- The prison abuse scandal refuses to die because soothing
White House explanations keep colliding with revelations about dead prisoners
and further connivance by senior military officers - and newly discovered
victims, like Sean Baker.
- If Sean Baker doesn't sound like an Iraqi name, it isn't.
Specialist Baker, 37, is an American, and he was a proud U.S. soldier.
An Air Force veteran and member of the Kentucky National Guard, he served
in the first gulf war and more recently was a military policeman in Guantánamo
- Then in January 2003, an officer in Guantánamo
asked him to pretend to be a prisoner in a training drill. As instructed,
Mr. Baker put on an orange prison jumpsuit over his uniform, and then crawled
under a bunk in a cell so an "internal reaction force" could
practice extracting an uncooperative inmate. The five U.S. soldiers in
the reaction force were told that he was a genuine detainee who had already
assaulted a sergeant.
- Despite more than a week of coaxing, I haven't been able
to get Mr. Baker to give an interview. But he earlier told a Kentucky television
station what happened next:
- "They grabbed my arms, my legs, twisted me up and
unfortunately one of the individuals got up on my back from behind and
put pressure down on me while I was face down. Then he - the same individual
- reached around and began to choke me and press my head down against the
steel floor. After several seconds, 20 to 30 seconds, it seemed like an
eternity because I couldn't breathe. When I couldn't breathe, I began to
panic and I gave the code word I was supposed to give to stop the exercise,
which was `red.' . . . That individual slammed my head against the floor
and continued to choke me. Somehow I got enough air. I muttered out: `I'm
a U.S. soldier. I'm a U.S. soldier.' "
- Then the soldiers noticed that he was wearing a U.S.
battle dress uniform under the jumpsuit. Mr. Baker was taken to a military
hospital for treatment of his head injuries, then flown to a Navy hospital
in Portsmouth, Va. After a six-day hospitalization there, he was given
a two-week discharge to rest.
- But Mr. Baker began suffering seizures, so the military
sent him to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for treatment of a traumatic
brain injury. He stayed at the hospital for 48 days, was transferred to
light duty in an honor burial detail at Fort Dix, N.J., and was finally
given a medical discharge two months ago.
- Meanwhile, a military investigation concluded that there
had been no misconduct involved in Mr. Baker's injury. Hmm. The military
also says it can't find a videotape that is believed to have been made
of the incident.
- Most appalling, when Mr. Baker told his story to a Kentucky
reporter, the military lied in a disgraceful effort to undermine his credibility.
Maj. Laurie Arellano, a spokeswoman for the Southern Command, questioned
the extent of Mr. Baker's injuries and told reporters that his medical
discharge was unrelated to the injuries he had suffered in the training
- In fact, however, the Physical Evaluation Board of the
Army stated in a document dated Sept. 29, 2003: "The TBI [traumatic
brain injury] was due to soldier playing role of detainee who was non-cooperative
and was being extracted from detention cell in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during
a training exercise."
- Major Arellano acknowledges that she misstated the facts
and says she had been misinformed herself by medical personnel. She now
says the medical discharge was related in part - but only in part, she
says - to the "accident."
- Mr. Baker, who is married and has a 14-year-old son,
is now unemployed, taking nine prescription medications and still suffering
frequent seizures. His lawyer, Bruce Simpson, has been told that Mr. Baker
may not begin to get disability payments for up to 18 months. If he is
judged 100 percent disabled, he will then get a maximum of $2,100 a month.
- If the U.S. military treats one of its own soldiers this
way - allowing him to be battered, and lying to cover it up - then imagine
what happens to Afghans and Iraqis.
- President Bush attributed the problems uncovered at Abu
Ghraib to "a few American troops who dishonored our country."
Mr. Bush, the problems go deeper than a few bad apples.
- Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company