Andrew Turner joins us to talk about his experience being stationed at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in 2009 and 2010.
What is working at Guantanamo Bay like? Who are the detainees? How did they end up there? Are we ever going to be able to close the facilities there?
Show Notes and Further Reading
Aaron Powell: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Aaron Powell.
Adam Bates: I’m Adam Bates.
Aaron Powell: And our guest today is Andrew Turner. He’s a former Navy non-commissioned officer who served as a member of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in detainee operations. Welcome to Free Thoughts, Andrew.
Andrew Turner: Thank you.
Aaron Powell: Start by telling us, what is Guantanamo Bay?
Andrew Turner: Well, obviously it’s a big body of water right on the southeast-most corner of [00:00:30] the island of Cuba. But as most people know it here in the US, we think of the large naval installation that’s been there for quite a few decades, and in more recent years has housed the Joint Task Force and Joint Detention Group.
Aaron Powell: And so how did you end up there then?
Andrew Turner: In 2009 I was based here in DC, had just returned from deployments to the Middle East, and they needed volunteers to go down to work [00:01:00] in the Joint Detention Group. The person that was initially supposed to be slated for that spot, the next day found out he would have to re-enlist to take any more deployments and decided that wasn’t going to happen, so he backed out and I got dropped right into another deployment.
Adam Bates: So previous to going to GTMO, had you had any experience in corrections, in prisons, anything of that nature?
Andrew Turner: I’d had some training with detainee [00:01:30] operations with the military. That was part of … I was with a mobile security element out of Guam that had us deployed to the Middle East quite a bit.
Adam Bates: Explain that for the lay people listening. So when you say detainee operations, who are detainees and what are the operations you’re involved with?
Andrew Turner: As the military and the government looks at what a detainee is, a detainee obviously is someone that’s not been found guilty of anything, that’s not been tried. This is somebody that [00:02:00] many times, in past decades, we would have called a prisoner of war, but there’s that gray area there where are we even in a war? So they had to have some type of a name to fit, and that became the detainee operations. It’s a little obviously different than corrections because it could be a very mobile thing of even just being out in the desert setting up concertina wire around a big group of people and standing there guarding them, up to and including escorts and [00:02:30] other things.
Aaron Powell: Then these detainees, are these people who got picked up through we like identified here’s a potential terrorist, or here’s someone who’s participating in an attack and we’re going to, through kind of a law enforcement, we’re going to hunt them down and capture them? Or are these people who more the prisoner of war picture of there was a battle and these were the people that we picked up on the battlefield?
Andrew Turner: It could have been any number of those situations. It could have been … [00:03:00] At times they would even push us over into humanitarian missions, which was strange because you would be guarding this humanitarian camp, but it almost felt like detainees at the same time. It was almost treated in the same way. I mean obviously there wasn’t this concept of fair, firm and impartial because in a humanitarian case these people weren’t there being detained, but it almost felt that way. So it was really hard to say one way or another what somebody [00:03:30] would have been picked up for, or what our mission even was sometimes.
Adam Bates: Correct me if I’m wrong, but at least in the Afghanistan context, my understanding is some of these detainees weren’t picked up by our government at all. They may have been picked up by the Northern Alliance, they may have been picked up by Pakistani intelligence, and then they ended up in our jurisdiction, in our care. They weren’t people that our government had even acted against in the first place; some of these people just kind of ended up as [00:04:00] detainees.
Andrew Turner: That’s what I’ve been led to believe more recently too. Most of that information I’m getting from the media myself. I don’t know where many of them were picked up or why. A lot of that came out after the fact, since I’ve been back from Guantanamo in 2010.
Aaron Powell: Did you have a notion of what it would be like before you went there that then differ from your expectations?
Andrew Turner: It definitely differed from my expectations. [00:04:30] Going down there, I had to think about it like this. I didn’t agree with the mission, but in 2009 President Obama had said, “We’re going to close the place,” so I said, “Okay, I want to be part of that.” I want to make sure that, you know, to be there to see this place close, and kind of get this stain off of the entire country, this is a good thing to do, to see this place close. While down there, come to find out it wasn’t going to close. Still isn’t closed. [00:05:00] By the time I left there nine months or so later, it was pretty disheartening to really understand that we probably will never see that place close.
Aaron Powell: What was the stain? I mean just that … Because at a very basic level, having facilities where we detain people involved in war attacks seems reasonable.
Andrew Turner: Well, you’re looking at we’ve set up one court that has barely tried a small handful of people. [00:05:30] At one point we had over 700 down there, yet they’ve successfully tried 15 or less. There are still several cases that have been sitting in that court for years, which could have easily been handled by our federal courts to focus on due process. Because my understanding, and feel free to correct me lawyers, is the Constitution doesn’t just apply to US citizens, so in this [00:06:00] situation, there is habeas rights and due process that should have always been granted along, and due process to me isn’t 15 years after the fact.
