So You Think Gitmo Is A Gulag?

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - June 22, 2005
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“On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before.” — Sen. Dick Durbin, D Illinois, June 15, criticizing detainee treatment at Guantanamo Bay

Senator Durbin likened the American guards at Guantanamo to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime of Pol Pot or others.”

I was held in one of those prisons in North Vietnam for seven years. The following is an excerpt from my book, Beyond Survival, and bears upon the so called “torture” of the Muslim Jihadists at Guantanamo:

I had just been put before a firing squad for giving only my name, rank, serial number and date of birth to an interrogator in the countryside soon after my capture. The firing squad had been a bluff.

“So, you think we are through with you!” The officer in charge barked an order to the guards who untied my arms from behind the tree. The release of the pressure on my broken arm was almost as excruciating as its application. They shoved me back across the dirt courtyard to the edge of a drainage ditch. One of the guards, with his rifle butt between my shoulder blades, forced me down to my knees and finally flat on my face in the dirt. They tied a rope around my upper arms very tightly until it cut off the circulation. Then with his foot behind my neck he cinched my upper arms together behind me. The strain and pain on my shoulders and injured arm was unbelievable. I could feel the cartilage pop in my sternum and shoulders. Then they threw the remaining length of rope over the limb of a close by tree and hoisted me up taut against the trunk of the tree, my toes barely able to absorb the weight of my body. The officer jutted his face close to mine: “We will see! We will see.”

My left arm began to throb and hurt as much as my broken arm. The pain came coursing through my arms wave after wave. The muscles in my thighs and calves burned as I strained to be on my tip toes. After 20 minutes or so my mind became so enmeshed with the pain I was aware of nothing else. From somewhere came the guttural sounds of a wounded animal, grunts and sobs. It was me.

The two guards returned with renewed determination, ready to begin the real fun and games. The tree was on the slope of the ditch and I was on the uphill side. But now they began pushing me around the tree to the downhill side where my feet were completely off the ground. I cried out! I cursed and I yelled and I kicked at them. One of them retrieved the filthy rag that had been my blindfold during the firing squad charade and began stuffing it in my mouth as a gag. With the rag only halfway in, he used the barrel of his rifle to shove it all the way. I was aware of the crack and sting as he broke off one of my front teeth.


My cries and curses were but growls and gurgles lost in the wad of cloth. As I kicked at them they simply used the momentum of my thrusts to swing me in a circle to the downhill side of the tree. I was a tether ball for their sadistic game. My thoughts were so fragmented: pain … code of conduct … what type of aircraft? … what aircraft carrier? … pain … name, rank, serial number … my crewman — dead or alive? … pain … and more pain! “Oh, God, please help me to do what I need to do here. Make me strong. Help me through this, Lord. Please!”

They kept playing with me, laughing, taunting. The bastards were enjoying this. I was soaked with sweat, my arms below the knotted rope were on fire. My shoulders seemed to be coming apart, and time stood still: their faces, the canopy leaves of the tree over the courtyard, the huts of the hamlet, the sweep of the rice paddies as I swung across the downhill arc of the tree- — all just a swirling manifestation of my pain.

Suddenly, with a spike of agony the swinging was arrested and I was staring into the contorted face of my inquisitor as if through a vermillion lens of pain. He picked gingerly at the rag in my mouth, unraveled it and dropped it to the ground.

“Well?” he said. His eyes narrowed. I was shaking my head “No, no!” as I heard a reluctant, raspy voice whisper, “RA-5C. USS Kitty Hawk.” The voice was my own.

That night as I lay in the dark on a pile of musty straw I came to the sobering realization that Lt. Jerry Coffee, professional warrior, had let go of his preconceptions of victory and defeat, and that in my confusion and shame it hadn’t even occurred to me that I had just been brutally tortured. And thank God, at that point, I didn’t know there would be much more to come.

At Guantanamo, the prisoners (who would slit our throats if given the chance) have air conditioning, flushing toilets, copies of the Koran in 13 different languages, three “proper Muslim-approved “ meals a day, Red Cross observers, soccer balls, five prayer times a day, complete medical care and clean surroundings.

Senator Durbin, are you serious?

For me and my fellow American POWs who spent many long years in a filthy hell hole — often in solitary — a thin broth twice a day as meals, a bucket for a toilet and brutal torture, Guantanamo is the Ritz Carlton.

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