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Report: Gitmo Abuse 'Common Practice'

Guards at Guantanamo Bay bragged about beating detainees and described it as common practice, a U.S. Marine sergeant said in a sworn statement obtained by The Associated Press.

The two-page statement was sent Wednesday to the Inspector General at the Department of Defense by a high-ranking Marine Corps defense lawyer. A Guantanamo spokesman said the base would cooperate with any Pentagon investigation.

The lawyer sent the statement on behalf of a paralegal who said men she met on Sept. 23 at a bar on the base identified themselves to her as guards. The woman, whose name was blacked out, said she spent about an hour talking with them. No one was in uniform, she said.

A 19-year-old sailor referred to only as Bo "told the other guards and me about him beating different detainees being held in the prison," the statement said.

"One such story Bo told involved him taking a detainee by the head and hitting the detainee's head into the cell door. Bo said that his actions were known by others," the statement said. The sailor said he was never punished.

Other guards "also told their own stories of abuse towards the detainees" that included hitting them, denying them water and "removing privileges for no reason."

"About five others in the group admitted hitting detainees" and that included "punching in the face," the affidavit said.

"From the whole conversation, I understood that striking detainees was a common practice," the sergeant wrote. "Everyone in the group laughed at the others stories of beating detainees."

The statement was provided to the AP on Thursday night by Lt. Col. Colby Vokey. He is the Marine Corps' defense coordinator for the Western United States and based at Camp Pendleton.

Vokey called for an investigation, saying the abuse alleged in the affidavit "is offensive and violates United States and international law." A call to the inspector general's office was not immediately returned.

"The mission of the Joint Task Force is the safe and humane care and custody of detained enemy combatants. Abuse or harassment of detainees in any form is not condoned or tolerated," Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand said. "We will participate fully with the inspector general to learn the facts of the matter and will take action where misconduct is discovered."

The sergeant said a man named Shawn, who screened detainees' mail, told her it was "not uncommon" for mailroom clerks to withhold mail until they decided to release it.

The sergeant identified herself as a paralegal working at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton in Southern California on a Guantanamo-related case but the name of the case was blacked out in the affidavit copy received by The Associated Press.

The sergeant said she was in Guantanamo Bay from Sept. 20-27 on official business. She met some Marines at a base fitness center and was invited to join them that Saturday night at the base club.

The sergeant said she arrived at the club around 10 p.m., did not see the Marines but was invited to join a group of at least 15 sailors. She spoke with them for about an hour, during which she had one drink. The sailors also drank but did not appear drunk, her affidavit said.

The atmosphere changed when the sergeant was asked about her job and told the group she was working for the defense on a Guantanamo case.

"Everyone in the group became very quiet after they learned of my job and stopped talking about their own jobs," she said.

Guantanamo was internationally condemned shortly after it opened more than four years ago when pictures captured prisoners kneeling, shackled and being herded into wire cages. That was followed by reports of prisoner abuse, heavy-handed interrogations, hunger strikes and suicides.

U.S. military investigators said in July 2005 they confirmed abusive and degrading treatment of a suspected terrorist at Guantanamo Bay that included forcing him to wear a bra, dance with another man and behave like a dog.

However, the chief investigator, Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, said "no torture occurred" during the interrogation of Mohamed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was captured in December 2001 along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Last month, U.N. human rights investigators criticized the United States for failing to take steps to close Guantanamo Bay, home to 450 detainees, including 14 terrorist suspects who had been kept in secret CIA prisons around the world.

Described as the most dangerous of America's "war on terror" prisoners, fewer than a dozen inmates have been charged with crimes. This fall, the U.S. Navy plans to open a new, $30 million maximum-security wing at its prison complex there, a concrete-and-steel structure replacing temporary camps.

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