Adam Bates: Right. Well there is this … I mean part of the reason these people are kept in Cuba in the first place, is the arguments early in the Bush administration were that, well, they’re not being held in the United States, so they weren’t being held as prisoners of war abroad, they weren’t being held as domestic criminals within the US context. So [00:06:30] this creation of this kind of gray zone, nebulous legal area was intentional, and the idea of this enemy combatant as opposed to a prisoner of war. So I think that’s correct. I think that’s creating this kind of hybrid or ad hoc tribunal/court system. That was by design.
Aaron Powell: So why put these people in a military base in Cuba as opposed to locking them [00:07:00] up in prison in the US, putting them in detention facilities here? Is there a reason, a benefit, from the US perspective in having them there and then keeping them there as long as we have?
Andrew Turner: Had you asked me that 10 years ago when I first started seeing some of my fellow Navy brethren heading there to work, I would have believed that it was easier and cheaper and a better solution. [00:07:30] Now, in 2017, I look back at what I’ve figured out from reading, from digging into information, from meeting with government officials when I’ve had the opportunity, and it seems that politically it was easier to keep them there than ever bring them to the States because obviously then, especially the whole concept of closing it, makes it much more difficult because then [00:08:00] they’re going to say, “Oh, who wants them in our backyard? They’re going to escape, they’re going to become a target for other radicals,” when the reality is how many of them were really radicals in the first place? They may have then become radicals by locking them up for 10 plus years without any type of trial or due process rights.
Aaron Powell: So, yeah, there’s basically three arguments that we run into, [00:08:30] different conceptions of why this, why aren’t they in supermax in Colorado, for instance. One thing that people will say is, “Well, the prisons can’t hold them. We can’t be sure that they won’t escape from prisons.” Now, that seems a little dubious because people don’t escape from supermax, and a lot of these people are not particularly prone to escaping, whether physically or just based on who they are. Another argument is that our court system is not equipped to [00:09:00] handle these kinds of terrorism cases, although domestic terrorism prosecutions have very high conviction rates.
And then the other, I think the more cynical, argument that is out there is there is not enough evidence, or the evidence is tainted to such a degree, that these cases simply couldn’t be prosecuted in domestic courts, whether allegations of tortured confessions or the evidence just doesn’t exist to convict them. [00:09:30] In that circumstance, they would have to let these people go. Where in that area do you see yourself and why?
Andrew Turner: The concept of they would escape is the farthest thing from the truth. I fully support them being brought to the US, tried in federal court and, if found guilty, serving out their time in supermax or in the maximum security at Terre Haute. [00:10:00] It isn’t like they haven’t brought somebody from GTMO, and tried them successfully, and put them in supermax, and they’ve stayed there. There’s not been one attack that’s been talked about, there’s not been … So that argument is obviously fluff to scare people.
Then there’s always that argument saying, “Well, it’s going to cost us money,” but the reality is we’re paying over two million dollars a year per detainee [00:10:30] to keep them in GTMO. At supermax, you’re looking at 80 to 100,000 a year. Especially for at a time right now when we’re talking about saving money, to be putting money into a budget to keep this place open, and expand it that they’ve talked about recently, just seems ridiculous because there’s absolutely no purpose for it anymore.
Adam Bates: I believe in President Trump’s [00:11:00] budget request, I think it was something in the neighborhood of 1.1 billion dollars to maintaining and/or expanding the facilities at GTMO. 1.1 billion dollars is quite a bit of money to house, how many people are left?
Andrew Turner: I think 60. 60, 65, something like that. They’ve reduced it quite a lot, and at this point we won’t see probably any more leave unless they somehow decided to bring them here.
Aaron Powell: What is daily life like there, both for the [00:11:30] servicemen stationed there, and the guards and so on, and then for the detainees themselves?
Andrew Turner: Obviously it’s 12 hour shifts or longer. The shift work swaps around, it just kind of depends on how they need personnel to work and why. I can’t go too deep into that obviously because of operational issues and non-disclosure agreements I signed. But when you’re not working, [00:12:00] you have time to go sit on the beach, you can go sit at a bar and drink a beer. It’s definitely a very surreal issue in comparison to a lot of these people that would also have rotated in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq because there is a threat of physical violence all the time for a guard, for a medic, but it’s a little more confusing and a little more convoluted than all of that.
