I'm a reporter with The Huffington Post and was in Guantanamo last month to cover the ongoing hunger strike. Here's my main story.

Here's a photo of me next to a van in Guantanamo painted to look like the Mystery Machine earlier this year.

Ask me anything.

Update: I'll check again for questions later tonight. Thanks!

Comments: 222 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

dstenersen19 karma

How exactly was the atmosphere? Any interesting threats you heard whole you were there?

ryanjreillyHP25 karma

It was certainly very tense. They have pretty strict ground rules and you obviously only get the military's perspective as the detainees don't even really know you're there. As I explained in my story, Camp Six -- the communal camp -- was converted into a single-cell operation because detainees were covering the cameras in their cells and preventing the military from locking down their communal blocks for two hours each night. So you have detainees who were free to roam outside their cells for 22 hours a day now kept in their cells for 22 hours a day. I'd imagine the isolation makes it much more difficult to keep up with the hunger strike, though those who have been added to the list are able to eat a little bit and stay on the list.

dstenersen7 karma

It seems like it would be difficult for inmates to know exactly if the hunger strike were still going on. with the limited time with other prisoners, communication is probably fairly limited. The guards could essentially use this to their advantage if played right. any thoughts?

ryanjreillyHP11 karma

They could. Officials contended that the detainees were placed into single cells for their safety rather than to break the hunger strike, but than again they also insisted that the timing of the raid had nothing to do with the fact that the Red Cross left the day before the raid took place. So far, the hunger strike numbers have held steady since they finally caught up to how many were actually hunger striking after the raid.

misterbob1315 karma

Do they still use psychological torture elements such as heavy metal music?

ryanjreillyHP27 karma

I couldn't say for sure, but detainees have alleged that the prisons are kept very cold and that guards make it difficult for them to sleep. Conditions have certainly improved since the infamous Camp X-Ray but we're still holding people who have been cleared for transfer regardless of how their living situations might have improved.

Facha66918 karma

Psychological torture is not allowed anymore under any circumstances. ICRC monitors interrogations recordings. Besides, these detainees have no further useful information. Most are still incarcerated only to prevent them from going back to fighting and because we can't do anything with them. Source: I'm a DoD interrogator.

EDIT: This is not my AMA. I wanted to clarify a bit the question posed. My job is used to prevent as much as possible attacks on US interests, land, and people. Thus, I don't want to shine too much info on the subject in such a public forum

EDIT 2: This thread has lost focus. I provided a tidbit to answer a question and more questions came in for me, which was fine at first. Then two people started attacking with opinions and even i lost focus. I apologize OP. I believe in what i do and i fight for what i believe. I will erase my negative comments that serve no purpose to the original topic.

iamadeformedewok14 karma

Besides, these detainees have no further useful information.

Which begs the question:

What happens the next time we do have a huge influx/surplus of people who have valuable information? God forbid we have another tragedy on the scale of 9/11, but comments like this really don't reassure me that the govt won't flip-flop this stance at its own whim.

Facha6696 karma

There are ways and loopholes used by others than DoD. But regulations, bureaucracy, and red tape have our hands tied. Torture IMHO is when an action leaves a lasting psychological or physical damage. Nowadays, we aren't allowed to put a detainee in stress positions. Forget slapping or environmental manipulation or sleep deprivation. I don't do it because it isn't illegal. I have seen the enemy. I broken bread with them. They are far more committed than we are. They can wait for generations.

iamadeformedewok4 karma

I have seen the enemy. I broken bread with them. They are far more committed than we are. They can wait for generations.

Have you seen Zero Dark Thirty? I know you haven't personally used these techniques, but - if you're allowed to talk about stuff like this - can you comment on the plausibility of the scenario in which the CIA uses sensory deprivation on Ammar and then tricks him into thinking that he had unwittingly cooperated during deprivation?

Would a hardcore terrorist really buy into a (seemingly obvious) trick like that? And even if Ammar really did believe that he unknowingly broke, would he really just continue to spill more info like that? Wouldn't he feel ashamed/disgusted with himself and shut them out even more?

