For 6 1/2 months starting in December 2002, Army Sergeant Erik Saar served as an Arabic translator and a military intelligence specialist at the detention facility for suspected terrorists that the U.S. operates at its naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He recounts his experiences in a new book, Inside the Wire, co-written by TIME correspondent Viveca Novak. In the following excerpt, Saar, now retired from the Army, deals with the issue of suicide attempts among the detainees and the military's use of the Initial Reaction Force (IRF). An IRF team, Saar explains, is a five-person unit responsible for subduing an obstreperous detainee. Four soldiers each take a limb; the fifth takes the head. The soldiers are supposed to apply pressure to sensitive points on the body if necessary to restrain the inmate, but, Saar reports, it is not unusual for detainees to be beaten. The names of detainees and personnel who worked with Saar were changed to protect their privacy.
My fellow translators Adam and Vanessa and I were lounging around the office one quiet afternoon when an MP's urgent-sounding voice came over the radio: "Translator needed pronto on cellblock Charlie." Adam and I both bolted. As we cleared into Charlie block, we saw medics rushing there as well. Out in the yard I saw a detainee, blood all over his right arm and covering his feet, halfway on a stretcher with the left side of his body dangling.
A doctor was kneeling next to the detainee, and Adam went and knelt next to him. I heard them telling the captive, a Bahraini named Halim, that he was going to be all right. On the ground outside the shower I noticed a pool of dark red blood; the detainee had apparently cut his wrists with a razor. Sitting on the cellblock steps was a trembling National Guardsman, a kid of no more than 19, trying to calm his nerves with a cigarette.
An MP summoned me over to the shower. There was another puddle of blood, with more smeared on the wall. I realized that the blood on the wall was writing. The senior officer asked me to translate. "Sir, it reads: 'I committed suicide because of the brutality of my oppressors,'" I said. The young soldier cowering on the steps had been tasked with monitoring the detainee. When he heard me, he looked horrified. I could see he was blaming himself for the carnage, and I walked over to him. "This wasn't your fault," I said.
"But I heard what you just said," he replied in a pained voice. I tried to convince him that the detainee meant "oppressors" writ large--the American infidels, not the guy standing outside his stallbut the kid looked dubious.