For the detainee, I mean everything’s scheduled. [00:12:30] There’s very little change to their day except for when they have things like, say, the Red Cross there, or their legal teams happen to be on the island for any detainee, because all the detainees have assigned legal personnel from the military and civilian non-profits.
Aaron Powell: And is it … The image in my head of it, does it look like the prisons we see on [00:13:00] TV? Does it fit that just lines of cells and common areas and whatnot, or is it different inside?
Andrew Turner: You know, the main detention camp I think that they’re still using is probably 5 and 6. I think they’ve combined them all down because they just don’t … Like most people when they think of GTMO, you think of Camp X-Ray, and that’s not been in use for well over a decade. That was something that was very short-term until they can open up these other sites. [00:13:30] Now, my understanding was these other detention camps started out far longer ago. The first few were already in place from when there was the Haitian movement that happened in maybe the ’80s or early ’90s, and of course they had some problems in the refugee camp, and so they would have to then detain some of them in other areas. The original, [00:14:00] more or less, detention camp doesn’t look like your average prison, but the newer ones that they’ve built more recently definitely look just like something you would see here stateside in any maximum security.
Adam Bates: We spoke a little bit before about detainees, but in GTMO-specific context, so who are these people? Who is at GTMO? Are these all terrorist masterminds, the worst of the worst that you can’t [00:14:30] let out of your sight for one second, or is it a mix of people? Who are you interacting with when you’re at GTMO?
Aaron Powell: Because I have this vision, that I think probably a lot of Americans share, that the kind of people who are there are like the scene when Clarice Starling goes to visit Hannibal Lecter, and it’s like these profoundly evil people who you leave a pen and …
Andrew Turner: This is kind of a tough one for me. I was attached to Task Force Platinum. Task Force Platinum’s a fairly classified operation, so I can’t discuss [00:15:00] my daily work, but on the regular basis, the areas that obviously the media would have purview to, it was a mixed bag. Everything I understood from the average detainee is everything from a goat herder up to the worst of the worst with Bin Laden’s bodyguards down there.
Aaron Powell: Did you have much contact with them? Did you speak to any of them?
Andrew Turner: I mean in [00:15:30] the carrying out of my job, but I wouldn’t have said we had conversations per se.
Adam Bates: Right, because I guess what I’m trying to get a feel for is, is this just a constant battlefield mentality where these guys they’re your enemies and you’re their enemies, or at some point in this process does it become more this we’re both stuck here, let’s make the best of it kind of approach? Or is this constantly this you’re an enemy combatant [00:16:00] attitude?
Andrew Turner: I think both things happen for different guards, different medics, different people assigned to the staff there. I think that there’s some that never get out of that, “This is some evil mastermind that’s going to cut my head off.” And then there will be some that have made friendships with them, some that have traveled to, say, the UK and sat down with some of these detainees after the fact and talked with them on air, [00:16:30] even a few that have converted to Islam while they were there working, while talking to … So I think it’s kind of a mixed bag. I think that there’s a little bit of all of that that’s happened down there.
Aaron Powell: What is then I guess the mood like among the guards? Or the morale?
Andrew Turner: It goes up and down. It’s dependent on what’s going on. When I first got there, within a couple weeks we had [00:17:00] a fairly large group of them try to self-harm. Maybe it was to get attention for the media, maybe it was to get their lawyers involved, it’s hard to say. While we had one restrained waiting on the doctors to come in to make sure that he hadn’t hurt himself, we hadn’t hurt him, he hadn’t hurt us or anything, he decided to start smashing his head into the floor with my hand under it. To this day, I’ve had a couple surgeries on my hand, I’ve got [00:17:30] crushed bones in my hand, my hand doesn’t particularly work all that well anymore.
So my morale, personally, went up and down with the wind because I wasn’t leaving. This wasn’t like getting injured in Iraq where you were getting pulled off, you were still there and you were still going to do your job. And you had to … For me, I had to just not take it personally. I understood. If I had been captured somewhere and stuck in a prison in Iraq, the code of conduct [00:18:00] said you will go against any of this detention, and so I didn’t hold it personal to them. I totally understood why he did that.
Adam Bates: Speaking of being stuck places, there are inmates in GTMO today who have been cleared of charges or there’s not enough evidence even to take to the tribunal, and to the best of my knowledge, those people are still in GTMO, they’re still treated just [00:18:30] as if they’re being in prison there, despite the fact … Or is there some kind of different treatment while they wait for perhaps another country to take them?
