For years, investigative journalists have tried to obtain information from the U.S. Armed Forces about the military prison which is located on the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Reporters and mental health researchers’ questions about incidences of post-traumatic stress among U.S. military personnel who work at Guantánamo prison were deflected, or went unanswered. The military never supplied any figures.
After a number of troops were evacuated from Guantánamo Bay in 2010, the Army Institute of Public Health conducted a behavioral health study at the naval base. The information and findings uncovered by the Guantánamo investigation remained classified until recently, when their release (thanks to FOIA) revealed the alarming rates of psychiatric illness and deteriorating mental health among military personnel who served there.
According to the study, of the 1,422 troops who were surveyed, 565 developed mental illness and/or showed signs of post-traumatic stress that was directly attributable to their Guantánamo deployments. Nearly 300 of the troops who participated in the screening–nearly 20 percent–had suicidal thoughts, or struggled with clinically-significant levels of anxiety or depression.
Between 2008 and 2011, the joint task force in charge of operations at the Guantánamo detention facility surreptitiously evacuated around 19 troops who had worked in detainee operations. The recorded reasoning behind the evacuation was “behavioral health reasons,” according to the study. As VICE News points out, “PTSD remains a prevalent problem for men and women returning home from war zones around the world, but it can also affect US troops serving as guards and medics in highly dangerous situations—including those deployed to Guantánamo Bay.”
If there is a silver lining to this damning portrait of Guantanamo, it will be in the way the report serves to raise awareness of PTSD within the military. Our troops are hurting–they deserve better.