A UNITED States soldier claims he was left brain damaged by a beating he received while posing as an un-cooperative prisoner at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.
Sean Baker said that military police taking part in an exercise at the notorious Camp Delta slammed his head on the ground repeatedly, causing a seizure disorder that led to him being medically discharged from the National Guard. The claim is bound to raise further concerns over the treatment of detainees at the prison camp.
Yesterday, the US army admitted that Mr Baker, 37, was injured in the January 2003 incident, which involved four reservists training with an internal reaction force responsible for subduing unruly detainees.
But it said an inquiry had determined that Mr Baker’s injuries were a "foreseeable consequence" of the exercise and that his discharge was not related to it.
"I just feel abandoned," said Mr Baker, who says he is still on medication and suffers flashbacks from the beating. "I want someone to say, ‘I’ll help you through this mess’, and say I’ll be OK."
Mr Baker was a former member of the Kentucky National Guard and of the 438th Military Police Company at the camp, which houses about 600 inmates that the US says are linked to terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda or the ousted Taleban regime in Afghanistan.
He volunteered to play the role of an un-cooperative inmate for the exercise, and put on a prisoner’s orange jump-suit over his uniform before hiding under a bunk.
He said the reservists in riot gear burst into his cell, pulled him from beneath the bunk, began beating and choking him, and did not stop when he shouted the safe word, "Red". He said his legs were twisted, and one soldier jumped on his back and grabbed him by the throat, cutting off his airway.
"I kept yelling, ‘I’m a US soldier, I’m a US soldier’, but they carried on," Mr Baker said. He claimed another guard had ordered the team to "ease up" but that the beating stopped only when his jump-suit came apart and revealed his US military trousers underneath.
Previous exercises involved volunteer soldiers who kept their uniforms on, but Mr Baker said a lieutenant told him he needed to wear the jump-suit to make the training more realistic. "He told me to trust him, that nothing would happen and that I’d be fine," said Mr Baker, who claimed he later learned that his attackers were not told it was an exercise.
Ron England, a former sergeant with Mr Baker’s company, said the soldiers involved "wanted to do it right" but had probably gone too far. "They just exerted too much force and he was resisting. They’re thinking this was the real thing," he told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Mr Baker, from Georgetown, Kentucky, was treated at the camp’s hospital, spent several days at a military hospital in Virginia and was released when an MRI scan revealed no permanent damage.
But he said he remained on medication and suffered increasingly frequent seizures and blackouts, requiring him to spend two months at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington, DC.
Major Laurie Arellano, a spokeswoman for the US army’s southern command in Miami said that Mr Baker’s discharge last month was unrelated. She said the brain scan had cleared him to return to duty and Mr Baker’s later stay at Walter Reed had been for a different condition.
She added that an inquiry in February last year did not recommend disciplinary action against any soldiers.