[November 18, 2005] 'They couldn't take away my dignity'
This weekend Amnesty International is holding a conference in London which brings together the biggest gathering of former "war on terror" detainees.
Around 25 former inmates at Guantanamo Bay are attending and speakers will include former detainees from the UK, Russia and Afghanistan.
Ahead of the three-day conference, Amnesty conducted interviews with four former Guantanamo detainees and transcripts of these are below.
[At Bagram airbase in Afghanistan] The guards had put barbed wire at the back of the cages or the cells where we'd use that area as the latrine. This detainee had apparently been able to push the barbed wire through and crawl out and run out - completely confused as to whether he's going left or right or where he was going to go in his orange suit. So the guards caught him and they beat him literally to death. After which they dragged him in front of all the cells which were there and that's when I saw his body. They took him to the medical room which was also opposite the cell where I was and they closed the doors. After that there was a whole series of doctors and medics and officers running in and rushing about. And eventually they carried his body out on a stretcher with the blanket covering his face and all we could se were the beaten soles of his feet that were visible.
I spoke to one of the soldiers who used to get along quite well with me and he told me exactly what he'd done, why he'd done it and how he'd done it. This soldier I'd met in Kandahar and he was one of the few who used to speak to me quite regularly and I was so amazed that he was so candid about telling me how he'd done this and why he'd done this and why he felt it was completely justified and almost vindicated himself by the fact that he's telling me.
When people say, "How did you manage?" Well sometimes I didn't manage. Sometimes I exploded myself and broke up everything and fell about, cried, smashed my head against the wall. But that was a rarity. Generally I tried to be a controlled and as calm as possible. One important thing to me was dignity and self control and self respect. They had definitely taken my freedom and my ability to be free, but what they couldn't do was to take away my dignity, and that's what I held on to.
When they handed out Korans to us in Bagram I remember seeing the Americans passing them through the airlocks and throwing them onto the ground. People might think that well, its just a book, but if you believe like you do as a Muslim that this is the unadulterated revealed speech of God and it is the most sacred thing that a Muslim would have in his house. To see them do that for me brought about a sense of complete desperation, that I can't do anything about this and them for the other Afghans and various other prisoners it was intolerable.
And it was of course part of the dehumanising process again. And one of the guards there of that unit told me when I used to have discussions with them, that when we see you people we can't look at you as human beings. Our psyche does not allow us to do that - because if we did we wouldn't treat you this way. It's easy for us to dehumanise you. First of all most of you guys don't speak the same language. Secondly, you look different. Thirdly, you're dressed different. Fourthly, you're in cages and we're out here with the guns.
The use of torture has in the 21st century become a topic of debate. Should we or should we not. And I think that it's just such a terrible statement ... on the state of us as human beings on the planet today.
The people who claim to be the upholders and defenders of freedom are debating now whether it is legitimate to use torture. After all of what the world has been through arguing against the fact. And if it does in one way or another become legitimised, either mental torture or physical or psychological, which has been clearly used by several countries, then I think the world will spiral into something that nobody will be able to control.
People have been held there [Guantanamo] for four years now, almost. What possible intelligence value could they be giving after all this time - even if there was any to begin with?
So I would say categorically that not only should the United States close the place down. I think people should be repatriated. Those people who have committed crimes should be charged. Those people who have not should be released and should be compensated - if it's possible to compensate people for the time and for the physical and mental torture that they've had to suffer all of this time.
