A conversation this side of the wire: Transcription
Almerindo Ojeda: Good evening. Good evening and welcome. My name is Almerindo Ojeda, and I am the director of the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, which is the organizer of this event. We hear a lot about the apathy of the young; obviously they haven’t seen this room. Great to see all these young people. Congratulate yourselves!
The Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas sponsors a number of projects. One of them is The Guantanamo Testimonials Project, which is five years old this year. The goals of this project are to gather testimonies of prisoner abuse at the Cuban base, to organize them in meaningful ways, to make them widely available online, and to preserve them there in perpetuity. In its five years of existence, the Guantanamo Testimonials Project has gathered hundreds of testimonies. From prisoners and their lawyers, from guards and translators, from medics and diplomats, from the FBI and the CIA—and so on. Launched five years ago, the Guantanamo Testimonials Project has become one of the most complete sources of testimony of abuse at the Cuban base. But there is, alas, a lot more to do. If you want to help us do it, please look at the donation materials (that white envelope that we gave you as you came in).
Our event tonight is co-sponsored by the UC Davis Hemispheric Institute on the Americas, the UC Davis Law School, and the UC Davis Humanities Institute. It is also co-sponsored by the Davis Peace Coalition and the Yolo County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Thanks to all our co-sponsors. And thanks to the many volunteers that helped make this event possible. They are Julia, Sonia, Sasha, Michele, Beth, Megha, Mandeep, Nelson, and Mike. Thanks are also due to Mike and John from Academic Technology Services. And to Susanne, Amanda, John, and Dave from the various communications departments of this campus. Special thanks are also due to my family, all of whom provided both moral and material support for this event. Especially my wife Denise, who reminded me that we should never give up. Never, never, never.
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A couple of weeks ago, I was selling tickets at the Davis Farmers Market for this event, when somebody approached me and asked me what was the purpose of this event. “After all,” he said, “Guantanamo has already been closed”. “Not quite,” I replied. As a matter of fact, there are 183 individuals still imprisoned in the Cuban base. And this, more than a year after President Obama issued an executive order--not a promise, an executive order--to close it. Of these 183 individuals, about 100 of them have been cleared for release. A hundred of the 183 prisoners have been cleared for release. Not just by the Obama administration, but by the Bush administration as well. Unfortunately, they have nowhere to go. We are told that we, the United States, are afraid of what they might do to us if we admit them stateside. Our allies tell us that, if we are afraid, then they are afraid too. Besides, we created the problem against their advice, so why should they solve it for us? Then there are the countries that want them, but will probably abuse them as soon as they receive them. So we cannot release it to them either. And then there are the countries that we impose conditions on before they can admit our prisoners.
That’s one hundred of the 183 prisoners. The remaining prisoners split into two groups—those that will be tried and, most ominously, the rest. The prisoners that will be tried will face either a Federal Court or a Military Tribunal. It is up to the Executive, not the Judiciary, to decide which one. But it is not clear that these trials will have any measurable effect. First, military tribunals may exonerate a prisoner, but this does not mean that the military has to release him. It only means that they have to make every effort to release them. Second, even if they were exonerated for release, they would encounter the problem of what country they are going to be released in. . .
But the most ominous of the three categories President Obama has created is the class of prisoners that are too dangerous to release but impossible to try. Why are they impossible to try? Because the evidence against them is either illegitimate (because it was extracted by torture) or is simply unreliable. So they remain in prison on the say so of the Executive.
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But perhaps these are abstractions. We have gathered today to find out, first hand, what living in Guantanamo is really like. To help us catch a glimpse of this, we have here three guests. First, there is Omar Deghayes. Omar is videoconferencing from Brighton, England. Please help me welcome Omar [APPLAUSE]. Omar was imprisoned in Guantanamo from September 2002 to December 2007, so that's more than five years. Originally, we had scheduled Mr. Sami Elhaj, but health reasons prevented him from being with us tonight. Fortunately for us, Mr. Deghayes was able to step to the plate. Thank you, Omar.
Also with us today is Terry Holdbrooks. Let’s welcome Terry, please [APPLAUSE]. Originally we had scheduled Brandon Neely, but he also was unable to come. So I thought that the only thing that was missing was I had to schedule another Amy Goodman to come to the meeting, but I can’t do that…
Terry served in Guantanamo as a guard from June 2003 to July 2004. So Omar and Terry overlapped in Guantanamo for over a year. They lived though, on opposite sides of the wire—the fence that separates us from them.
Today, Omar and Terry are both this side of the wire. And they are willing and able to engage in a conversation about their experiences. This, I should say, is a historic event. For this is the first time a prisoner and a guard will talk before an American audience. Ever.
To facilitate this conversation we have here Amy Goodman. Let’s welcome Amy as well [APPLAUSE]. Amy needs no introduction. As we all know, she is an award-winning journalist. She is also the producer of Democracy Now—an independent news program that is now broadcast on over 800 stations. How could she do that? [How can] an independent producer have such a success? Media historians will ponder this question in the future. But I think the answer is pretty simple. She has journalistic integrity.
Ladies and gentlemen, Amy Goodman [APPLAUSE].
Amy Goodman: It’s really a great honor to be here. It’s an honor to be celebrating the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, to be here on its fifth anniversary and to honor the work of this center in gathering the testimony of prisoners speaking for themselves, of guards speaking for themselves… and tonight, as Almerindo Ojeda said, putting the two together: guard and prisoner for the first time before an American audience. This truly is historic. I don’t want to spend much time talking myself because, well, doing broadcast every day, Monday through Friday, I know how tenuous it is when you make a connection with someone somewhere else and I want to take full advantage of our connection to Omar Deghayes and to be able to hear his description of his own experience and then to speak with Mustafa Abdullah Terry Holdbrooks and hear what he has to say. And also listen to them speak to each other. This truly is a very important moment so without further ado we’re going to begin with Omar Deghayes, who is sitting in a video-conference room in Brighton, England.
Omar Deghayes: Thank you very much for your kind presentation and I would like to first thank everyone that invited me to speak to all of you and especially Almerindo and the people who organized this. It’s a pleasure to speak to all of you today and I’m also happy to see Terry on the other side. Where I’ve seen him before, when I was inside the cell and he was on the outside of the cage. And then I met him once here, in England, when he came here and we met and he’s a respectful personality, he’s a very good man that I respect.
I don’t know what to say, I mean, there isn’t much to say how it is in Guantanamo, how it feels in Guantanamo, other than my name is Omar Deghayes. It’s a long story how I was caught up in all this. I traveled to the Far East for many reasons. One of the reasons was I just finished a law graduation and it was hard work and I wanted a break. I wasn’t allowed to go back to my own country; I lived most of my life here in England so I was yearning for going to a place which is similar in culture to my own country because, before I lived a different life, and when I came to age in this country, I started to think about traveling to countries like mine. I wasn’t able to go back to my own country so I went to the Far East for many reasons. One of the reasons (was) I had friends who invited me to come to Malaysia and India and I was searching for work in Malaysia with my friends. So when I went there, I went to Pakistan and eventually went to Afghanistan.
