainees are held in conformity with all applicable laws governing the conditions of confinement, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Secretary Gates asked the vice chief of naval operations, Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, to conduct this review. He has completed that review. The secretary has endorsed it and sent it on to the president this weekend, and today Admiral Walsh is here to share his findings, as well as some of his recommendations from this review.

Admiral, thank you very much for taking some time today to do this.

ADM. WALSH: Well, good afternoon.

Pursuant to the president's executive order signed on January 22nd, the secretary of Defense tasked me to review the conditions of confinement at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to determine if all detainees there are being held in conformity with all applicable laws governing the conditions of confinement, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

I delivered my report to the secretary on Friday.

The review team conducted 13 days of investigation on site. That included more than 100 interviews with JTF-Guantanamo leadership, support staff, interrogators, guards, multiple announced and unannounced inspections of all camps, during daylight as well as nighttime operations.

We reviewed numerous reports, video, discipline records and observed many aspects of daily operations. Collectively, we talked to a number of detainees and observed daily activities, including enteral feedings and interrogations.

The review team also solicited a sampling of opinion studies and published works, which reflected the perspective of detainees and other concerned interest groups, many with recommendations to improve detention conditions. We solicited and carefully considered submissions from many of those interested non-governmental organizations.

After considerable deliberation and a comprehensive review, it is our judgment that the conditions of confinement, in Guantanamo, are in conformity with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. In our view, there are two components, in the scope of the compliance review, taken from Common Article 3.

First is the explicit prohibition against specified acts. Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention prohibits the following acts: violence to life and person, taking of hostages, outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, passing of sentences, without judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court.

Any substantiated evidence of prohibited acts discovered in the course of the review would have warranted a finding of non-compliance with Common Article 3. We found no such evidence.

Secondly, determining conformity with Common Article 3 requires an examination of the directive aspect of the article; this being that persons shall in all circumstances be treated humanely. This element of the effort demanded that the review team examine conditions of detention based on our experience and professional backgrounds, informed and challenged by outside commentary.

As a result of that effort, we find that the conditions of confinement in Guantanamo also meet the directive requirements of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

We examined 27 areas of interest which would help us determine if conditions were in compliance with Common Article 3. Among those were shelter; clothing; food and water; practice of religion; recreation; the detainee discipline system; protections against violence; sensory deprivation and humiliation; human-to-human contact; health care, including the treatment of hunger strikers; interrogation and access to attorneys and outside entities.

These areas of interest covered all aspects of detention conditions from detainee arrival to detainee transfer and repatriation. They include a review of the physical structures of the detention operations, the physical health of the detainees, but also the mental well-being of the detainees as well.

The team compared their findings in each of the 27 areas of interest to the governing authorities and outside commentary in those respective areas. In order to satisfy our tasking, we needed to determine whether prohibited acts were taking place and whether detainees were being treated humanely.

We conclude that the conditions at Guantanamo conformed to Common Article 3. From our review, it was apparent that the chain of command responsible for the detention mission at Guantanamo consistently seeks to go beyond the minimum standard in complying with Common Article 3. We found that the chain of command endeavors to enhance conditions in a manner as humane as possible, consistent with security concerns.

In this regard, our team has identified a number of items which we recommend the Department of Defense continue to pursue consistent with that approach described above, or in several cases, items that we recommend for JTF Guantanamo.

In this report, we do not intend to suggest that these recommendations are items that the department must pursue to satisfy Common Article 3. Rather, they are items that we view as consistent with the approach of the chain of command to continually enhance conditions of detention. Broadly stated, among the things we recommend: First, in our view, socialization, or interaction among detainees, is important because of the length of time individuals at Guantanamo have been detained. Current socialization practices conform with Common Article 3.

However, the team believes that in certain camps further socialization is essential to maintain humane treatment over time. In our opinion, the key to socialization is providing more human-to-human contact, recreation opportunities with several detainees together, intellectual stimulation and group prayer.

Second, the review team recognized that detainee access to high- quality health care services is a fundamental aspect of humane treatment that is greatly enhanced by appropriate human-to-human contact and socialization between detainees and health care providers.

JTF-Guantanamo appreciates that delivery of quality health care requires trusting relationships between providers and their patients. Although this type of trusting relationship is difficult to achieve in a detention environment, the review team makes recommendations that can serve to enhance further the high quality of care already delivered to the detainees.

