Guantanamo: America's Battle Lab

65 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2015

See all articles by Mark Denbeaux

Mark Denbeaux

Seton Hall University, School of Law

Jonathan Hafetz

Seton Hall Law School

Joshua W. Denbeaux

Denbeaux & Denbeaux

Joseph Hickman

Seton Hall University - Center for Policy & Research

Date Written: January 12, 2015


The stated intended purpose of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center (GTMO) was to house the most dangerous detainees captured in the course of the Global War on Terrorism. Founded in 2002, the commander in charge of detention operations, Brigadier General (BG) Rick Baccus, effectively operated the camp as a facility for housing prisoners of war. As POWs, the detainees were entitled to basic human rights afforded under the Geneva Conventions. Pursuant to typical military command structure, BG Baccus answered to the United States’ Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). Little did he know, however, the Executive Branch had created a second, secret chain of command, forging direct access between intelligence officials to the President of the United States. The intelligence commander and head of this second chain of command, Major General (MG) Michael E. Dunlavey, received his marching orders directly from President George W. Bush. These orders commanded MG Dunlavey to debrief Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld once a week, in person, on matters of intelligence, which avoided placing any record of their discussions in written form. MG Dunlavey’s predecessor, MG Miller, also reported daily to the Secretary of Defense once per week by telephone.

This arrangement operated beyond the scope of the established military chain of command.

What was it that the Executive Branch was so eager to gain from intelligence at GTMO? Results. The continued pressure effectively created GTMO’s alter-ego. Out of it emerged America’s “Battle Lab,” as MG Dunlavey and MG Miller both referred to GTMO. Every lab must have its test subjects and GTMO was no different; its rats were human beings, detainees. Instead of receiving POW treatment, the detainees underwent a level of interrogation overwhelmingly condemned by federal government agencies at the time, and criticized by all by the agencies involved in intelligence gathering. When the FBI expressed concern over the legality of some interrogation techniques, the agents were told by intelligence officials at GTMO to act like the “guests” that they were. Soon, all personnel not connected with intelligence gathering became guests at the base, unwelcome in many areas of the camp. BG Baccus was muscled out of the facility when his complaints regarding detainee treatment began to interfere with the intelligence mission. Soon after this, all operations were consolidated into a Joint Task Force under the direct supervision of intelligence commander, MG Miller.

The criticized torture tactics, known as Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, were not utilized for the purpose of obtaining reliable information. Instead, the “results” the Executive Branch was searching for was something more sinister. The government sought information on the most effective ways to torture a human physically, information on the most damaging ways to break a man psychologically, and insight as to just how far the human body could be pushed in pain and terror before organ failure or death. Upon arrival, detainees were routinely given psychosis-inducing drugs and were held in isolation for up to 30 days without access to human contact, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. Once in GTMO, non-compliant detainees could also be subject to isolation techniques, which triggered denial of access to both doctors and Red Cross representatives.

When detainees underwent torture, medics monitored their vital signs to ensure that there was no organ failure or death. The policy implemented at the camp was that if the detainee’s pulse dropped below 40 beats per minute, the interrogation had to stop until his pulse was raised to 41 beats per minute. Medics would also draw blood to determine how close each detainee was to kidney failure from the interrogations. In addition, the Department of Defense encouraged the use of psychological interrogation tactics in addition to physical abuse. Intelligence also toyed with detainees’ health through the use of Mefloquine, an anti-malarial medication, at doses known to induce anxiety, paranoia and other mental harm. The FBI reported numerous interrogation techniques exploiting psychological weaknesses and preying on the detainees’ Muslim faith. These interrogation methods would be seemingly stopped by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in early 2003, only to be renamed and repackaged by the Working Group and made available by the Secretary of Defense shortly thereafter in the spring of 2003.

GTMO existed as a place where “Intel” could push nearly all of the boundaries of torture without fear of liability. It placed the intelligence mission at the forefront, demoting any interests of the detention mission. In doing so, the laboratory was formed, paving the way for a multitude of psychological experiments against detainees who were admittedly not “the worst of the worst,” but were in fact merely “low-level enemy combatants.” GTMO operated as a Battle Lab, a world where experimentation on the defenseless served to generate data with which to counsel and train interrogators at military facilities across the globe. These bases utilized the insight granted by intelligence officers from GTMO, most notably Bagram and Abu Ghraib. With GTMO serving as the command center for worldwide interrogation coordination, the laboratory could utilize the results of the torture testing in training future interrogators in different theaters of war. After multiple Senate investigations and the declassification of many documents, the world can now see that GTMO was no simple POW detention center, but has instead operated as America’s Battle Laboratory.

Keywords: Guantánamo, enhanced interrogation techniques, torture, intelligence gathering, detainees, post 9/11, war on terror, GTMO, Geneva conventions

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Denbeaux, Mark and Hafetz, Jonathan and Denbeaux, Joshua W. and Hickman, Joseph, Guantanamo: America's Battle Lab (January 12, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Mark Denbeaux (Contact Author)

Seton Hall University, School of Law ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

Jonathan Hafetz

Seton Hall Law School ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

Joshua W. Denbeaux

Denbeaux & Denbeaux ( email )

No Address Available
United States

Joseph Hickman

Seton Hall University - Center for Policy & Research ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102
United States

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