Andrew Turner: I can say that from what I understand there is some different levels of … I know, and it’s definitely been known to the media before, like the Uighurs, the Chinese group, were definitely segregated, but they were still detained. You’re stuck behind … You’re not going out to the beach. [00:19:00] Maybe you get to play some soccer and you get some ice cream and Pepsi, but you’re still inside a fence line and you’re not going anywhere. So maybe there’s some different levels of detention, but it’s all detention. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty sad situation because these people that have already been cleared to be sent home should have been sent home a long time ago.
Adam Bates: For anybody listening, who are the Uighurs and why were they at GTMO? If you [00:19:30] know.
Andrew Turner: From what I understand, there was a group of, or maybe several groups, I’m not sure if they were all caught at the same time, but I think they were in maybe Afghanistan, either setting up businesses or helping with building schools, or doing something, and were either taken by a group of war lords or … Because they were foreigners. If you’re foreigners in Afghanistan, you were easy money, and they were sold to … This is all my understanding, I’ve never [00:20:00] had any conversations with any of them, this is all after the fact. But my understanding is they were all sold to our government as some type of foreign fighters, and it wasn’t ‘til several years later that anybody really figured out that they were probably there for just really innocent, normal issues, and maybe working towards businesses or something.
I don’t know enough about them, but then they couldn’t [00:20:30] be sent back because obviously they’re an oppressed group of Muslims in China, and so if we were to send them home, there’s reason to believe that the Chinese government would do far worse than just putting them in a fence line and feeding them ice cream and Pepsi. There’s a good chance that they’d just get off the plane and get a bullet in the head and that’d be that, and so we made a pretty huge mistake with taking them. Most of them, as far as I know, have been sent on to [00:21:00] third countries, maybe all of that group. I don’t remember for sure if there’s any of them left, but there was in 2010 when I was there, there was still a big group of them.
Adam Bates: I remember reading a few years ago that several Uighur detainees had been released to Bermuda I think, and they were planning to open a Uighur restaurant there, which you’re saying that may have been their intention in Afghanistan at the time they were picked up. In the domestic context, these are exactly the kind of things that we would expect a system with due process to pick up before [00:21:30] we get years and years down the line, but this isn’t a typical war either. This is not two uniformed militaries fighting against each other, obeying the rules of war and the Geneva Conventions. What do you think about how we ended up in this situation, and is there a solution for this or are these just the kind of problems we’re going to have to deal with as we sort through the War on Terror?
Andrew Turner: I mean I would love to say that there’s [00:22:00] some perfect answer to these, but there isn’t. There’s always going to be someone deciding we need to go into somebody else’s country and make problems for small groups of people, and they’ll always be some that will try to justify collateral damage of this sort because that’s typically how … Collateral damage isn’t just dead bodies that have been bombed somewhere. Collateral damage is anything that we’ve [00:22:30] done that’s affected anybody outside of these combatants. At the end of the day, many of these combatants really aren’t our problem in the first place because they’re not here making war with our country, we’re there making war with them. If anybody invaded America, you can bet that there’d be quite a large number of gun owners standing up saying, “Hey, hold on a second. We’re going to fight back, and we’ll fight back however we have to.” If we’re being called terrorists [00:23:00] or patriots or whatever you want to term it at the point, I guess it’s all whose side of the coin you’re on when the chips fall.
Aaron Powell: A lot of Americans seem to have a these people are our enemies, they or the ideas or the organizations they represent are a threat, and perhaps an existential threat to America and it’s way of life. You [00:23:30] call it collateral damage, that some of these people represent a form of collateral damage, but why should we care? Like America needs to defend itself. If they didn’t want to be locked up, they wouldn’t have gotten involved in these conflicts. Yes, we invaded their countries, but that’s because we were attacked, or defending ourselves. Almost like to humanize them is to do a disservice [00:24:00] to America, or to turn your back on this country. This is not a view I agree with, I’m trying to-
Andrew Turner: Sure, sure. No, I hear this, I actually hear this quite often. When I did an interview recently over the summer with VICE and HBO, I heard it a lot. People came back and went, “Oh, well, you’re being a traitor talking about it this way.” And I said, “Why?” I said, “They’re not my [00:24:30] enemies. I didn’t go to war with them or pick a fight with them. Our government picked a fight with that country, and we just all came into play.” It’s tough to call yourself a pawn after the fact, but when you step back and look at the chess board and you realize where your part in it is, you start to look at the other pawns on the other side of the board, and you kind of go, “Hey, we’re a lot more alike than we are different. Other [00:25:00] than maybe we don’t speak the same language.” A lot of people don’t want to accept that.
Maybe it’s easier to be ignorant and view them as different, and they don’t want the same way of life, and they don’t want freedoms, but at the end of the day, there’s very few people that don’t want some type of freedom, and they don’t want to be oppressed. We, as often as not, [00:25:30] wind up being the oppressors in some really screwed up situations, and there’s really never a good answer on who’s behind it.