Third, as long as JTF-Guantanamo is operational, it will continue to require extensive resources. The most significant activity in this regard involves the continued support for camp improvement projects currently under way that affect the ability to provide socialization opportunities. Of significant concern is that the department continued to properly resource Guantanamo until every detainee departs.

Enhancement of humane treatment as the operation continues and as the detainee population spends more time under U.S. control will also require strengthening of internal controls and continued dedication of both funds and personnel.

As a related matter, the review team recommends additional actions to maintain the protections that separate current intelligence gathering from health care.

Fourth, we endorse the use of video recording in all camps and all interrogations. The use of video recordings to confirm humane treatment could be an important enabler for detainee operations. Just as internal controls provide standardization, the use of video recordings provides the capability to monitor performance and maintain accountability.

Finally, the review team has also made several recommendations to sustain a humane treatment standard in the face of individual detainees' uncertainty and their anxiety about their own futures. We conclude that certainty regarding the detainees' future has a direct correlation to detainee behavior and therefore conditions inside the camp population.

There are still some detainees in Guantanamo despite court orders to the detainees' favor. Understandably, these detainees continue to express their extreme frustration with their continued detention. This is a great concern for the review team because it complicates conditions of detention. Therefore, the review team strongly endorses the continued interagency process to resolve these detainees' future.

Again, and in conclusion, the detention mission in Guantanamo is being conducted humanely, in accordance with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

I'm now ready to take your questions. Jim?

Q Admiral, did the review team either talk to directly or at least review claims of former detainees who claimed to have been tortured? If so, what did you find? If not, why not?

ADM. WALSH: The effective order directed us to take a look at conditions today. And so when we looked at compliance with Common Article 3, our focus and our effort was to look at today's conditions and to look ahead for the next 12 months to see what steps the camp needed to continue to take in order to maintain compliance.

It was very important for us to contact outside groups, to hear from NGOs, to hear from habeus counsel represented in their writings in the public domain as well as those who contacted us directly through written correspondence. The value of doing that is it tested our assertions. It tested our operating procedures.

I was not in a position to look back. I was not in a position to go back through the many years of camp experience and determine whether or not some action had taken place in the camp's history. That was not our goal. That was not our effort.

The way I see this, Jim, is that the role that we play is that we are the first in a series of steps in the executive order towards the termination of Guantanamo. And in my view, our role is to really address the number-one priority of the national leadership team, which is to answer the question: Is it in compliance today? And our review says that it is.

Q And a follow-up, then. In that regard, did you talk to any current detainees directly?

ADM. WALSH: About a dozen -- is outlined in our report.

Q And did you find any claims of torture among any of those you talked to?

ADM. WALSH: We heard allegations of abuse. And what we did at that point was to go back and investigate the allegation.

In this specific case there was a detainee who claimed that he was abused and beaten during a forced cell extraction. That's when a team of guards comes in to physically pick up and move the detainee if there is a requirement to move him somewhere. That would be the kind of conditions. Typically, for those who are on a hunger strike, this means picking them up and moving them, then, to an area where we would feed them. This is an area of great concern to outside groups as well.

And in this particular case, we were able to go back to video of the forced cell extraction. We were able to see what events actually took place. And we realized there were actions that the detainee had taken ahead of time that allowed the team to now respond the way they did.

So, in many respects, what I think is important to point out is that when there's an allegation of abuse, there is a means of following up.

So in terms of how I look at whether or not the command is in compliance with Common Article 3 when there's an allegation of abuse or misconduct, the number one thing I'm going to look for is is there a systemic problem here? How does the chain of command now react and respond to this allegation?

And what we found in the course of our review is that there are iterative steps that now the oversight and leadership take part in actively in order to determine whether or not this particular allegation was substantiated.

I would also share with you that in the course of our work we did look at the guard records. We looked at, in other words, our own report card on ourselves. What we found is that there were, in some cases, substantiated evidence where guards had misconduct, I think would be the best way to put it. That will be in the report as well.

What the report will read is that we found 20 allegations, 14 substantiated, and then we will lay out what particular actions were taken in all of those cases. So this is nonjudicial punishment, this is reprimand, this is relieving people of their jobs on the spot.

