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Shepperd: Bad impressions of Gitmo 'totally false'

Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd



United States
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (CNN) -- Amid criticism of conditions at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, CNN military analyst Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd toured the installation as part of a visit organized by the Pentagon. He joined CNN's Betty Nguyen for a look inside the facility.

NGUYEN: Gen. Shepperd, what do you see so far while being there?

SHEPPERD: Well, I tell you what, Betty, I'm seeing a lot of rain right now. I thought Cuba was dry and we're in [inaudible] rain storm. But I tell you, every American should have a chance to see what our group saw today. The impressions that you're getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here, in my opinion, are totally false.

What we're seeing is a modern prison system of dedicated people, interrogators and analysts that know what they are doing. And people being very, very well-treated. We've had a chance to tour the facility, to talk to the guards, to talk to the interrogators and analysts. We've had a chance to eat what the prisoners eat. We've seen people being interrogated. And it's nothing like the impression that we're getting from the media. People need to see this, Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. You said you got to talk to the interrogators and the guards. Let's start with the interrogators. What have they told you so far?

SHEPPERD: The interrogators -- basically we have the opinion from things that we've heard that people down here have been mistreated. Everyone that we've talked to -- and this is consistent with things I've known from the past -- every interrogator will tell you that the key to getting information you need is to establish a personal relationship based upon respect over a long period of time with the people.

People won't talk necessarily at first, but eventually, they will begin to talk and you'll get pieces of information that you can fit together with pieces of information from somewhere else. But they say pressure does not work, disrespect does not work, and torture is absolutely something that is counterproductive.

You need to make to make people feel comfortable and comfortable with you to get the information you need. And that came from everyone, men and women, that were interrogators down here. And again, it's consistent with what I've heard in this past.

NGUYEN: Now, this leads me to my next question. Of course, this was a trip organized by the Pentagon. So do you feel like you're getting full access to everything there? Are you seeing a true picture of how it is?

SHEPPERD: Yes, that's always a good question. But I tell you that they are proud to have people down here, including the press, to see what we are seeing. Obviously, they're going to put their best foot forward, And obviously, no matter where you are, there will be from time to time abuses or people misusing or disobeying the regulations, no matter where you are in the process.

But I tell you, I have been in prisons and I have been in jails in the United States, and this is by far the most professionally run and dedicated force I've ever seen in any correctional institution anywhere.

NGUYEN: You also mentioned that you have spoken with guards. What are they saying?

SHEPPERD: Very interesting. I had lunch with a -- one of the female guards and then I talked to a group of male guards as well. I said, do you ever see anything go on here that resembles mistreatment of the prisoners or mistreatment by the prisoners of guard? And they say, we're on alert all the time. They're not armed when they're around the guards for obvious reasons. You don't do that because weapons can be taken and used against you.

But basically, they treat the prisoners firmly, with respect. They don't engage in a lot of banter with them. And they say that the prisoners do things that we've heard about in the media. They sometimes get riled and they'll throw feces, they'll throw urine at the guards. But this entire system is based upon compliance. In other words, if you comply with the rules, you're going to be treated well, you're going to be given more privileges, just like any detention facility. And if you don't, your life is going to be much more miserable than those who do.

So all of the guards seem to be very professional. None of them that I talked to have observed anything in the way of mistreatment or any really bad incidents. So the biggest thing, they say, is the violence between the prisoners themselves. A lot of the prisoners don't like each other. They're from different countries.

NGUYEN: On the flip side, have you had access to the prisoners themselves and what are their conditions?

SHEPPERD: We have not had access to the prisoners themselves. We are told what they are and we have seen all the facilities and we have watched interrogations. We just watched interrogations of two high-value prisoners -- what they can determine is high-value targets or high-value prisoners that have been here for a considerable amount of time. The facilities are basic of prisoners anywhere.

We've seen the cells. They're seven-by-eight foot cells. They're clean. They have a toilet in the facility, they have a water fountain in the facility. They have a bed. They're given the Quran, they're given a mattress, they're given clothes, recreational things such as playing cards, chess, checkers, that type of thing.

We have not had access to talk to the prisoners. And again, that's one thing that you've got to be very careful of. You want to establish a prisoner relationship with the interrogators and not have that proliferated with other people.

NGUYEN: Let's back up for just a moment, because you said you said watched an interrogation.


NGUYEN: Kind of explain to us how that played out. And were there any instances of abuse or possible abuse?

SHEPPERD: Absolutely not. These -- when I sat and watched them, I want to be very careful in describing them. And I don't want to describe how we watched or anything of that sort. But basically, you're able to observe interrogations. They have various ways of monitoring the interrogations and what have you and letting you see what's going on. With the interrogations that we watched were interrogators, there were translators that translated for the detainee and there were also intelligence people in there.

And they're basically asking questions. They just ask the same questions over a long period of time. They get information about the person's family, where they're from, other people they knew. All the type of things that you would want in any kind of criminal investigation. And these were all very cordial, very professional. There was laughing in two of them that we...

NGUYEN: Laughing in an interrogation?

SHEPPERD: ... in the two of them that we watched. Yes, indeed. It's not -- it's not like the impression that you and I have of what goes on in an interrogation, where you bend people's arms and mistreat people. They're trying to establish a firm professional relationship where they have respect for each other and can talk to each other. And yes, there were laughing and humor going on in a couple of these things. And I'm talking about a remark made where someone will smirk or laugh or chuckle.

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