Aaron Powell: Do you think that’s a view that people who have had personal experience in the War on Terror, so whether stationed at Guantanamo or dealing with people overseas, being involved in these conflicts, are more susceptible to? I think a lot of times American views [00:26:00] of things are shaped by ignorance or lack of firsthand experience. Just as a random example, like the polls show that the people who are most gung-ho about kick out immigrants and build a wall typically are the ones who live in communities where there are the fewest immigrants and don’t actually have much contact with them. So do you think that the attitude that you just articulated has some sort of presence generally [00:26:30] among people involved in this?
Andrew Turner: I think to some extent, but then you can also … If just, say, we take the military, and you look at the mindset of the military in this day and age, it’s becoming less and less conservative because we’ve been in a time of quote-unquote “war” for well over 10 years, the longest war we’ve ever been in.
You’ll see a lot of the older veterans and military members that served in Vietnam [00:27:00] and Korea that are very conservative, and they have almost an ignorant mindset. I’m not calling them stupid in any way, I’m just saying that they’ve looked at the world in a very closed view. They’ve decided this is their world and that’s that, and America’s America and only America. Whereas if you look at some of the newer military, and some that work in federal jobs of different sorts that would have [00:27:30] some hand in the War on Terror, I think it’s become easier to get information and understand what’s going on and become a little more aware of the world as you’re exposed to it.
If you served in the military in Vietnam, you really only went to Vietnam, and you were in for two years and you were out. Whereas the average military now is four, five, six years for that first enlistment. You may serve in three or four countries, and you’re exposed to different cultures, and you realize that they [00:28:00] really aren’t any different than you, and many times you find out that some of them are a hell of a lot more friendly than your average American, and they may be a little more trustworthy.
Adam Bates: And there’s this generational aspect to this as well. You hit on it between the generations of veterans, but just consider that 9/11 was almost 16 years ago, that some of the people joining the military and fighting these wars today don’t have a memory of 9/11. I’m 31. I was a sophomore in high school [00:28:30] so that was a very formative experience in my life, but if you’re 18, 19, 20 years old, you may not remember 9/11, but you know that for your entire life we’ve been at war in Afghanistan, for basically your entire life we’ve been at war in Iraq. And, yeah, you would expect to see a different outlook generationally because they grew up in this War on Terror state, and they may not remember the thing that started it all.
Aaron Powell: Let me turn then to … I had [00:29:00] first come across you in seeing you in this VICE News Tonight segment back in … When was that?
Andrew Turner: October.
Aaron Powell: October. And that segment was about I guess the government’s lack of support for the people who were stationed there. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Andrew Turner: Sure. Jason Leopold, who was the VICE News reporter that [00:29:30] did the interviews with myself and my friend Nicky … We had worked on getting others involved in that, but they decided to just go with the two of us for that. Several years ago I had saw him doing a lot of digging on GTMO, a lot of FOIA work. He’s since been labeled by the government the FOIA terrorist because every time he sends in a request it bothers them because he’ll take it all the way into the courts and has no problem [00:30:00] doing it.
I kept seeing his name popping up with these GTMO stories, and there really wasn’t at this point – this was maybe 2012, late 2012, early 2013 – there really wasn’t anybody talking about GTMO anymore, and that bothered me. Because I had just started coming to grips with what the doctors called PTSD, and realizing that that was one of my issues along with physical issues that I deal with, and I [00:30:30] didn’t want people to forget that there’s a lot more going on down there that are going to be long-term mistakes. Past just the money spent per detainee, you’re looking at long-term issues that veterans and active duty military are going to deal with with mental health.
I had reached out to Jason, and he had heard about a study that was done about a very high rate [00:31:00] of PTSD and mental health issues in the guard staff, something similar to what you’d see in corrections here, but obviously some glaring differences because it wasn’t just as simple of criminal correction officer. There was a lot of confusion down there, there was a lot of really a lack of support to address mental health issues that were arisen, both in the guard staff and in the detainees. I mean it was definitely [00:31:30] a … There’s a big, glaring problem there that we’re not looking at long-term, and nobody really wanted to talk about it.
So I reached out to Jason, said, “Hey, what are you doing about this? Is there anything going on? Have you heard anything? I heard this rumor.” He said, “Yeah, I’ve heard the same rumor.” He says, “I’m putting in a FOIA request to see if I can get that study, that report, and see what happens.” Because there was a … I think the colonel that was heading up the Joint Detention Group had hinted at it, and then immediately retracted it maybe [00:32:00] a month or two later to maybe the Miami Herald or one of the newspapers. So there was this confusion on, well, did he just say that there was a major issue with mental health with the staff there, or did he not? Or is the DOD … What’s going on?