They didn’t require any visas to go to Afghanistan. The Taliban at the time were big news and they were always in the news, and the rule of Sharia and how the Sharia laws was, and so on. So it interested me because of my background; I am a law graduate. I went to Afghanistan because you didn’t need a visa, you didn’t need anything, you were able to do that just by crossing the border. I went to Afghanistan and met my wife there, I’m married to an Afghani wife. I like the place. All this happened a long time before September 11. When September 11 happened, people everywhere inside Afghanistan were bombarded by planes and I felt for the safety of my small family; I had a newborn child. So we left Afghanistan to come back here to England. When we were in Pakistan, the American authorities of the government of Bush at the time was paying lots of money to people, any people, who would hand them any Arabs (they were buying Arabs) from Pakistan. So he rounded up, in our village and our house, we were captured and then taken to lock-ups where we were mistreated in Pakistan and then sold to the Americans after [INAUDIBLE]…
Goodman: Omar Deghayes, what happened to your wife and child?
Deghayes: I was very concerned about them because I did not know what happened to them in the beginning. I was smuggling letters to their father in Afghanistan when I was in prison. They were locked up in another house and I knew afterwards that this is what happened to them, so I smuggled a letter from prison to their father in Afghanistan to come and collect them, which he was able to do. He came and he eventually took them back to Afghanistan.
Goodman: And where were you brought to?
Deghayes: I was kept in prison for a few months in Pakistan, mistreated and then sold--handed--to the Americans in Islamabad airport. Our heads were covered and then we were handed to Americans. We didn’t know at the time, because our heads were covered by black bags. So we [were] handed and two people roughly pulled us out in the airport and then they stopped us in front of a mirror somewhere in the toilet of the airport and they changed the black bag on my head and put another worse bag, more thicker bag where you can’t breathe properly. When they took the bag off I could see in the mirror it was two Americans, so it was another transformation from Pakistan to American [INAUDIBLE]. So they took us from Pakistan to Bagram base, where we again were badly treated. Bagram base is now in the news because it was a lot worse than Guantanamo Bay. Treatment in Bagram was--and still is--worse than when we were in Guantanamo Bay. We were badly mistreated in Bagram for another two months and then transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
Goodman: Omar Deghayes, you kept referring to we. Who else were you imprisoned with when you were taken from Islamabad airport to Bagram?
Deghayes: We were put in lock-ups, they seemed to be private lock-ups. They were not military prisons nor are they normal police prisons. They were lock-ups and there were a group of people there. Every time they picked up somebody from the streets, an Arab, and brought them to this lock-up. They interrogated, the Pakistanis tortured them and then either they give or sold him to the Americans, because they were an American group of people who we met in Pakistan, who came to meet us first in Pakistan. And they asked certain questions and then they probably decided whether to buy someone or not. And some people they bought, like me, and they took us from there to Guantanamo. And some people they didn’t buy them, so they weren’t released, but they were sent back to their own countries where some of them were (if they were to be returned to their own countries) they were, as we heard afterwards, some of them died or were killed in prison, some of them are still locked up in prison because they were wanted people because some of them were, for example, living all their lives in Pakistan for long time since the very old Russian war against Afghanistan. Some of them participated in that war and because of that they were considered by their own countries in the Middle East as terrorists and bad people. So they couldn’t go back from Pakistan to their own countries, this was like more than 20 years ago, and because of that they were living in Pakistan and Afghanistan. So when they were picked up by the Pakistanis and sold to the Americans, the Americans realized they didn’t need these people, they didn’t want them. So the Pakistanis sold them to their own Arab countries; some of them to Egypt, some of them to Libya, some of them to Tunisia and so on. So after that we ended up in Guantanamo and everybody knows what happened in Guantanamo.
Goodman: Can you talk about what happened to you first in Bagram and then in Guantanamo? Because of course, you’ve lived this yourself and you’ve retold the story, but for people in the United States, I think we know very little about what actually goes on there.
Deghayes: It starts from Pakistan. In Pakistan when we were locked up we were taken to different, private, locations. We were not taken to police stations, but usually we were taken out to private locations, different villas, different hotel rooms when we were met by American personnel wearing civilian clothes. One time one of them introduced himself as the head of the CIA Libyan section, and he said he was in Libya in the 60s, and he even heard about my father and he said he was a noble man--he knew about him when he was in Libya and things like that.
Goodman: Can you explain what your father had done?
Deghayes: My father is a well-known lawyer in Libya and he was fighting for Libyan independence. He was a well-known politician, one of the first lawyers in the country, and he was afterwards, because of his opposition to Gaddafi’s dictatorship, he was assassinated and because of that, afterwards, the whole family was harassed and mistreated in Libya when we were young children. My age was ten; I had younger brothers and a younger sister and older brothers. Some of them were six years old. So we were badly mistreated, we had demonstrations in front of our house and so on. So my mother feared for our safety and she took us all and she really ran away to come and live in this country because it was a place where you used to come here to learn English. So this is the story of my father; he was a well-known politician at the time, in the 60s and 50s.
So this man, he introduced himself as CIA, he said he knew my father and he asked me a couple of questions about opposition leaders, political opposition leaders, well-known in Libyan opposition just to start the conversation and then he started to ask why I was there and what happened and was asking lots of questions. I think he had another person, an assistant, they were finding out whether I was worth the money they’re paying or not. That time the meeting happened twice in Islamabad and they were in control of those lock-ups in Islamabad. Because we were taken to meet them and then if they said something like if they said, “I want you today to write down this or do this.” They were thinking back to the lock-up and the Pakistanis. You’d think that the Pakistanis didn’t know anything because the Pakistanis are not present in those private meetings. So we would go back to the lock-ups, the Pakistanis come and they give you the same instructions that the American man gave you and if you don’t do them obviously they will torture you, beat you up, things like that.
Goodman: Were you ever waterboarded?
Deghayes: In Pakistan what happened was, not waterboarding, but it’s like a big bucket of water and then they drown you inside. They put your head down inside it. This happened to me in Pakistan, but the closest I came to something like drowning, waterboarding, in American possession was in Guantanamo. Everybody in Guantanamo, if you continued to fight back, there were five guards who come to your cell and sometimes come in wearing riot gear and they come in and beat you up badly if you just objected to certain orders. Sometimes they make commands which are very humiliating and they expect you to oppose it, like “take off your trousers” or do something really stupid. Or they come out for searches, sometimes they do it sexually, there was some sexual abuse in it. So they realize that you either would object to it and then there’s the chance for them to come in with five guards to beat you up badly. Or if you say yes and you consent to it then you become psychologically disturbed because you didn’t object to it. So we object to those kind of conducts.
So what happen is they come in and beat you up badly, and then they hold you down to the floor, your hands tied behind your back and then they have a tube of water where you drown your face until you suffocate from that. And they say to you, “Stop-resisting, stop-resisting” because what they mean by that is if they command you to do something you have to do it. This is something that is always happening in Guantanamo. This is not waterboarding as we know it but it’s something else, the drowning by water in a different way than waterboarding. This is the nearest to waterboarding.
Goodman: Omar Deghayes, what happened to your eyes?
Deghayes: It’s the same thing. Making the story short, five people came into my cell. We were in isolation block called Oscar, and they wanted to make an example of us and to frighten other people. There was a big riot going on, it was under General Miller at the time. They came into my cell—making it short—five people I would say. I was fighting back so when I pushed them in the corridor it was five people in the corridor. When they held me down they chained me and one guard was holding my head. The other guard sat down and he pushed two of his fingers inside both of my eyes. There was an officer standing above him. And as more he pushed his fingers, because I didn’t scream he thought he wasn’t doing enough so he was pushing more his fingers inside my eyes. The officer was telling him to do more because he couldn’t hear me shouting. After that he pulled his fingers away and I had water coming out from both of my eyes. I lost sight of both of my eyes. Taken to the rec yard and then again, this water stuff happened; they put me inside water, suffocate and then they turned me back inside the cell. I couldn’t see from both of my eyes for a couple days, and then I regained sight in the left eye. The right eye, I had a minor injury when I was young so it was weaker than the left eye. I kept losing sight, it went worse and worse until now I can hardly see from my right eye. I can only detect light and things like that.
