Confessions Of A Gitmo Guard

Published on Counterpunch, by Debbie Nathan, February 27, 2008.

A psychiatrist who has treated former military personnel at Guantanamo prison camp is telling a story of prisoner torture and guard suicide there, recounted to him by a National Guardsman who worked at Guantanamo just after it opened.

Dr. John R. Smith, 75, is a Oklahoma City psychiatrist who has done worked at military posts during the past few years. He is also a consultant for the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services, and is affiliated with the Veteran’s Affairs Administration Hospital in Oklahoma City. The court-appointed psychiatric examination of Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Federal Building in 1995, was conducted by Smith. A few years ago, he became a contract physician, treating active duty members of the US military in need of psychotherapy.


Smith spoke on February 22, 2008, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, held in Washington DC. His presentation dealt with the psychological impact on guards of working at Guantanamo. He focused on a chilling case history, of a patient he called “Mr. H.” …

… Smith said that by the time he saw Mr. H, he “had become very ill. He was suicidal, terribly depressed, anxious,” and “riddled with insomnia and horrible dreams and flashbacks.” He had already seen two military therapists and not improved. But those therapists “were active duty and he didn’t dare tell them” what had happened at Guantanamo . Smith was not active duty, and after two or three sessions Mr. H opened up. With medication and psychotherapy, he became less suicidal but was still too sick to do any more military service.

Three years later after treating Mr. H, Smith got three new patients who were guards at Guantanamo on later tours. They said conditions were much improved  – “they loved it at Guantanamo and went swimming in the Caribbean.” Still, one guard was having problems directly related to his work there. He “described having to cut down a detainee” who tried to hang himself after chewing through an artery in his own arm. There was blood everywhere. When the guard left Guantanamo , he was suffering from “anxiety attacks, panic attacks.”

Smith said his presentation at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting was the first time he’d ever spoken publicly about his Guantanamo patients. He decided to talk, he said, because he is concerned that veterans are generally ineligible for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) disability benefits if the condition is not caused by combat. He considers the guards of Guantanamo “an overlooked group of victims.” But in making that case, Smith stepped into a unique role. Heretofore, almost all accounts of torture at Guantanamo have come from non-governmental human rights groups or detainees and their defense lawyers. The FBI accounts in 2004 were contradictory. Smith, a prestigious physician, relayed accounts from inside the military. (full text).

(Debbie Nathan is a New York City-based journalist who writes frequently for CounterPunch. She can be reached by e-mail).

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