For the audience here to understand what kind of threshold have we crossed when we talk about misconduct on the part of the guards: Had a chance to review a number of different substantiated cases that came before us. And on the one end is gestures, comments, disrespect; on the other end was the preemptive use of pepper spray. This is a case where a guard had been hit with bodily fluids twice previously with the same detainee. He saw the detainee starting to move towards him, and he preemptively used pepper spray. We consider that a move that was misconduct, not necessary, not provoked, even though understood. And he was relieved. Just to give you an idea of how we bound the problem here of what we're looking at.

Yes, sir.

Q Can you tell us more about the socialization issue? Why is that important? Is it -- is it a mental health issue?

And how would you describe the mental health of the detainees there overall? And -- well, I'll let -- yeah --

ADM. WALSH: How about if I -- if I take those two and then see if I've answered your question.

Q Okay. Okay.

ADM. WALSH: First of all, we did look for mental-health pathologies, and we looked for empirical evidence to suggest that the detainees had some spikes in mental-health problems.

What you'll find in the report is we'll report 8 percent of the detainees with mental-health issues that require medication, which is substantially below a comparable population [of incarcerated persons] in the United States.

But, to your point, I need to be very clear on this. I come in as an operator, with a fresh set of eyes and a -- and what I hope would be a common-sense approach to a number of issues starting to play out after prolonged detention.

And in my view, what's really important here is to recognize that the Geneva standard for “Be Humane” is written in terms of what we can see and therefore what we can influence.

Specifically if you look at Geneva and ask, you know, what does this mean, to be humane, what you get is an answer that describes the floor. It describes adequacy. It describes sufficiency and it's on food. It's on water. It's on shelter and the ability to practice religion.

So what we're doing here in this report is we're saying, there's another dimension to this that we have to look at. And that's mental welfare. And we think that's critically important.

I'm not a behavioral scientist coming into it. But I'm looking at a period of prolonged detention. I'm looking at people particularly in certain camps, and this is Camp 7 to be specific, where the conditions that were originally designed, for Camp 7, may have been satisfactory and may have been humane then.

But what we're taking advantage of with the review team is, we're also looking ahead at the next 12 months. And I can't tell you definitively if this is a threshold that we cross in six months or six weeks.

But the point is, why wait? Why wait, in order to have empirical evidence to say, we've got a statistical problem with mental health here. Why not get in front of this? Why not recognize that key to the Islamic religion is being able to practice prayer as a community?

The ability to interact person-to-person is critically important, for folks to be able to socialize and to be able to be intellectually stimulated. So that's the perspective that we're bringing to this discussion.

Q Just to follow up, will you allow high-profile detainees to interact with other detainees? And is there a risk there?

ADM. WALSH: I'm glad you brought out the risk because in the report, it's important to talk about risk, because if that's all you saw, then you would move to a more communal population for the entire detainee population. And that is not practical.

So the risk management now is critically important to the Joint Detention Group commander down there, who makes that decision moment-to-moment. And so he has to decide whether or not, by providing more interaction for detainees, in one camp versus another, whether or not that is consistent with what his intel is telling him and whether or that that makes sense from a force protection point of view.

In the case of Camp 7, I think there's opportunities for social interaction without mingling Camp 7 with any other camp. This is a matter of interacting with more people who are there.

In fact, rulings have come out that have directed that at least five of the members, who are co-conspirators, could interact with themselves every two weeks.

This is -- this is part of what's already in play. So I think we should recognize where the courts are in this, as well.

Q For how long a period of time, that interaction every two weeks?

ADM. WALSH: Every two weeks, the length of time -- I'm sorry, I can get back to you for the record. But the point is, it's unmonitored, okay? And that's by the court ruling.


Q Your report underlines the importance of trying to solve the issue of detainees who are still in Guantanamo although there was a court order to free them, to solve that issue as quickly as possible. Have you had the opportunity to meet the Chinese Uyghurs who are still in Guantanamo? And have you noticed -- I mean, are you particularly concerned about their mental health? You talked about anxiety. Can you develop on that?

ADM. WALSH: Well, where that -- where the Uyghurs are currently held is an area that allows for a very communal sort of atmosphere. So they are able to interact with themselves as much as they want.

The real issue here is not so much the effect that this is having on the Uyghurs, although they are very exasperated by this process. The real issue is that everybody else in the camp is watching. So everyone knows. We have the executive order posted, so everyone knows that the camp will close, that Guantanamo will close in 12 months.