As I say, I was physically abused, when you say physically abused it’s like my fingers are crushed by an officer to the bones; he closed the beanhole on my finger and then he crushed it. And again because I was trying to stop him spraying pepper on my face and in the room. Another incident, I was beaten badly; my nose was broken because they said, “He keeps fighting back, let’s break his f-ing nose,” so they put me down to the floor and start kicking by the boots and punching and broke my nose. My ribs are badly battered because of some of these incidents. This is the physical abuse, but the psychological abuse that went on and the psychological engineered schemes that went on are a lot worse and more deep the wounds than physical abuse.
Goodman: Can you describe what the psychological abuse was? And also, how long, Omar Deghayes, were you held at Guantanamo?
Deghayes: I was locked up in Guantanamo for about six years, so five years and seven months. But remember, there are people still locked up there, which has now been nine years, nearly a decade without being charged with anything and never being convicted of anything. They are not being charged and it’s been nine years. One of them is a colleague of mine who lives here, in London. His name is Shaker Aamer. He hasn’t even seen one of his youngest kids, his name is Faris, he’s never seen his father and now he’s about nine years old. I’m sure that’s hard when people are imprisoned.
Goodman: Can you describe what happened to you psychologically in Guantanamo?
Deghayes: Extremes, you see the extreme ugliness of people, the worst things that can happen. Before Guantanamo I never thought that people can be deeply cruel to each other to that extent, even if they were the enemies. Because we kept saying to them, even to the interrogators, we kept saying, even if we were your enemies and if you convicted us of anything—which they haven’t—we don’t see why is it, for six years, your demands for revenge is deeply continuous and you’re doing all these kind of things. We can understand the first year, the second year, we can understand you’re reacting to something deep. But to continue that kind of treatment for seven years, because what we had, we had a system where six to seven months or one year they’ll change the guards; the guards won’t stay there, they have to change them every time to cheat the whole system. Every time they had a new engineered policy to cause really deep harm, like sexual abuse; they come up with some sexual stupid stuff, they come up with something that would really irritate people. And that was continuous; it wasn’t like first years, second years. We know that even in countries like Libya and Tunisia and Egypt, the Middle East--these are worse prisons than Guantanamo--but we know that [in] these prisons, usually people are tortured for a couple of months and then they live normal lives inside their cells. But under those conditions in Guantanamo, it was continuous for six to seven years. They were relentlessly, continuously subjecting us to those types of abuse and that was I think it was very [INAUDIBLE] to know about. It was very sad, I was very surprised, not because they were Americans, but I was very surprised that any human being can go down to that level. It was an extreme that I had never seen in my life as I described it before. It was a sadness that I had never experienced in my life before. It was the extremes of feelings, I think.
Goodman: Omar Deghayes, what about the Koran? We heard stories about abuse of the Koran.
Deghayes: I think it’s a stupid thing to do. They had a policy where they thought that they’d use anything and everything to break people down and they thought if they broke you down it would be the best source of information, they can extract more information.
So they disrespected the Koran. They used to throw the Koran in toilets, kick it like a football in Bagram, threw it as I said in toilets. They used to use it in interrogations, sometimes inside the interrogations if they wanted to irritate people and cause sometimes a riot, they would throw it to the floor in front of someone who was a prisoner, then they'd stomp on it with their feet. Or sometimes even in their cell, like inside those Oscar cells, which were isolation cells, you'd open the Koran, and you'd find writings, abusive writing in it, like "f***ing Koran" and "f***ing this religion." Or sometimes you'd find somebody's feet, you know boots, are stamped inside the Koran, and things like that. And they used to use it so much, and they used to, you know, swear against Islam, against our religion, against our prophet, Allah our God, and so on. And we used to say to them, "if you say your fight is against Al Qaeda, and only those group of people who are, you know, what has Islam got to do with it? Why are you abusing the Koran? Why are you making fun of prayers? Why are you doing all these things?" And, I don't know, some of the interrogators were so stupid to say, "If I had the powers, I would have locked up all the Muslims inside Guantanamo Bay."
Goodman: So you were held at Guantanamo for more than 5 years?
Deghayes: Yea, it was about 5 years and 7 months or 6 months I think.
Goodman: When did you hear that you might be released?
Deghayes: It was 1 month I think before we were released. I wasn't even told by the Americans themselves. I was locked up most of the time in Camp 5, which is the worst prison, out of a number of prisons. As soon as they built Camp 5, which was about 2005, I was moved to Camp 5, and I was locked up in Camp 5. So I was in complete isolation. Even before that, in the cells, I was usually locked up in Oscar or November, those isolation cells. So I was in isolation, I didn't know nothing. Then they moved me to another caged prison cell, which is not usual for me to be put in those cages. They put Jamil Albana [ISN 905], who was another prisoner, next to me, who was from this country [United Kingdom], and he told me the news. He said to me that he met the lawyers, and the lawyers told him that we'd be released soon.
Goodman: Did you get to see your lawyer in Guantanamo?
Deghayes: I did meet the lawyers. My lawyer was Clive Stafford-Smith, who has done so much for Guantanamo, and he worked so hard and he was hated by many people. I mean, they tried to even accuse him of things when he came to Guantanamo Bay. He endlessly campaigned to make Guantanamo what it was. So did many other lawyers, I mean so many American lawyers. Some of them were honest and brave and they had good conscience to stand by the truth, and they did a lot. And people were appointed from the CCR and other organizations, who worked tirelessly, and still are. You know there are some lawyers which deserve respect, they've worked hard and are brave enough to change some things. Yea I met the lawyer, but the last year in Guantanamo I had some problems with my lawyer. Even though he worked hard and good, but we had some problems and issues. I told him I won't work with him inside Guantanamo because it was so difficult for us. Because if he was to do anything outside, even if we objected, we weren't able to say anything because we were inside prison, our voices weren't heard outside. So I didn't meet the lawyers. I stopped meeting with the lawyers until I was released, and then I would meet him and work with him closely. Actually one of my jobs is working in Reprieve, which is an organization which Clive Stafford-Smith has founded. And I also work with many other organizations in England, like Cageprisoners and Guantanamo Justice Center, and many other law firms.
Ojeda: Omar, if I may, this is Almerindo. Can you tell a little bit about the medical personnel there--psychologists, psychiatrists, or physicians?