He went and dug and he found this study, and then he asked me, “Hey, do you know any others that are dealing with issues?” I said, “I know a ton of people from my time there, and I don’t know that they would all want to talk. A lot of them are still on active duty, and probably it would be quite frowned upon [00:32:30] if they popped up on VICE and on HBO.”
Aaron Powell: Was that … You mentioned this injury to your hand earlier, is that what compelled you to ultimately leave GTMO? I mean what facilitated your leaving of GTMO?
Andrew Turner: Our time was up. I stayed through an entire deployment. I was casted for about six weeks and then they took the cast off, but they didn’t really have proper MRIs down there and they never really understood the damage that had happened in my hand. I didn’t totally lose the functional use for about another year or so after some surgeries. [00:33:00] But stayed through a whole deployment, wound up being the number one rated in my pay grade when I left. I took it to heart when they said fair, firm and impartial, and I didn’t hold anything against these, and I wish that there was more being done to help them because I think that it’s unfair being treated in that way.
Whether they’re bad people or not, that’s just not the way our system of laws was established. We still have to stand up for what we [00:33:30] were started as. This country was started with a sense of ideals and that bill of rights, and if we’re not going to stand up for that, even if we don’t agree with it per se on the minute detail of, yeah, these are bad people, they still deserve to be treated just like any other person in the world.
Aaron Powell: What was the reaction from … I assume you heard, after the reporting, you heard from other people who had been there, from other people you knew. What [00:34:00] was the reaction like to your story from the servicemen as opposed to the government officials?
Andrew Turner: Most that had served down there, if they didn’t openly say, “Hey, we agree, and good job,” most … If I would get a message from most they would say, “Hey, we get it. We can’t obviously talk about it publicly,” or maybe, “We’re dealing with mental health issues and we’re not ready to talk about it publicly,” but for the most part most that had served down there understood. It wasn’t [00:34:30] strange to most of them. Now, military that had never served at GTMO, I took a lot of heat from them. I’ll be the first to say, I got a lot of angry messages, and got called a crybaby, and got called …
Obviously people understood my situation a little bit more because I got injured. My friend Nicky took it a lot worse, and that was really unfair on her part because she was there as a medic, she wasn’t there doing anything but trying to provide healthcare, and it definitely long-term affected [00:35:00] her. She took a lot of real bad verbal abuse. People tried, and luckily she’s a lot stronger these days than she was a couple years ago and it probably would have affected her a lot worse. But, you know, it’s been mixed.
The general public, a lot of confusion. I did an IAmA on Reddit, and it was amazing how many people were like, “That place is still open?” And [00:35:30] then when they would watch the video and watch some of my videos and some of the stuff I talked about and then the VICE NEWS, and people were just in shock. It was confusing I think more than anything. I don’t think I really took any major bad reaction from people, it was more of confusion because people just don’t hear about it anymore.
Aaron Powell: Do you think then that there’s a will among general Americans to close [00:36:00] this or to reform it?
Andrew Turner: No. No, I don’t think that there’s any will … Because it’s easy … The minute that you say, “Let’s close GTMO and here’s why,” and you can lay out the most logical argument about cost, about our constitution and laws, you can lay out the most logical argument, and the minute that you do that, somebody’s going to run out and go, “But they’re terrorists and they’ll get loose and they’ll be in your house.” Immediately everybody … This [00:36:30] shock and fear happens because of pure ignorance. They don’t know any better.
While we have several million Muslims here in America, if you ask the average American, “Well, do you have any friends that are Muslim,” most of them don’t. Most of them don’t. Maybe they know the corner store guy or the dry cleaner, the taxi cab driver, and they can say, “Oh, well, that guy’s probably a Muslim,” but they don’t know. And so when you say, “Muslim,” that we’ve built this fear and [00:37:00] this ignorance around what really is just another religion.
And then they work off of that and say, “Oh, but these are the really bad Muslims. These are the worst ones, and you don’t want them here. We already got enough here.” And then it becomes of course even just a bigger snowball, and a bigger snowball, and pretty soon 70, 80% of Americans are like, “Wait, we don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
Adam Bates: Well, I’ll ask what I think is an even scarier question is, [00:37:30] like Senator Tom Cotton previously has said, “The only problem with GTMO is that there are empty beds there.” You’re not very hopeful on shutting GTMO down, are you concerned about it being resurrected under a new administration or after, if we imagine some future terrorist attack? People haven’t been put in GTMO for a while now, it’s been about getting that number down, but do you have a concern that this isn’t over yet, that this is not just a bad chapter we’re trying to [00:38:00] close, but that this may continue and even expand.