Facha6692 karma

I wouldn't comment on classified material, source or methods. And you're right, I would never use those techniques. But it would work the way it is depicted, you'd be surprised what your mind does to cope. Also, good interrogators have other manipulation tools. There are articles about US POWs cooperating with the enemy. They give one small concession, or admited to one small thing, and from there it was just chipping away. This why we are taught SERE and the Code of Conduct. Saddam Husayn's interrogator spent 6 months doing nothing but establishing rapport before even asking any pertinent question. Defunct techniques like Alice in Wonderland aren't permitted any more not because they do not work but because they can be considered mental torture. Resisting questioning is a burden that once they start talking it makes it easier to continue talking. TL;DR yes, it could work.

EDIT: Took link out. The one linked in response to this is much better.

iamadeformedewok3 karma

Interesting, thanks.

Original NYTimes link for anyone interested: Memories of Wars Never Fought - Joe Sharkey, June 28, 1998

Facha6692 karma

Army lieutenant who had participated in the mission, Robert Van Buskirk, was the primary source for the nerve-gas allegation

Army lieutenants are for the most part kids with a college degree, zero life experience, no military experience, have power, and highly susceptible. IMHO.

ryanjreillyHP9 karma

You should totally do an AMA. How often are you in GTMO?

iamadeformedewok7 karma

such as heavy metal music

Or better yet, blasting Harlem Shake in an infinite loop.

ryanjreillyHP11 karma

FWIW, "Thrift Shop" was playing on Radio GTMO on our drive to watch morning prayers at Camp Five at 5 a.m.

CloudCity4011 karma

Yeah Prep

  • How strict were the ground rules that were given to you? i.e. Photography, communication with the prisoners, questions you could ask, etc

  • Was your article reviewed by the government before press time? If so, how intense was the censorship?

  • Where there any questions that you asked where you were told they were not allowed to answer, and can you tell us what those were?

ryanjreillyHP12 karma

Very strict ground rules. Here they are. Photos were screened every day, they deleted one photo I took of some graffiti about torture and disrespect of Islam on the grounds that the handwriting could be recognized.

No review of my articles, though the publication of certain information learned during the trip could lead to future bans.

Anything about the secretive Camp Seven where the high value detainees like KSM are held.

true___neutral3 karma

No review of my articles, though the publication of certain information learned during the trip could lead to future bans.

You too read Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent.

ryanjreillyHP3 karma

From the rules: "While at GTMO, and in transit to and from GTMO, [News Media Representatives] may be exposed to aspects of detention and base operations the disclosure of which must be avoided for reasons of national security, force protection and compliance with international treaty obligations. These operations are part of the base operations that the general public is not invited or permitted to view. As a result, JTF-GTMO has designated aspects of these operations whose disclosure is not permitted, and NMRs at GTMO will be required, as a condition of their visits, to safeguard this information, which will be deemed Operational Protected Information. Operational Protected Information, as determined by JTF-GTMO, is identified in these ground rules."

Racso_9 karma

What attitude do the staff have to the prisoners?

How well do they get to know each other personally?

ryanjreillyHP18 karma

The leadership is very dismissive of any complaints the detainees bring to their attention. "Captain John," the officer-in-charge of Camp Six, said detainees complain about the number of calories in their yogurt.

I was really struck by how young the guards were. Some of them are only 18, there may even be some 17-year-olds mixed in there. They were little kids when Sept. 11 happened. Last month, FBI counterterrorism officials hosted a briefing featuring 911 calls from 9/11 to remind them of the attack.

They're also not allowed to read WikiLeaks, so they can't really know everything about the people they're guarding. You don't get the sense that the fact that over half of the detainees in the prisons there -- 86 of the 166 -- have been cleared for transfer is always on their minds. They also occasionally get "splashed" with cocktails of feces, blood and semen -- ( here's some feces on the ceiling inside Camp Five). Not an easy gig. One former detainee told me that by the time they do form relationships with the guards they get transferred out and there's a whole new batch.

