Gitmo water quality: Statements by prison warden and spokesperson are directly contradicted by US Marine and others

Via Jim White at Emptywheel, it appears that there is a conflict surrounding the potability of tap water at Guantanamo Bay’s detention facilities:

Yesterday, the controversy at the prison expanded. Jason Leopold broke the news via Twitter that attorneys for some of the prisoners have filed an emergency court petition in response to claims that guards at the prison have cut off bottled drinking water and that the tap water prisoners have been told to drink is not potable. Leopold provided links to both the court petition and a declaration from a doctor for one of the prisoners. From the filing requesting an emergency motion:

Gitmo water

According to an AP story linked by White:

Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison, said prisoners are provided with bottled water and that the tap water is safe to drink. “It’s potable water. It’s the same water I make my coffee with and that they make lunch with,” Durand said.

Colonel John V. Bogdan, considered to be Gitmo detention camp’s “warden,” has issued a sworn declaration in which he claims that the tap water at Guantanamo is perfectly safe and that “it is the same water I drink on a daily basis.” The accompanying government motion in opposition to the emergency court petition can be found here.

Detainee counsel has issued a list of exhibits that appear to directly contradict this assertion. Perhaps the most convincing of these exhibits is a sworn declaration by a US Marine Corps. Maj. and judge advocate named Derek A. Poteet. The declaration bluntly states that it is normal procedure to give detainees and prison staffaccess to bottled water at all times and that the tap water at Guantanamo is not potable:

In the housing at “Camp Justice,” there are signs located near the sinks warning that the water is non-potable and that thewater is for hygiene purposes only. I also have been verbally warned not to drink the water at Camp Justice. […] While meeting with clients at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, I have observed the tap water on base at Guantanamo Bay to be Yellowish-brown at times. I have sometimes mistakenly thought that somone forgot to flush a toilet because the water in the bowl was yellow, only to flush it an see that the “clean” water in the bowl was yellow even after flusing. This does not happen all the time, but I have witnessed it multiple times and in different locations on the base including the detention facility. […] I have never observed any military, civilian, or detainee drink water out of a tap inside the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Also included among the exhibits:

  • Declaration of Stephen N. Xenakis, MD: “Advising hunger-striking detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility to drink water from the faucet predispoes them up to gastrointestinal infections and a quick demise, because their metabolic status has been severely compromised and their medical and physiologic conditions are significantly impaired.
  • Declaration of Daniel Lakemacher: “I am a former Hospital Corpsman of the United States Navy. I was deployed to Guantanamo Bay as part of the Joint Task Force – Joint Medical Group in 2007, and served in that capacity into 2008. During my service at the Guantanamo Bay prison, I observed that all military and non-military staff working within the prison facility who drank water, drank exclusively bottled water and never tap water. Likewise, all detainees were provided with bottled water and were never required to drink water from faucets in their cells. I never observed anyone – staff or detainees – drink water from any faucet at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility. All water consumed by both staff and detainees was bottled water.”
  • Statement of Petitioner Musa’ab al Madhwani: “Because the tap water is not suitable to drink, I now drink only the bare minimum amount of water, when bottled water is denied to me. After drinking the water from the tap, I felt nauseated.”
  • Two articles from the official news magazine of Joint Task Force Guantánamo that make it perfectly clear that bottled water is the main source of potable water at Guantanamo.