Deghayes: Yea, you know, that’s another sad side of the story. It's that, even doctors, which I had never imagined that they went to a level… The doctors were part of the interrogations. The doctors who were working in Guantanamo Bay used to work closely with interrogation. Sometimes people were very sick, they had kidney failures or problems and they would start seeing a chaplain. The doctors would come in, and he'd look at him, and he'd give them, well if he wanted to, he'd give them sometimes relief tablets. But he'd say, "no medicine. I can't do anything until you cooperate with your interrogation." This is something that used to be largely… I mean if you speak to anyone in Guantanamo he could tell you about that. One of the most frightening things to us locked up in Guantanamo, is that we feared that we would catch any disease, or any illness, because that disease would be badly used against you. Because you saw lots of people who had even operations. Sometimes they had young, junior doctors, just… I don't know why they did that. They probably had somebody in the Army, a family or relative. They came in and made, like, complicated operations on people. They used people like experiments. And most of these operations were failures. This one guy had a heart operation like nearly 8 or 9 times, and every time they'd say it failed, it failed, it failed. Another person, his name is Abusaleh, he's the heart failure. And Abu Emran Altaifi, another man from Nigeria, they amputated his leg, then they said the operation was a failure, then they amputated it again, and then they did something else again. It was like endless. And this wasn't like once or twice; this was the practice. If you agreed to have an operation, a serious operation, inside Guantanamo, it was usually junior, inexperienced doctors who are using Guantanamo as a training field, maybe because there was some connection, somebody in the military, or someone like an uncle or someone like that. And because of that, people had serious illnesses, and sometimes, even when they are offered an operation they are scared to take it, because of people who were in front of us who had experienced all these kinds of things. So the doctors were working very closely with interrogators. Some of them, the psychic doctors, would stand there in interrogations, they'd assist what could be said against you, what is not to be said, what is too [INAUDIBLE]. Because every person in Guantanamo was differently treated. That’s why every person, I think, has a lot to say about Guantanamo, because one person was treated completely differently than the other person. They call it phobias, they use phobias. So every person has different, they think, different fears about something in particular. And that thing itself would be used against him more than others, or he would be mistreated in a different way than others. So that’s why they have guards going all the time round the cages, all the time. Like every hour, Terry will tell you, they had to write down what every prisoner was doing each hour. They would say, "he's sitting down," "he's laughing," "he's exercising," "he's eating," "he's depressed." And they used anything, even your family connections, the letters to your family. For example, me and my wife, I didn't receive any letters from my wife for 7 years inside prison, and neither did she. I wrote a lot to her, and she wrote a lot to me, but we, both of us didn't receive any letters. And when I came out from prison, she said to me "why did you not…". Our marriage actually completely broke because of that. And many people's ties and relationships with their families were broken because of the abuse and the censorship. They used everything, every means was lawful to those people in Guantanamo.
Goodman: Omar Deghayes, I think this would be a good time to bring in Terry Holdbrooks also. Well, Terry, you said you'd rather be referred to as Mustafa Abdul. First, tell us about changing your name.
Holdbrooks: It was actually kind of a slow process, that took place in Guantanamo. I had developed a reputation with a good number of the detainees as sort of being the good guard, or the nice guard, or maybe even lax… we can go with lax or lenient. Nonetheless, after I started taking interest in the Koran, and studying the Koran, and talking with the detainees about Islam, and just taking more of an interest in that and their lives and the culture and society and history and everything else behind what was going on…
Goodman: Where were you born?
Holdbrooks: In Phoenix, Arizona. After I started taking interest in all of that, some of the detainees started calling me Istafa, others started calling me Mustafa. And I didn't have an understanding at this point in time what the relevance was of that name, the significance of that name. I think it was Ahmed Errachidi, as a matter of fact, who told me to go home and to read Suratul Baqarah [the longest chapter of the Koran, and a summation of the entire Muslim creed], and that I would find out the relevancy of that name. Evidently it stands for "the chosen one," it's one of the names of the prophet Mohammed. So I can only assume, based on given a name like that, that evidently they held me in high respect.
Goodman: How did you end up at Guantanamo?
Holdbrooks: Where do you want me to start?
Goodman: Wherever you want.
Holdbrooks: Well, that’s a long story. We don't have enough time for that. That's kind of like his story, we don't have enough time for all of it. I graduated high school early, I was kind of bored with high school real quickly. I was probably bored in middle school, actually. In any case, I was bored with high school, and I graduated early and I went to a trade school in a conservatory of recording arts in Arizona, and studied audio engineering. After I finished that, I was kind of starting to go down the same avenue that my parents had both gone down, alcohol and other issues I'd rather not discuss. And I didn't want to be like them. I wanted to amount to something, and be able to have pride and respect for myself. So I suppose kind of out of an act of desperation, or perhaps out of an act of boredom, maybe just because I've always strived on structure and order… I'm not entirely sure of the reason, there were a number of things that went into it, but I decided to join the Army. I went to the recruiters, initially, in the beginning of 2002, and I walked into the recruiters, and they said "Hey! How are you doing today? What can we do for you?" And I said, "I want to get a job. I want to get paid to kill people. And I want the least amount of responsibility." And I don't think they took me seriously. They kind of laughed, they talked to me, they gave me a pamphlet and sent me on my way. And I was just sort of, kind of confused. I was just, like, "Wait a second. Hold on. I've seen all these movies where the recruiters come to schools and they pick you up at your house and these guys just gave me a pamphlet and sent me on my way. That doesn't make any sense." So I came back a week later and I tried the same thing and I was like "I want to join the military. What do I have to do?" And eventually, after about 2 or 3 months of persistence, they eventually took me to take my ASVAB. I scored, you know, off the roof with the ASVAB, they offered me any job that I wanted in the military. And that was probably when I made that fatal mistake that got me to Guantanamo. I asked, "what job is giving a bonus?" Right, yea, not a smart question. So, for $2000 I chose military police. I would have much rather gone like linguistics or journalist or even sci-ops or human intelligence collector…there's just a lot of other MOS's that would have been a lot more interesting. But nope, I took military police. So I started the Army in August of 2002, graduated basic training in December, had a two week break between December and January. Met my ex-wife, well soon to be wife, but now ex-wife. I met her in that break. We got married in February of '03 and by March or April of '03 there were already rumors that we were getting ready to be deployed. I had just recently gotten married, so I didn't think to myself, you know, "What's this Guantanamo place? What's this about? Why are we going here? What's going on?" I was more concerned about the idea that I had just gotten married, my wife gave up her entire life to come here and be with me in the middle of Nowhere, Missouri, and now I'm going to be leaving her for a year and she's got no friends, no family, nothing out here. In any case, I was just spending the last little bit of time I had before I went to Guantanamo, basically just spending time with her. Just trying to get as much family time in as I possibly could. I never even once thought about the possibility of Googling Gitmo. But that’s the journey of the military, that’s how I got into the Army.
Goodman: And what was your first experience of Guantanamo?
Holdbrooks: Why is it so bright? Its really hot, why is it so bright? Somebody use a dimmer switch for the sun, please? Its really bright. That place is horrible. Its, oh wow…I'm at a loss of words really to describe Guantanamo. Do you want to perhaps describe Guantanamo a little bit, Omar? I hated it, the actual climate I hated.
Deghayes: Yea it’s a bad place, I mean, it’s a bad place. I mean its been described so much in the media by many people, people from the CIA, people from the FBI who worked there.
People who are former guards, like Mustafa and Chris [Arendt] and others. As described by many people from the United States themselves, because people might disbelieve or not completely believe, but when they hear from you, Mustafa, and from others who are from the other side of the wire, it’s different, it makes a big difference. So probably it’s best to hear you tell them a little bit about how they used the bright lights against us in our cells and how they used us like animals or something.