Under-your-bed9 karma

Did you enjoy Big Bob's cock meat sandwich?

ryanjreillyHP6 karma

Prepheckt1 karma

You forgot the small restaurant at the air terminal. The Jerk House was good. I never got an O'Kelly's t-shirt. Is the pizza place gone?

ryanjreillyHP2 karma

Pizza Hut still there. Jerk House is good. Only a Subway at the terminal.

alansmith7178 karma

Thanks for joining us,

What was the precise mood/persona presented, gestalt, by those in charge at Guantanamo?

ryanjreillyHP6 karma

Very dismissive of detainee complaints. John Bodgan has a tough reputation, detainees have told their lawyers that they took away a lot of their personal items earlier this year. Lots of links to detainee accounts in my story.

greenbabyshit8 karma

this story leads me to a few questions.

if the medical community says that force feeding is inhumane, why is it being done? these men have made a decision that dying would be better than living in this current state, who are we to question that choice?

while I will not hold any kind of harsh feelings towards the lower level "hands on" military members, why are the higher ranking members not being held accountable for the conditions these prisoners face?

while you were there, did you see any prisoners behaving in a manor that would warrant any harsh treatment? is it possible that the conditions they face are a result of failure to comply?

in your opinion, does it do us any benefit to keep these men any longer? I understand that a few of them may be "key players" in terrorist organizations, but is there really a chance that the majority of these men are actually important terrorists?

ryanjreillyHP14 karma

The military and the people who run federal prisons are on the same page on force-feeding. They consider hunger strikes an attempt to self-harm, so they take measures to stop it. Medical community nearly unanimously agrees that people shouldn't be force-fed.

Trying to get better conditions for Guantanamo detainees isn't necessarily the most popular political cause.

We mostly saw detainees from afar or on monitors. They were in their cells pacing around or lying down. We didn't see many interactions between guards and detainees, but they obviously have a lot more control in Camp Six since they moved to a single-cell operation.

ryanjreillyHP6 karma

On your other question, 86 of the 166 of them have been cleared for transfer to other countries, so they clearly aren't key players in the eyes of the U.S. government.

TorDrowae7 karma

After 33 games, your beer pong record stands at 7-26, good for dead last in the division. Do you have any explanation or excuse?

ryanjreillyHP21 karma

Giving up would let the terrorists win.

junglerobot7 karma

Did you ever get the feeling they were trying to hide anything or they were trying to make things look better than they actually are?

ryanjreillyHP13 karma

Certainly, there are aspects of the operation they don't want us to see, and they shut out reporters in the weeks before the raid. It definitely seems like things were pretty out of control before the raid on April 13, I couldn't imagine any prison official in the US allowing his prisoners to take over entire blocks of a prison for weeks at a time and cover up their cameras so they had no clue what was going on. There was a fight over our access to morning prayers in Camp Five and we ended up getting evacuated because there was a medical incident involving a detainee who was feeling dizzy.

junglerobot3 karma

Thanks for the response.

That sounds pretty intense. Did you ever feel threatened or in danger?

ryanjreillyHP3 karma

No, it's very, very safe, very tight security. We were never really in a position where we were exposed to any danger.

Legato20017 karma

Did anyone, prisoner, guard or official give you an indication that Guantanamo would be closed in the near future (given the President's recent comments) or did they not take those words seriously?

ryanjreillyHP8 karma

I don't think anyone takes that very seriously, though my trip took place before Obama's comments. They're trying to get more permanent structures approved.

true___neutral7 karma

They're trying to get more permanent structures approved.

Oh my god that's so funny. They're going to close down Guantanamo and make something more permanent!

ryanjreillyHP11 karma

Dengar4 karma

Is there a sense from the people working there that they are part of something that is wrong? Or do they just kind of do their jobs and not think about it?

ryanjreillyHP5 karma

One person I spoke with opposed Guantanamo before they arrived but their opinion has shifted. They don't see an easy solution. I think a lot of them are just doing their jobs. Very tough gig, vast majority of them obviously doing it honorably.

kooxchicle4 karma

Do the employees at Guantanamo having any feeling if it will be shut down in the near future or do they perceive all the talk as pure "political lip service?"

ryanjreillyHP6 karma

Don't think anyone really expects it to be shut down anytime soon, some of the complaint we heard were about how many of the facilities there were built for temporary use and need to be upgraded. The kitchen facility got hit pretty hard by the hurricane, they're trying to have a more permanent facility built. There's a new chapel going up right near the camps, plenty of new housing being built all over.