Actually in the beginning when we were in Bagram and Kandahar and in cells of ISI, we suffered a lot. We have been kicked out, we have been kicked by the feet of soldiers. We have become naked; they have taken our naked pictures. They have shaven our beards and they have insulted us in different ways. The way they were taking us to interrogation in Kandahar was really insulting and we suffered a lot and we had no shower for three months in Bagram and Kandahar and the same way for two and a half months in cells of ISI in Peshawar. The way we were taken and flown from Peshawar to Bagram, and from Bagram to Kandahar and from Kandahar to Guantanamo Bay was really torturing, we suffered a lot. They tied us with plastic handcuffs and it really hurt us and the most terrible thing was when they took us from Kandahar to Guantanamo. We had goggles on our head and had masks and we were blinded there and it was a very long flight of 24 hours. What happened to us... It is just torturing us mentally right now and when I just think about Guantanamo, I think about Kandahar, I think about Bagram I think about the cells of ISI, I cannot forget the night we were arrested and we left our children crying without reason. We haven't been criminals, we haven't done anything wrong. We have been journalists, we have been scholars, we have been intellectuals, we have been reporters and editors you can see the library here. I can draw it for you this is the whole block you can see. You know and there were two rows, in each row there were 24 cells and then there was another row of 24 cells. You can see and each cell was 180 centimetres in length, and the width and the height was 180 centimetres. It was the place where we had to sleep, where we had to offer our prayers, where we had to go to the bath and that was the whole thing we had in our life. We had to stay here for a long time and after every three days and sometimes after every five days we had to go out for 20 minutes and some people for 30 minutes if we were not on punishment. But those who were on punishment had to stay there for longer times - for a month, two or three without coming out.
Actually we couldn't get our messages from home and our families couldn't receive our messages up to almost one year and a half. The first time I received our message through Red Cross. I wrote my first message in Kandahar but it arrived home after 8 months and we received our first message after one year and most of the messages were coming through Red Cross and they used to censor and erased just those lines which they didn't like - you can see these.
I want to go to that conference [Amnesty's] because we want to impart and to give the details to the rest of the world and we want to inform the world so it does not happen again. So the right thing is done to those innocents who are still in detention and punishment for those who are really guilty. I mean keeping this information secret and not telling the world would be a dishonesty an intellectual dishonesty and we want to tell the world and it's very important. It's just many people are waiting for us to listen and to know what was going on there and what happened and what were the results.
The torture was basic. In order to cause discomfort they switched on the air conditioning and closed the door to the room. The chain was covered with frost. Before the investigation we were held in the isolation ward for ten days to a month. During this time continuous beatings and insults took place.
Concerning our transfer from Kandahar to Guantánamo: it was a very cruel journey. We were all chained, attached to the seats. We were wearing headphones, blacked out glasses and respirators, making breathing almost impossible. People were continually losing consciousness because of the respirators. The headphones caused high pressure on the head, almost causing a hole, and all of that caused a lot of pain.
We were put into an American detention centre at Kandahar air base. Every one of us suffered from torture and humiliation. The beatings became a routine. Isolation wards, unsanitary conditions and we were sleeping on the sand in the winter. This humiliation was bringing us to our knees.
The torture we were subjected to include beatings and systematic provocations to try and make the detainee break some instructions. And when that happens a special team is called - they would run into the cell, beat and chain him up.
During the interrogations they left you in a cold room for a few weeks. Isolation wards are a good example. We weren't given anything to lie on - no carpet. All of us have problems with our kidneys because we slept on the iron with air conditioning on. It was freezing cold. The ceilings began to be covered with condensation from the cold. We were held like that for months. I was in the isolation ward for five months. I consider the biggest humiliation I have suffered is the stigma that the Americans gave to me. The life-long brand of terrorist, extremist, which I received in Guantánamo has stayed with me since being extradited to Russia.
We have to expose to the public these crimes of the system speaking out for all of the international community, few people have taken the opportunity using legitimate or other methods and people are starting to understand what happened. Some people on behalf of the whole community say that Muslims are the terrorists, bandits and killers. I face insults in the streets. It is the fault of a group of people who speak out on behalf of the world's Islamic Uma. I think not all people share the point of view of Bush's administration. Not all Muslims share the opinion of Osama Bin Laden or Zarkowi. There is an attempt to cause tension between two big civilizations and we became the victims of this war, we were caught in the middle. Link