But they're expecting movement and when -- these are the rest of the detainee population. And when they don't see the Uyghurs, who it should be a very clear-cut sort of solution for them that they would be able to move on and repatriate in another location, when they see that as complicated and what may appear to be slow to them, the detainees find that very frustrating.

Q So that meaning the anxiety of the Uyghurs kind of spreads around?

ADM. WALSH: Yes. I think that --

Q And creates a bad atmosphere?

ADM. WALSH: Yes, I think that's exactly the point, is that it does generate anxiety and individual uncertainty as to what their fate is.

Q And what about the guards? I mean, is it -- I'm sure as well, I guess for the guards who are a part of the security, I mean, are they increasingly facing aggressive behavior because of that?

ADM. WALSH: Well, there's a number of actions that the detainees take when they're frustrated, okay? Which is to -- to say "No." To say "No" to food, to say "No" to recreation.

So even though we can go forward with these initiatives and these ideas, they have to want to participate.

And if they don't want to participate, that then promotes a climate that involves more guard and detainee contact. And we recognize that is a point of friction, and so one of the reasons why we draw this correlation between the Uighurs and the uncertainty with conditions in the camp is because there's a direct impact now on what happens to those, especially where the court has already decided or rulings have already been made, and they're still there. That now breeds a climate that can be one with lots of friction in it.


Q Could I ask you a slightly different question? Had you ever been to Guantanamo before doing this review? And what about the camp -- the conditions there surprised you the most?

ADM. WALSH: I had been to Guantanamo about two years earlier. And on that particular visit, I did not spend time with detainees. In this particular case, I did spend personally some time with detainees. And what I'm struck by is how uncertainty plays out over time. I became much more aware of the mental dimension to this thing after spending time and talking to them. And so that, to me, was something that typically does not leap out in terms of reports.

And the benefit of having this review is that I come into this unconstrained. There's no limitations placed in terms of -- from leadership to me, in terms of what to look at or where to put our emphasis. So the recommendations that we make, whether it's for video or whether it's for more resources towards camp improvements, even though we know the camp will close, these are recommendations that I think are common sense that need to be made.

And so that's the advantage of this report. I realize that there will be necessary technical, fiscal, legal review of some of these ideas. That's okay. I think it's important to make this part of the dialogue.

Q Admiral?

ADM. WALSH: Yeah. I'm sorry, Jim?

Q Can you give us -- (inaudible) -- the treatment of the prisoners who are considered the least of a threat, perhaps all those who are designated to be repatriated, and then on the other end of the scale, the ones who are facing -- going on trial for their lives? What's the difference in the treatment between Camp 7 and 8? Is Camp 1 the most permissive?

ADM. WALSH: Well, Camp 1 is empty. Where you find camp distribution right now is about one-third in Camp 4. That's approximately 80 detainees in a very communal setting, where they have access to about 20 hours of recreation a day. Contrast that with Camp 5 and Camp 6, which are designed by U.S. standards for maximum security detention.

So here's where, if I could, just to digress a little bit -- here's where the NGOs, the outside group and the detainees and the camp point of view sort of collide, is because many will refer to Camp 5 and Camp 6 as isolation. Well, Camp 5 -- and you'll find in the report -- is built to U.S. standards. It's new. It's modern. It's climate-controlled. It's clean. This is 53.5 square feet per cell, individual cells. And to some in the Middle Eastern culture, this is isolation.

They're side-by-side with other detainees. They're allowed to have four hours of recreation time per day.

If they're in a discipline status, then it's two hours of recreation per day, but they have to participate if they want it.

So as you compare Camp 4, Camp 5 and Camp 6, the military construction project under way for Camp 6 would open up options on Camp 6 to make it more communal, in other words, with the press of a button, to be able to open doors, to allow people to move unshackled into a community meal setting or outdoors to recreation. That's the idea. If there was any risk problem, or force protection issues, they would be able to control the camp very quickly. If there's a problem with Camp 4 today, the guards actually have to go into the camp to take care of whatever instability or problem that they have in the camp.

This is all based on a governance model of compliance. So it's an incentive system designed that with improved behavior, people can move into Camp 4 with a more communal setting. There's a real limitation to that, because that model is actually based on our understanding of how to influence prisoner behavior favorably here, and we call that time served, so that what we do is, we influence the length of stay in the United States. In Guantanamo, we influence the quality of stay.