69ingpenguins3 karma

Do you agree that droning is the new guantanamo?

ryanjreillyHP3 karma

It's certainly easier to kill an alleged terrorist than deal with all the political nonsense over trying an alleged terrorist in federal court. Most people who are serious about this agree that federal courts have a much better track record than untested military commissions. I mean, the military commissions judge didn't even know the CIA could cut off the video feed of his own courtroom. That's insane. But the guy in charge of commissions said he's going to see this out.

youkayBRO2 karma

Hey. Can you please provide us or mods with verification? Also, how long did you stay in Guantanamo? Was it hard to get permission from the authorities? Did you feel you had open access to what you wanted to see there? Care to offer your insight on the issue of this proposed dichotomy between drone strikes on one end, and g'mo and the shadow prisons on the other? Thanks for providing coverage to this issue, maybe it will force politicians to re-consider human rights abuses.

edit - you already provided verification - see tweet in OP

ryanjreillyHP5 karma

I've been to Guantanamo three times since last spring, once with TPM, twice with HuffPost. My previous visits were to cover military commissions pretrial hearings, this was the first visit I was actually allowed to visit the camps. I was there from Monday through Friday the same week as the Boston bombings.

It's tough but not impossible to get permission to visit, there are just a number of hoops to jump through. Office of Military Commissions runs planes down there every week from Andrews Air Force Base but you're not allowed to take those flights if you're on a Joint Taks Force Guantanamo trip to visit the prison camps (there's no good reason). So you have to fly to Fort Lauderdale and catch a plane from there.

Definitely didn't have open access, would have preferred a lot more. It's a constant fight, there are people there who want to provide more access, there are those who don't.

Don't think I could adequately answer the drones/gtmo question in a short period of time so going to pass on that one for now.

true___neutral1 karma

there are people there who want to provide more access, there are those who don't.

Sounds like good cop bad cop to me.

ryanjreillyHP1 karma

yep, a bit of that.

Maxwyfe2 karma

My fear when I learned that this camp would open (way back in '01/'02) is that it would become a concentration camp. Can you assuage or confirm my fears?

ryanjreillyHP16 karma

That term carries a lot of baggage beyond the strict dictionary definition, going to pass on weighing in on that.

Maxwyfe1 karma

Alright, I'll rephrase. Was it your observation that the prisoners were adequately housed? Did they have a clear understanding of why they were there?

ryanjreillyHP3 karma

Those detainees in Camp Six were obviously living a lot more comfortably before the raid and could move outside their cells for 22 hours per day. I didn't get to talk to any detainees there, that's against the rules, but 86 have been cleared for transfer so obviously those detainees don't get why they're still there (though the Muslim advisor told us they understand the political obstacles that have prevented their departure).

Hef332 karma

Did you go to any of the beaches there, if so how are they? Did you see any of the giant rodents around base housing?

ryanjreillyHP4 karma

Haven't done a beach day yet, but it is a beautiful place. There's a tiki bar right near the water. I've seen dead banana rats and plenty of living iguanas.

Prepheckt1 karma

There's not much to the beaches there, they're all rocky except for Glass Beach.

ryanjreillyHP1 karma

"Girl Scout Beach" also struck me as an extremely creepy name, despite the explanation.

Proud11B2 karma

What were the soldiers like that worked there? How did they feel about the prisoners?

ryanjreillyHP1 karma

Think I answered this in another post, but I didn't have as much access to lower ranking guards as I would have preferred. My request for an interview with a guard wasn't fulfilled.

cuptocanada1 karma

At this point since their release is so unlikely, do you think the prisoners will continue the hunger strike until there is a death or two resulting from it?

ryanjreillyHP2 karma

I'd expect this to drag on. The military's Muslim advisor in Guantanamo (who many of the prisoners don't trust, according to letters to their lawyers) predicted more than one death.

perche1 karma

Tell us about why some of them are there.

ryanjreillyHP1 karma

All different reasons, but 86 have been cleared for transfer so clearly aren't considered major threats.

drgk1 karma

How was the disc golf?

ryanjreillyHP2 karma

Guantanamo does have a golf course, I actually picked up a frisbee golf disk with their logo on it when I was there in January.

[deleted]1 karma


ryanjreillyHP3 karma

Naval Station Guantanamo Bay has been around much longer than the prisons have been there, but its certainly true that Guantanamo has become synonymous with the detention centers. Didn't mean to mislead, I was in Guantanamo last month.

[deleted]1 karma


ryanjreillyHP8 karma

Think you were reading too much into it.

WantedDead1 karma

What was your impression of the guards there as people? There have in the past been allegations of torture, and we are currently aware that force-feeding is taking place, an action deemed inhumane by the AMA as well as a large portion of the population.

