Military takes back claim of rampant PTSD among Guantanamo guards
The U.S. military retracted a claim made to “60 Minutes” that guards at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffer nearly twice as much post-traumatic stress disorder as combat troops.
“There are no statistics that support the claim of twice the number of troops diagnosed with PTSD,” Army Col. Greg Julian of the U. S. Southern Command said in response to a query from the Miami Herald.
Southcom has oversight of the 12-year-old detention center, including the consequences of duty there on the thousands of troops that have guarded the Guantanamo prisoners. At its height, the prison held about 660 men. Now, a staff of about 2,100 troops and contractors holds 162 captives, 82 of them cleared for release.
Army Col. John V. Bogdan, the current commander of the guard force, offered the surprising Cuba-to-battlefield ratio of PTSD in a September interview with CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl. It aired Nov. 17, without verification, and was echoed in a BBC broadcast Nov. 20 by the female Army captain in charge of Guantanamo’s maximum-security prison, Camp 5, where, she said, a captive on most days hurls at a guard a home-made brew that can include excrement, blood, semen and urine.
She told the BBC that her guards suffer PTSD as a consequence of “that constant threat of being in enemy contact for up to 12 hours at a time,” and said the prison’s Public Affairs Officer or guard’s mental-health unit could provide precise statistics.
But, after weeks of research from the island prison to the Pentagon, Julian, Southcom’s public affairs officer said late Friday: “Col. Bogdan was mistaken about twice the level of PTSD.”
Julian attributed the error, in part, to a misreading of a study coupled with a misunderstanding of the distinction between an actually PTSD diagnosis and the stress troops experience at Guantanamo — an isolated outpost with an unpopular mission where the Army captain said her troops work 14- to 16-hour days.
A reading of a January 2011 survey of the “occupational health and wellbeing” of 1,590 troops assigned to the detention center, according to Julian, found those particular Guantanamo troops “were nearly twice as likely (though not actually diagnosed) to screen positive for moderate to severe post-traumatic stress as soldiers surveyed in previous studies who had recently redeployed from Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Julian would not provide a copy of the study.
Bogdan invoked the now-retracted figure after showing “60 Minutes,” exclusively, a prison camp disciplinary block called 5 Echo. He said he granted CBS rare uncensored access to cast a spotlight on his guards, who spend their time at Guantanamo “performing admirably” and “working their asses off” through fearful, 12-hour shifts of “enemy contact” that might harm them.
Bogdan: The incidence of PTSD is almost twice that seen from regular aligned forces.
Stahl: Twice what they see on the battlefield?
Bogdan: Uh huh.
Bogdan’s citing such a statistic was surprising because, across years of inquiries, military spokesmen repeatedly said there was no way to quantify PTSD diagnoses of the thousands of troops who worked at the prison since it opened in January 2002.
Guantanamo guards have come and gone on 6- to 24-month rotations and have included Army, Navy and, briefly, Marine enlisted forces — from mix-and-match deployments that also included National Guard and Reserve units. Today, the prison has mostly military police, an Army specialty. They are trained for the job and have done tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. For several years, the military used sailors whose specialty was not military policing but were trained up especially for the temporary guard mission.
Military spokesman have said the mix-and-match approach coupled with constant rotations made it impossible to track the mental-health effects of the job after guards left Guantanamo. Veterans Affairs spokesmen similarly said they had no way to know how many PTSD cases resulted from duty at the prison camps.
In fact, however, the military had conducted studies of stress on Guantanamo guards. And none supported Bogdan’s claim, according to military sources who saw a synopsis of the reports but spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive issue.
The studies listed “splashings” and contact with the detainees as sources of stress at Guantanamo, according to those sources, but also were attributed the prison’s 12-hour shift work, guards’ distances from their families and widespread use of alcohol at Guantanamo as contributing factors.