Andrew Turner: Sure. I think we’re … Especially now with the incursions into Syria and us having boots on the ground there, I wouldn’t be surprised. I haven’t heard of any … I know that the President has openly spoken about adding people there, and there’s always been the jokes that it’ll be the liberal media. I just shudder at these comments because it’s just such a horrible concept [00:38:30] because people just really don’t understand it. When you look at us going into Syria, and us with the special operations guys up in Kurdish territory in Iraq, and cross-border into probably Turkey, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we’ve picked up some that there’s a talk about, “Hey, maybe we can move them there.”
I don’t think it would be as easy anymore do to so. I think the media [00:39:00] would catch wind of it really quickly, but I’m not sure that the administration, the current administration even cares. I think they would be more than happy to dump a bunch of people in there and then say, “Look, look what we did.” And I think they would get applause from a big portion of America sadly.
Aaron Powell: There’s this … I mean there’s many inconsistencies in the way that Americans think about all sorts of things, but this one, there’s this frustrating like … So we need to lock them up because they’re scary people who if they escaped or we let them out, they [00:39:30] might turn around and hurt us, they’ll end up in our homes. But our country, we have one of the highest prison populations in the world. Domestically, a lot, certainly not all or most, of those people are violent people and we lock them up, they serve their time, and then we let them out, and some of them turn around and commit violent crimes again, but we don’t seem to have a problem with [00:40:00] saying, “Well, I don’t want you letting prisoners out into my state,” or, “They might escape,” or that, “We should keep them locked them up indefinitely because some of them might commit murder again,” or something like that.
Why do we seem to not … The particular issue of terrorism, which is really just another crime, [00:40:30] and particularly Muslim terrorism, is it that these people are foreign? Is it the religious angle? Because it’s frustrating.
Adam Bates: I do think there is, in the American context, there’s this, we may call it a fiction, but this belief that people have served their time. They’ve been adjudicated guilty, they’ve been sentenced, they’ve served their debt to society. We’ve all heard this term before, “He’s done his time.” Because of the way this system [00:41:00] works in GTMO, they’re not having a trial, they’re not having the evidence presented, they’re not being sentenced. None of these people have been sentenced to anything. In so far as people buy in to our criminal justice system and what it’s trying to do, I guess it’s kind of understandable that some people may have this attitude that, look, these people have served their debt to society, whereas maybe a terrorist is just irreconcilable, [00:41:30] we can’t reconcile this person with society ever and they should never get out.
But, yeah, I think … I mean Andrew may have more thoughts on this, but it certainly does seem bizarre that we seem much more willing to take this risk of recidivism from a murderer or from a rapist or an aggravated assault, but somebody who was picked up by the Northern Alliance, or they drove Bin Laden’s car, or for whatever reason this person [00:42:00] is just too dangerous to ever let out ever.
Andrew Turner: I think we’ve kind of had the hood pulled over our head, if you will, and we’ve been kind of blinded to a lot of the facts because I mean when you look at even our own prison population, how many of them are actually even violent criminals? And then when we so-called adjudicate and they’ve done their time, well, they’ve not really done their time because they’re still being punished [00:42:30] because they’re still felons, and they’re still not having voting rights. We do it to our own people, why would it be surprising that we do it to others?
But I mean it’s definitely … It’s easier to spin this in our day of 24 hour news to scare people with … Back in the ’70s when I was growing up, there was something under your bed, and nowadays you could probably tell your kids there’s a terrorist living in the closet, and that would scare them because that’s what they’ve grown [00:43:00] up on, that’s the boogieman. You don’t have to really have a logical concept anymore, you can just say, “Oh, but it’s a terrorist.” But how is it a terrorist? Were they tried? Were they convicted? Because technically to have been found of a crime, that’s what it takes.
There’s not this simple, but he’s a … No, he’s not a terrorist. He’s a detainee, and under our system of laws they’re innocent until proven guilty, so he’s just an Afghani, or he’s just a [00:43:30] Uighur, or he’s just an Iraqi. That’s what he is. And that’s where we’ve kind of blown it really is we allow everybody to try them in the court of public opinion long before they ever even see a day in court that might examine the facts of who they really are.
Aaron Powell: I’m going to go back to the reforms because we talked about possible reforms for the prison from the detainees, or shutting it down [00:44:00] ideally. But from the perspective of the people stationed there and the work that you’ve done, first, is there … It seems … So you mentioned that there’s this you get accused of crybaby-ism for talking about PTSD. Is that a prevalent attitude in the military? Because we talk about these soldiers that … On the home front, the sense is you’re heroes, and we need [00:44:30] to support the troops, but is like taking on mental illness on its face and addressing it and trying to help not part of that for some reason?