But it's ultimately the guards and personnel on the ground level who must take the theory of these actions and put them into practice. And it is to my continual amazement that personnel in such positions simply follow orders. Personally, I would refuse.

Do they believe what they're doing is right? Do some of the personnel enjoy inflicting harm on detainees? Or do they just turtle up and figure that they're only doing their jobs?

I guess what I'm asking is, in your experience, how do you feel they (those on the ground floor) justify what could arguably be called cruel and unlawful actions?

ryanjreillyHP5 karma

I didn't get to interact with the guards as much as I would have liked, but almost all of the military flacks I dealt with are good people just doing their jobs.

Like I've said in other responses, I do think the fact that the guards aren't allowed to know much about the detainees they're watching could harm the overall mission and perpetuate an us-versus-them dynamic. I know I wouldn't be able to resist looking at WikiLeaks if I was a guard there, but if you polled some of the guards I'd bet many of them don't realize that over half of the detainees have been cleared for transfer. The detainees obviously don't always treat the guards so kindly, but who wouldn't be pissed if they were cleared for transfer but still locked up for no reason. So it's just a tough situation overall.

azsportsfan1 karma

Did you have to pay for your travel expenses?

ryanjreillyHP1 karma

HP kindly picked up the bill.

samsteinhp1 karma

Hey Ryan, what's it like working with Amanda Terkel?

ryanjreillyHP6 karma

It's better than working with Sam Stein, for sure.


Are you the first journalist to be allowed to take pictures inside?

ryanjreillyHP3 karma

Definitely not, people have been taking photos for years. The fantastic Carol Rosenberg, who's been covering Guantanamo since 2002, would note that the rules are constantly changing depending upon who's in charge:

The government censor stands in front of a No Photography sign and says, "New policy, the sign and scene behind are now OK. Have at it." You take your camera to a shed for a security review a few minutes later and a sergeant says, "Um, 'No Photography' signs are forbidden." "They just told us it was OK," I say. "For real?" he asks. "For real," I reply. He deletes it anyway. There was a sliver of concrete in the frame. The fringes of a bunker you're not allowed to see.


What was your impression of the other inmates? Hardened criminals or seemingly normal people?

ryanjreillyHP-1 karma

We don't get to interact with the detainees, but it does strike you when you see them that they're just seemingly regular dudes rather than superhuman bad guys that our federal judicial system can't handle (as some would have you believe).

leahcim314-1 karma


ryanjreillyHP8 karma

No, had nothing to do with the quality of the food, it had to do with alleged mistreatment/their continued detention. I'd encourage you to read the piece.

ShartOfTheSwarm-1 karma

They let you take pictures!? Wtf. I mean, obviously that's good, but why?

ryanjreillyHP1 karma

All photos are screened, you can't show any detainees faces.

charlieb0i-2 karma

Were you ever told you couldn't tell anyone what you saw? The faeces stuff is shocking, did they warn you to keep certain things to yourself or limit you from things you were allowed to see?

ryanjreillyHP1 karma

We learn certain information during the trip which is considered protected information which we can't report on under the ground rules, but nothing prevents us from describing what we saw or witnessed generally. It's mostly names that we learn accidentally of people who don't want their names published. You can read the rules for yourself here.

sjadowcrash-2 karma

Who is your leader!?

ryanjreillyHP1 karma

In DC overall? The guy who wrote this. So pretty sweet gig.

[deleted]-2 karma


K_reale12-2 karma

What is the security like?...heavy?...loud?

ryanjreillyHP3 karma

Very heavy security especially near the prison facilities.

jeannaimard-2 karma

Ice cream: chocolate or vanilla?

ryanjreillyHP1 karma

Don't know what kind of ice cream the detainees get, but they were getting cookies the day we visited the kitchen facility. I like vanilla.

ReluctantRedditor275-6 karma

Would you rather waterboard one horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses?

ryanjreillyHP4 karma

It would probably be less harsh for a horse-sized duck, right?

Ringtailed79-15 karma


ryanjreillyHP14 karma

1 horse-sized terrorist. Easier to see him coming.

deemeetree4 karma

Just wanted to say thanks for being a sport and answering this terrible question that always comes up in these AMAs. The asker is getting downvoted (probably more since you've seen in) but it's still awesome that you took time to answer it.

ryanjreillyHP3 karma

No problem!