And so the limitations are -- available to the Joint Detention Group commander are very limited and very narrow. And as a result, we take these initiatives that SOUTHCOM and JTF Guantanamo want to take in order to improve conditions there very seriously. And that's why they're in the report. We need to advance those ideas.

Q If Camp 5 and 6 are maximum -- built to maximum security standards, then what is Camp 7 built to?

ADM. WALSH: That would be maximum security as well. It'd be close to a supermax. I have not toured a supermax facility, but that's effectively what it does.

Yes, sir?

Q In your 13 days there, did you find any evidence that, at some point in the last seven years, the detention center was not in compliance with Article 3, or --

ADM. WALSH: I did not -- I did not look back. I took the allegations -- the specific allegations, whether it would be associated with solitary confinement, the assertions of abuse during interrogations, any other allegations that were made available to us that were long-standing. And I applied them to current operating procedures and practice.

I did not -- I did not -- survey all of the literature to go back seven years to find out if and when it had been. That was not my mandate. My mandate was, by executive order, to determine whether or not the camp is in compliance today, and it is.

Q But while you were looking through records and papers and videos and interviewing people, no evidence came up that the camp, within the past seven years, was not in compliance or did not meet the directive requirements?

ADM. WALSH: What we did look is for whether or not the command supported compliance with Common Article 3. We looked specifically at allegations over time. We looked specifically at those that were substantiated. And more revealing to us was how the command reacted and responded to that.

In each case -- in each case -- the command took appropriate action, and there was discipline and accountability, which I think is really what we were looking for here.

Yes, sir?

Q I'm a little bit --

STAFF: Sir, we have time for one more or so.


Q I'm a little bit puzzled by what seems to be a contradiction. You're saying, at one point, at one level, there's no violation of Common Article 3; that the camp complies with that. Yet you're taking what appears to be corrective action by recommending these changes and --

ADM. WALSH: I can --

Q -- of injecting a more social atmosphere --

ADM. WALSH: Yes, I can -- well, I can clarify that.

We can wait -- okay, we can wait till there's actually a violation of Common Article 3, but we chose not to frame our report that way. We didn't think it would be very useful.

Those are recommendations for the review group. As I mentioned, they're unconstrained. And so, as a result, if some of those recommendations cannot be implemented, for whatever reason, whether it's resource-driven or it's manpower-limited or it's technically limited in the case of archiving video, it doesn't put the camp out of compliance.

So thanks for the question. I wanted to be clear on that point.

Q To clarify --

Q Oh, pardon me.


Q Can I ask you about the video? In the past the authorities down at Gitmo have shied away from archiving the videos, but particularly of interrogations. What makes the request now different for you? Why the need for archiving videos, both the security cameras and also for the interrogations?

ADM. WALSH: I think it's very important to be able to put everyone on notice in terms of accountability.

One of the problems that we have at the moment is the number of assertions and allegations coming in about abuse. The only way that we can actually get to the root issue, as far as we're concerned, is being able to have undeniable proof as to the events that took place. We think this would be critically important to maintaining a humane condition and atmosphere at the camp.

Q Did you hear rationales for why authorities down at Gitmo in the past have not --

ADM. WALSH: Yes. Yes.

Q Can you share?

ADM. WALSH: Well, part of it was technical limitations in terms of storage capacity. We've come a long way as far as that's concerned.

There's also a concern that with the Military Commissions Act, that we don't destroy any evidence associated with Gitmo.

Well, the problem with that is that, you know, as -- what we're -- what we're talking about is accumulating more evidence. So just the ability to store, to archive, to file and be able to track all of that is one of the limitations in the past.

I think given the history of what's in the public domain about Guantanamo, I think all parties would be served if we figure out a way to get through the technical limitations to this, put it on film, and then it's a part of personal accountability in the public record.

Q Did you have a --

STAFF: The last one, here.

Q Two clarifications: Did you have a number of those detainees who were -- who you would put into that "high anxiety" area where their future is so uncertain that it may have a debilitating effect on their mental health?

ADM. WALSH: No. I don't have a statistical number that I can give you. I'm just looking at conditions -- prolonged conditions over time. And when I look for guidance, I don't see it. And so, it seems to me that the mental dimension needs to be part of the dialogue on what it takes to be humane. That's really the point here.

Q And finally, the 53-1/2 feet of livable space in a cell, how does that compare with civilian prison cells?

ADM. WALSH: My understanding is it's comparable.

Q Thank you.

ADM. WALSH: Okay. Thank you all.

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