Andrew Turner: I think we’ve put, and I’ll catch heat over this down the road, I know I will for saying this, but we’ve put the military on a pedestal that we probably shouldn’t. Is it a job that a lot of people have no interest in ever doing? Sure. Is it a just [00:45:00] job? That’s open for speculation. That’s kind of person to person. But it’s still a tough job that damages people, but when we’re open about it … It’s always been the macho, we’re the men, the women can’t hack it, and obviously that’s changed in more recent years, but we’re still way behind the curve ball, or way behind the eight ball, with the understanding that the [00:45:30] average 18, 19, 20, 30, 40 year old in the military is just a person.
This is not an invincible suit of armor, these are not Iron Man and Tony Stark here, this is just an average person that’s going to react in specific ways, and one of those is going to be mental health problems to what you’re exposed to. There’s a lot of people that don’t want that pedestal being chipped down by accepting that [00:46:00] we aren’t infallible. You have to kind of accept that there’s going to be problems come along. There is folks in the military, and probably in the government, that don’t want people to openly talk about post-traumatic stress disorder. They don’t want you to talk about mental health issues. They don’t want …
They just want to kind of push you to the side and say, “Oh, but we’re helping them.” But then when you actually address it and say, “Well, how? How are we going to do this and what can we do tomorrow, and what are we doing next week, and what are we doing next year? What are these plans [00:46:30] that you got?” They go, “Oh, we’ll figure it out,” but that isn’t acceptable anymore. If we’re going to put ourselves in a situation of the longest running war we’ve ever faced, we have to accept that we’re going to have a lot of problems long-term from that.
Aaron Powell: Changing culture in any institution or any group, especially one the size of the military, is awfully difficult and takes a long time. Are there other things, like more immediate, [00:47:00] concrete reforms, that you think the government ought to be taking to help out people who have faced the kinds of troubles that you have?
Andrew Turner: I mean I think we’re getting there. We’re on that precipice. We’ve turned a huge corner from pre-9/11 to post-9/11 military, and Veterans Affairs, medicine, and the focus we’ve taken on mental health issues, [00:47:30] and we’re starting to remove the stigma there, but it’s still going to exist because at the end of the day, the military’s the biggest boys club in America. Everybody’s going to slap each other on the back and everybody wants to be macho, and so it’s hard to admit that there’s problems, and so there’s still that issue. The biggest issue is, is it okay to talk about? When we get past that, everything else is going to be simple. We’re not just there just yet, but we’re getting there. We’re pretty close.
[00:48:00] The problem is there’s always that push in the military to say, “Oh, but we’re doing something, and we’re going to talk about it, and we’re going to address it,” but then behind the scenes there’s that underlying, “But now shut up and go back to work,” and we’re not really going to talk about it per se. A lot of people then get even more damaged mentally because there’s kind of two [00:48:30] sides to that coin, and it’s a little harder for them to then openly talk about even with, say, therapists and other things like that. But we’re getting there. We’re definitely head and shoulders past the Vietnam era, and even the original Gulf War, and probably more … I think more so with the non-profits and the non-governmental organizations that have really jumped in to try to force that hand in [00:49:00] many ways.
Adam Bates: Earlier you mentioned that when you did an AMA on Reddit, the response you received from the public was a mixture of surprise that GTMO’s still open, but also confusion about what’s going on there and what GTMO’s about. What do you think are the American people’s biggest misconceptions still, in 2017, about Guantanamo Bay?
Andrew Turner: Obviously the largest glaring misconception is most people when you say, [00:49:30] “Oh, I was down at GTMO,” they go, “Oh, the place that closed.” But even more so in that AMA, it was one of the, probably the biggest reacted to questions, somebody said, “What’s one thing that you think the American people should know?” And I said, “I can’t tell you that because of a non-disclosure agreement.” I said, “There is glaring problems with that place, but the one thing that I would love to tell you about I can’t [00:50:00] because I have to decide is it worth going to jail over to talk about.”
Adam Bates: So the one thing you want Americans to know is that there’s something you really want them to know, but you can’t discuss.
Andrew Turner: That’s pretty much what it is. I mean there’s a lot of little things like that. There’s a lot of glaring issues with that place that would be great at some point to be declassified and talked about. [00:50:30] Obviously it needs to close. It needs to close tomorrow, but outside of that, without all the information coming to light, it probably won’t.
Aaron Powell: Thanks for listening. This episode of Free Thoughts was produced by Tess Terrible and Evan Banks. To learn more, visit us at www.libertarianism.org.