Holdbrooks: He probably never had a single night’s sleep in the dark in the seven years, or excuse me, the six years he was there. There was constantly lights on. Daytime, nighttime. At nighttime there was floodlights, as well as there was lights in every individual cell. It wouldn’t make a difference…
Deghayes: It’s the air conditioning that used to be used in Camp 5. It was very cold, it was like living inside a [re]frigerator. When we were in Moscow isolation deport Camp 5, when I was locked up. It’s was like, it’s not like the cages you’ve seen on television. Like isolation where you have complete iron sheets, I mean the walls are made of iron, completely. Closed. It’s not like we can see anybody and then the whole wall, it’s very small, small even for those small cages, and the floor is made of iron sheets, and the ceiling is iron sheets. And then you have air conditioner, which is very very hard inside a small box of iron, and it’s like you feel inside of it, you then forget sometimes, and it’s like living inside a [re]frigerator. And again under extreme lights. You can imagine six or seven years you’re under a light, you cannot, you’re sleeping for six years, you’re living inside the bright lights. Mustafa, please speak, I’ve been doing most of the talking…
Holdbrooks: Outside of the constant light and obviously the temperature issue, with the cold, there was two species that were on the island that we were not allowed to touch, to do anything with, etc. We had to give them privilege to do what they please. There was these giant iguanas that would grow to about six feet in length. They were basically like little dragons. I remember sometimes when they’d go running up and down the blocks, some of the detainees would be frightened, other detainees would just kinda laugh.
Deghayes: They had better protection than the detainees. You weren’t allowed to touch them, but you were allowed to abuse the detainees and do what you like to the detainees. But the iguanas, if you touch one of them you’d be fined, how much? Thousands of pounds?
Holdbrooks: It was something ridiculous like that. It was a thousand or two thousand dollars for touching them or the banana rats. And the banana rats, mind you, these things were maybe like four-month old puppy rotweillers, they’re gigantic rats. You couldn’t touch them, you couldn’t chase them. "It just took off with my lunch, what am I supposed to do about that?" "Well, go buy another one." That’s not right. In any case, 98 degrees all the time. It’s right on the ocean front obviously, so 98 degrees, 100 percent humidity, the land is burned and barren and miserable. It’s just cactus and dirt, it was awful.
Goodman: Did you see any prisoners tortured?
Holdbrooks: Is this being recorded? Uh, yeah, on a number of occasions I saw what I would consider to be torture. I draw a fine line, personally, between what I say is abuse and what I say is torture. And much like Omar was saying, it’s a great disgrace to myself when I remember some of the things that I saw down there because it was in fact 100 percent torture. It’s not some type of physical or emotional abuse. It’s torture.
Goodman: Like what?
Holdbrooks: How foul do we really wanna get on this? Obviously we’ve had the availability of some of the de-classified memos that that took place. The working canine dogs, those would be put in front of detainees that would be chained to the ground, and these dogs would be riled up and barking and literally within an inch of a detainee's face. I think sometimes the detainees were bitten. I never saw that, but I saw evidence of it afterward, I never saw it directly. The stress positions. You know, six, eight, twelve hours of being inside a room that’s 40 degrees with a strobe light in front of you and the same awful Celine Dione song for twelve hours. I hear little rumors of laughter, but I mean, honestly, any song for twelve hours, especially Celine Dione, that’s awful. It’s absolutely awful. The stress positions themselves were specifically designed to induce muscle failure within the victims, as well as bowel failures. And it wouldn’t be uncommon that detainees would have excrement or urinate on themselves while they’re being interrogated. It wasn’t out of fear, it was strictly out of stress. There was an incident that took place--what I think to be the most frightful of incidences that I saw take place. I kind of caught the beginning of this and the tail end of this. We took a detainee from Sierra Block to interrogation, and what was odd about it was we didn’t take him to interrogation outside of that camp. We took him to interrogation at the camp over by the JIF, which is the Joint Interrogation Force, but that’s where all the individuals who were in charge of interrogation—that’s where all of them kind of have their offices. It’s probably where the majority of the worst interrogation took place. I would imagine it would be there, or the General’s Cottage, one of the two. But this individual was brought in and he was sat down, and what was odd about it was it was a female interrogator. It wasn’t so much that it was odd that it was a female interrogator, but it was it was a female interrogator and she was kinda scantily dressed, so to say. You’re in a military uniform, but you don’t have your top on, you’re just running around with your brown undershirt and the pants, and it’s just kinda weird to see anyone out of uniform, especially officers. Officers obviously have certain standards they have to hold themselves to and she wasn’t, you know, wearing her headgear; she didn’t have her top on. It’s just—kind of a little odd. In any case, I saw this detainee and we took him into there and we chained him down, and the linguist came in and the interrogator came in and they asked us to leave, which was obviously standard protocol. MPs weren’t ever usually, I can’t say never, but we weren’t usually present for interrogations. We took ‘em and we brought ‘em back, but we weren’t ever inside. In any case, we slipped out to have a cigarette. And myself and the friend that I was working with at that point in time, we didn’t necessarily want to go back to work. We didn’t wanna go back to the block or pick up other detainees or anything. So we just kinda hid out there and smoked a few cigarettes and went had lunch and then came back, smoked a few more cigarettes. And about an hour, hour and a half later, this detainee is being brought out by two other interrogators, and he’s crying. And he’s just screaming and is stark-raving mad, and he’s got what looks like blood on his face. I’m kind of like, wow, I wonder what happened, I haven’t seen anything like that before. Well, evidently, what had took place, was while he was in interrogation one of the interrogators, the female interrogator, had set something up behind the detainee, either blood capsules, or red marker or something like that. And she throughout the process of the interrogation was making sexual comments and sexual advances to him. You know, perhaps touching him in inappropriate means, and talking about certain things. You know, sexual acts that can be performed between a man and a woman and then making references to the prophet Mohammed at the same time. And, evidently, she went behind this detainee and put her hand into her pants and came back around to the front side of this detainee, and the detainee saw her hand come out of her pants, and then she wiped this red liquid across his face. So he was under the impression that…
Deghayes: It’s not a red liquid, I know the man. He was a young kid, His name is Abdul Hadi he’s from Syria. And after they did this to him, they took him back to the blocks, to the cages, and he had to wash his face. But it wasn’t, sadly, you know, it wasn't like he described afterwards, she said it was only red liquid. But it wasn’t, it was like dirty blood from herself. She used it on his face. But afterwards when she was interviewed and asked, it came out in the news, she said I was using red liquid. It wasn’t the case, I was there in the cages. He’s a young boy his name is Abdul Hadi, from Syria. It was really, she used her own stuff.
Holdbrooks: Right, right. How in fact does he know that? I can obviously think of a couple answers, but how in fact did he know? Because I’d hate to think that that actually really did take place.
Deghayes: Say that again?
Holdbrooks: How in fact does he know that that’s what happened, because I would hate to think that that actually took place.
Deghayes: Because he had to wash it—he went back with it to the cell.
Holdbrooks: Right I remember, we took him back.
Deghayes: And he had to wash it and you know you can tell. The smell and there’s dirt in it and stuff... it’s not like normal red ink or red liquid. It was like… Anyway, I’m sorry.
Holdbrooks: No, no, no. I was always under the impression that it wasn’t true. We were given the instructions to take him back and then turn the water off in his cell. What they were ultimately trying to do was we weren’t gonna turn the water on for four days. It was basically just to inadvertently stop him from being able to pray. If he wasn’t able to present himself properly, then that was the idea that they were going for.
Ojeda: The story was also told by Eric Saar, the translator.
Goodman: Terry, the abuse of psychologists, psychologists, did you see how they were used?
Holdbrooks: Actually what’s interesting about that, I’m surprised Omar didn’t bring it up—every time we were going inside or outside of an interrogation building or the visit rooms or anything like that, did you ever happen to read any of those posters that were on the wall? You know like the posters of the little boy, ‘Where is your dad for this Eid?’ Did you ever read any of those? Did they ever have an affect on you?
Deghayes: Which ones you mean—say again?
Holdbrooks: Like, you remember the Eid posters, where they showed the little boy and he didn’t have a family, basically…
Deghayes: Oh yeah, and sometimes they had them in the rec yard this after 2005, yeah posters, yeah I remember, no they don’t have an affect.
Holdbrooks: You just kind of blindly looked at them and laughed?
Holdbrooks: That’s what I figured was gonna be the overall impression of those. There were these posters that were up over the camp, various places in the camp. They depicted a broken family, or a child without his father, or a woman going through hardship or struggles because you know her husband’s gone and there’s no provider. And they’d be written in various languages, Pashto, and Urdu, and Arabic. I guess the initial design behind them was to get people thinking of a home and longing for a home. But I would imagine wrongly being accused of something, or not being accused, and being taken away from your family you don’t really need posters to remember home. In any case that was their idea for psychological abuse.
Goodman: What about the use of the Koran?
Holdbrooks: Yeah, wow, that was an awful day. So, one of the biggest problems about Guantanamo--and Omar brought this up-- we were both there under General Miller. I served under General Miller the entire time I was there and you had to deal with this whole tyrant. I’m sorry about that, that’s awful.
Holdbrooks: Every time a new commander would come in, whether it was a colonel, lieutenant colonel, or one star, two star general, etc., they would go through the SOP--the Standard Operating Procedures--and they’d basically take out what they didn’t like, and put in what they did want it to be or how they were re-interpreting the laws that were coming. So, every time we learned the rules, that we were finally comfortable and content with the rules, there was new SOP given to us with new rules to learn. So basically there was just never a standing basis upon what the rules were. We were constantly just learning over and over and over the rules. It really made for a very ineffective environment. In any case, I’m sorry…
Goodman: The Koran?
Holdbrooks: Oh, yeah, the Koran. I was trying to avoid that, but you went back. What the rules were in regards to it is we were supposed to wear medical gloves. We were supposed to touch it respectfully, and that when we opened it to look in it for any type of suspicious items--I really can’t imagine what you can hide in a book when you can’t hollow it out--but in any case, you would take it, flip it like this, upside down, you know, flip the pages real fast and set it back down. They were supposed to be puttin’ surgical masks that were supposed to be hanging in the cells [to hold the Korans] and, like I said, we were supposed to use gloves, only one person was supposed to touch it, and we were supposed to use our right hand only. That was the SOP. That was the rules. That’s what some of us followed. Unfortunately, what made my life a lot harder while I was down there was that some people would decide that they weren’t gonna wear gloves, some people would use their left hand. Some people would intentionally toss it on the ground to try to rile up detainees, or you know, stimulate trouble. I can only think of a number of occasions that I ever saw it kicked or thrown into a toilet. It’s not to say that it didn’t happen. I can just only think of a handful of them. It really wasn’t that many, but when it happened, obviously there was a great reaction, it was a terrible reaction every time. Kind of like flu shot day. You remember that day? Flu shot day?
Holdbrooks: Yeah, I worked 24 hours that day. They had every unit at work, because it was just constant ERF after ERF.
Goodman: What do you mean, ERF?
Holdbrooks: What Omar was speaking about, Emergency Reaction Force, Emergency Response Force. The exact nomenclature eludes me at this point.
Basically he described it perfectly. It’s five men who are getting their rocks off by running into a small cell and ramsacking and beating a detainee unnecessarily. I was surprised he didn’t touch on the OC spray. There were a number of times the lieutenants were in charge of the OC spray and when the lieutenant would come out, you know, the standard operating procedure is to do the little Zorro 'Z' of OC spray across the face. [But instead] I’d see cans, can upon can, drenched on a detainee.
Holdbrooks: OC, I forget what that stands for, it’s a…
Deghayes: It’s a spray, like pepper spray.
Ojeda: Oleum Capsicum, pepper spray.
Holdbrooks: Thank you, thank you. It’s a 60 proof spray, it’s very strong.
Deghayes: It’s a blinding pepper spray, if it sprays your eyes, it blinds you.
Holdbrooks: So, you know, having a can of that doused on you, it’s far more than necessary, especially if you’re on Mike, November, or Oscar block. All three of those were isolation blocks. If you’re in a closed room, and you had a can of this stuff doused all over you and then five men come running in while you can’t breathe and you can’t see and you can’t defend yourself, and they beat you, step on you, smash your hand and your feet in the doorway, put your head in the toilet and flush the toilet repeatedly, and then you’d be taken under the rec yard and you’d just be left there; they’d shave your beard and just leave you humiliated. I didn’t really understand the purpose of it but nonetheless, that was ERFs. And flu shot day, we don’t need to talk about that.
Goodman: What happened at flu shot day?
Holdbrooks: No, we don’t need to talk about that. Flu shot day was just long and drawn out and it had a ridiculous cause and a ridiculous ending.
Goodman: What was the cause?
Holdbrooks: We started this day very simply, we went into the camp, we had our briefing, there was a couple of medical personnel at the briefing, which was a little unusual. Usually it was just the platoon sergeants and the camp leader, but in any case, we had our briefing and these medical personnel said that we were going to be issuing flu shots. We started over in Camp 4, which is the minimum security camp, it’s communal living. That’s actually where I started working when I was in Guantanamo. [I] was in Camp 4; that was my first two months; [I] was in Camp 4. It’s a completely different environment, it’s relaxed, it’s open--communal, like I said. They could have breakfast together, they can pray together, they had board games and books and all kinds of other such luxuries, so to say.
Deghayes: We had 100 out of 800 people locked up there, or at the time you were there, about 600 were locked up in the other prisons. And this prison you speak about had 100, more or less.
Holdbrooks: No, less than that. More like 65, 70. But in any case, we started over in Camp 4, issuing these shots. Everything went fine on Uniform and Whiskey and Victor Block. We got to X-Ray block, one of the older men, I guess fainted from the sight of the blood or getting a shot. I don’t know, he fainted. And you know, a detainee sees this old man faint, he’s like “Oh my God, they’re poisoning us, they’re going to kill us, they’re going to kill us!”
He starts saying it, it spreads through all four of the blocks for Camp 4. Omar, I commend you guys. Still don’t how you did but you had an amazing communication system in Camp Delta. In five minutes, you guys could get a message from one side of the camp to the other. We couldn’t accomplish that with the radios and cell phones, so congratulations on that.
Deghayes: Yeah, I remember I told you when we were inside one of the interrogations, they said they would start a rumor from one end of the room and they tried to realize how long would it take for a message to go from one side of the prison to the other side of the prison. They said it took about 3 minutes to go from one of the lock ups to the least far away prison.
Holdbrooks: And mind you, that’s going through at least seven different languages as well. It wasn’t like playing telephone, where we’re just playing in English. No, you’re going from Arabic to Urdu to Pashtu to Uyghur to French. It’s just like really? Wow, that’s amazing. How’d you guys do that?
Deghayes: I don’t know.
Holdbrooks: In any case, he faints and whatnot. And these detainees start preaching, “Oh my God, they’re trying to kill us, the guards are trying to kill us. Don’t get the shot.” And that spread through the entire camp in the course of five minutes. And what started off for me as a simple, 8-hour, 2 o’clock to 10 o’clock shift became a 2 o’clock to noon the next day shift. They called in the two units that were supposed to be sleeping, or off. They called them in as well to provide reinforcements because we had the same, unintelligent, is the most nice word I can think of, the same unintelligent individuals running in and smashing detainees over and over and over and eventually you had to give them a break. And when we realized we were going to be ERFing 38 out of 40 detainees per block, it really just became necessary to have you know, the more soldiers, the more manpower. And when you had people like me, who were going to be constantly dipping out and being like “Oh yeah, I’m going to go put on my ERF gear,” and just kind of fade to the background; go hide and smoke cigarettes and whatnot. I wasn’t a fan of the ERFing, it just didn’t really strike me as being effective or humane or civil so I did everything I possibly could to get out of that. And I was very fortunate in the fact that there were always individuals who were ready and willing and excited to volunteer to go and ERF. It wasn’t something you volunteered for, there was five of us that were designated to do it every shift, but people could volunteer, and if they were ready before I was, they were the ones who went in. So when they’d call over the radio that there was going to be an ERF, I’d walk to the other end of the block, as far away as the exit could possibly be and I don’t know, find something else to do.
Ojeda: A question for Omar: you were there when the three suicides took place in one night?
Deghayes: Yeah, I was there when that happened. The three suicides and there is another person who died, we don’t know what happened exactly but some people… We know that it was sexual abuse, it did happen because the policy where…they did something sexual really badly to those people. I remember speaking to one of them, the man who died afterwards. Amin, I talked to Amin. I remember him being very angry and annoyed and he was shouting behind the windows and he said “Are they doing the same things to your block as what they did to us?” And I said, “Yes, they are,” and after that he died, a couple days after that. The three people, Yasir Alzahrani [ISN 093] and the others, they hated so much because of their continuous resistance. They were young men, most of them were very young, like 18, 19 when they were locked up. They had lots of problems because of interrogation, because, like what Mustafa was saying, when they entered their cell they used to fight back and they really hated them so much and they designated them to [INAUDIBLE] mistreatment. I remember one of them had problems, he needed an operation on his… He had a very serious problem. They abused him again, because he was so sick, they did the operation and then they used it against him and then they locked him up in very severe, cold conditions. And he was really badly physically affected. And then we had one day, the three of them died. And yeah, I was there and it was a really sad, sad day when that happened. And after that happened, the treatment, people were subjected to even more abuse, and more restricted, very hard conditions. So it was a really bad time, I remember that really well.
Ojeda: There’s been recent controversy about that and it was printed [in] a new study, questioning whether it was suicide.
Deghayes: Yeah, that’s right. I also don't think it was suicide. That's why I don't use the word "suicide". What happened to them is very unclear. These three people, Yasir Alzahrani [ISN 093], Ali Abdulah Abee, [ISN 693] and Manaa al Otaibi [ISN 588], were for long time subjected to… designated for specific mistreatment. And what really happened that night, I’m not sure. Because I know one of them, he was hanged and his hands were tied and there was cloth filling his mouth and his hands were tied behind his back. I heard about the article that was written about them and it’s hard to believe some of the stuff.
Holdbrooks: Omar, personally I don’t think that those could have been suicides. Just having worked there, as you touched on earlier, it was a requirement that at least hourly we had to take notes upon what was going on in the block. Me, just being antsy and bored like I am most of the time, I would walk up and down the block probably every 3 minutes. With the monitoring system that was in place just in the poorly constructed camps, let alone Camp 5 and Camp Echo, which are under constant video surveillance, there’s no way that a suicide could take place. There was a number of suicide attempts while I was there, but we always caught them.
Deghayes: I never said that I believed that these were suicides even though I heard. I was there when it did happen, and I never said it was suicide and I never believed it was suicide. But I can’t say otherwise because I wasn’t completely inside the cell. But as you say, it’s impossible to do anything like that inside the cell.
Ojeda: One of the things I noticed is that the three of them were taken to a special camp that hadn’t been described up to that point and the official name of that camp was Camp No because if they asked you if it exists, you had to say no. Have you heard of that camp?
Deghayes: Yeah, I heard about that once.
Goodman: Mustafa, did you hear about that camp?
Holdbrooks: That perhaps might be what I was told was the General’s Cottage. There was a place just past Camp Iguana, along the ridge line when you’re going toward the satellite towers (I probably shouldn’t be that specific…). There was another camp that’s down there, you can see it if you use Google Earth and you look really carefully, you can see it. It’s a small camp, very small, couldn’t hold maybe more than four detainees. There was another place that I always suspected that when people disappeared for long periods of time, it’s where they had to go. Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Errachidi were two of the closest detainees with me. There were points in time where they left, where they weren’t in Camp Delta anymore and they weren’t in Camp Echo. "Where have you been, man? Where did you go?" “I don’t know, they put a blindfold on me and put me in a van and drove around for an hour.” It doesn’t take an hour to get anywhere in the place, it’s 54 square miles and the majority of it is water so it doesn’t take an hour to get anywhere. They probably drove around in circles for a while, but nonetheless there had to have been somewhere else, that’s probably Camp No, if that’s what it's called. I was always told it was the General’s Cottage. Kind of a twisted name for a place to torture.
Goodman: Omar Deghayes, describe the day you got out of Guantanamo. What was it like?
Deghayes: Well, we were very happy, but anything that in Guantanamo [supposedly] happens you disbelieve until it really does happen. So even when I was told that I would be released, I was happy but I wasn't completely happy because some people were taken in the planes. It was used psychologically, they were taken in the planes and then they were taken back to prison. They'd say the plane had problems. So until we came back to England I was[n't] completely happy. And I met my family and it was one of those happy days.
Ojeda: Did you meet any other guards that were kind to you?
Deghayes: There were some decent people inside prison and some people who more willing to commit atrocities and they were motivated by their own hatred and feelings. There are few people inside who didn’t intend to cause harm unless they were commanded to do that, and there was of course the generals, who were leading those. Like Miller that Mustafa was [INAUDIBLE]. And others, afterwards, who came. They had a policy where they used the guards against the prisoners. If they saw any, like Mustafa was describing, if they saw any guards speaking to one of the prisoners too much or he’s befriending them, the next thing you know that same guard will be commanded to enter your cell with other groups of guards to beat you up badly. Because they had that mistrust, they didn’t even trust their own guards, I think even the guards were under surveillance and they had videos and they had informers within the guards themselves. So the people who generated Guantanamo itself, I mean, the top people who made Guantanamo were people who used both the guards and prisoners, and that’s why I think those people, not the guards, not the simple guards who were used and abused themselves, but those people who should be brought to accountability for their actions.
Goodman: Mustafa, do you agree?
Holdbrooks: Well that would be an absolutely amazing act if everybody who’s responsible for the atrocity, for the stain that is Guantanamo, it would be quite an amazing accomplishment if everybody responsible could be convicted or tried or even remotely punished in this life. That would be an amazing act. I would love to see it happen, personally.
Like he was saying, with Guantanamo being designed for even the guards to be used as tools. Just before we went to Guantanamo, literally the day that we were going, we stopped, we had this little you know, lay over so to say, in New York City, “Hey, you know, wow, check it out, we got two buses, we're going to take you to Ground Zero we're going to let you read all the comments on the wall and while we’re there we’re going to tell you that it was Muslims that blew this place up and it’s Islam that is the enemy. And remember, we’re going to guard the worst of the worst. Remember that. These are the worst of the worst so when we get there don’t talk to them, don't be friends with them, they are the worst of the worst." I was fed that nonsense, oh God, every day the entire year that I was there was that these are the worst of the worst or they’re dirt farmers; they're dumb dirt farmers. Don’t talk to them. Well, if they are dumb dirt farmers, why are they lawyers and doctors? And why can they speak seven different languages properly when I can’t even speak English properly and I grew up in America? How are they dumb? How does this correlate here? I don’t understand.
Deghayes: General Miller used to go around and used say to the guards before they entered your cell and beat you up badly, that “Don’t forget September 11th” and used to go around and incite that kind of hatred. And the same general who afterwards, that the top people like Dick Cheney and Bush and whoever was putting those people to work thought he did a good job in Guantanamo they moved him to Abu Ghraib in Iraq. And he was the same person who said let’s Guantanomize Abu Ghraib and then you know, the pictures that came out from Abu Ghraib and all of this was at the same period that this same general, Miller, who they thought his policies was successful in Guantanamo in breaking people down, they moved him to Iraq to do the same job. And, you know, probably, as I say here even Mustafa and some guards were, don’t know so much about what went inside some of these prisons. I mean even interrogators were kept away, there were certain guards who were used, as you said, their job was only to take you to the interrogation cells and then go back and then they come and take you and pick you back up again they didn’t know what happened inside the interrogation cells. Even some of the interrogators that had, one of the late interrogators he was a guy from Florida and he was a kind, generous person compared to many of the other interrogators and he tried to help and he tried to and do things different. He said, “I might be in your position one day” and he was different than other interrogators and even as I say, even interrogators what I wanted to say they were different, they used some of them to do certain acts and some of them didn’t even know that those acts and those things did happen. That’s why it's always, the more I speak to people who worked in Guantanamo they were given different jobs to do. There were people who were inside those interrogations there were people who were sexually, you know raped and abused, there were 4 people in Bagram base, 4 of them were chained in a tent and 4 of them were sodomized in front of each other for embarrassment. There [was] somebody in the Dark Prison [a prison in Afghanistan], an African guy, I don’t want to mention his name, an African guy who was sexually abused, sodomized, and then after that they said to him “We realize it’s a mistake, you’re not the guy” They released him. And they said to him “You’re a brave man” They said to him “You’re a brave man” just to psychologically try to amend what they have done to him. And again, the same thing inside Guantanamo Bay, there were people who were chained down to the floors. I don’t want to mention his name because some of those people told me those stories because of my work with lawyers inside prisons. But they insisted I don’t give their names. This man was a young Yemeni boy, and one day he was held in those prisons, his trousers was pulled back, and you know there are lots of abuses like that, sexual abuses. Like, another guy from China, a young boy from China, I’m not going to, you know, detail the horrible stuff that happened to him--and so on. So there are many stories and, as I say, each prisoner is treated different than the other prisoner. If you’re young, and you come from the Middle East, certain things are done to you more than if you're [an] older person and come from Europe, for example; you’re subjected to a different kind of torture. It was different. Every torture was engineered to use the most harm that can be done to you psychologically, sometimes physically.
Goodman: What do you mean they told you these stories because you had legal background?
Deghayes: Yea, I had legal background and when Clive Smith came in. Clive did lots of good work, he was more brave to publish; he was sensitive to so much of the things he had to publish or had to go to, sensitive. But he was more active in speaking and he did lots of good work. And when we saw the results of his work, people started to confide in him, to me inside the cells. They used to send me messages and letters in different ways and forms. Like Mustafa said, we have different ways to communicate with each other even though we weren’t allowed to communicate with each other. They were starting to send to me confidential things that happened to each one of them on the condition that I wouldn’t mention exactly their names, I could mention who they are like generally. There was another Saudi Bahraini guy who was chained down to the floor and he was sexually abused by a female interrogator and things like that. So they mention their stories but because they are so embarrassed to tell this stuff, I am myself I am not able even to describe in detail because I feel ashamed and embarrassed of describing the stuff.
Goodman: What has been most difficult to adapt to since you’ve been free?
Deghayes: When I was free there was many things I needed to fix and amend. Because we were so many years far away from freedom we had lots of things. Our family was away we had to try to communicate with my family who was lost, my wife and child was lost. I didn’t know where they were. In Pakistan or Afghanistan borders and I had to search for them. It was so difficult because every person you communicate with in Pakistan would be under surveillance because of my background. It was so difficult to make communication with them and then you have lots of things. You have to speak with people again and you have to become normal. Because I was locked up more than 5, most of those years I was in isolation cells. So it was very difficult to learn how to communicate again with people, to talk in a normal way and socialize in a normal way. It was difficult to again, to go back to work, to wake up in a normal way to sleep in a normal way. We had and we still do experience lots of psychological hardships dreams, bad dreams. Sometimes some incidents trigger memories back, inside the cells. Our emotions is different, psychologically our feelings, we’re more cold than when we used to be. We can’t express our feelings easily to our families and friends. Suspicion, and we suspect everyone and everything. Many many things that as I say, that's why, when I started in the beginning the physical damage that was caused to us probably is more apparent and is hard, but the psychological wounds and injuries inside each one of us is more deeper and probably longer than the physical abuse.
Goodman: And Terry Mustafa, how do you actually go through the conversion process and then what was the response of the Guantanamo officers, the military, to your conversion to Islam.
Holdbrooks: When Aljazeera interviewed me they asked this question and then off the record they said “This is really the money question. If you could put a lot of detail in this, this is the money question.” Yea, well unfortunately it’s really not that much of a money answer. To tackle that initially, the process of converting to Islam, I think one should have a full understanding, or at least you know as much as they are mentally capable of having, of what Islam is, of what it entails, of the Pillars of Faith [the profession of faith, prayers, fasting, alms, and the pilgrimage to Mecca] and everything that comes along with it. I think that should be there. But it’s a simple process of saying your shahadah [or profession of faith], of declaring that there is no God except for Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger and meaning it, wholeheartedly, you know, meaning it in your heart and full with clear intent and clear mind and good intentions. You should have obviously two other believers present but, it’s a simple process, so to say. Errachidi and I battled about that one for a couple weeks.
Ojeda: Ahmed Errachidi, a prisoner...
Holdbrooks: Yea, sorry everybody, Ahmed Errachidi was a prisoner, in Guantanamo.
Deghayes: He actually lost his mind inside prison. They mistreated him so badly, that he, I don’t know, you left, I think, the prison at the time?
Holdbrooks: No, no no. I was there for watching his downfall.
Deghayes: Yea, he lost it completely. He was injected with injections and stuff that he completely lost his mind. I remember looking at him and seeing him, like talk in a garbage way. It was very sad to see that nice man, intelligent man, and then broke down, because of the abuse he was subjected to.
Holdbrooks: Errachidi himself, personally, had a reputation. We called him The General. He was the general of the detainees because he was the type of individual that--
Deghayes: It’s crazy how he was being described as being a general and they thought he was somebody very important in [al] Qaeda, even though that he was working as a cook.
Holdbrooks: Right, Right, Right. It wasn’t so much because of that though, I mean the military had their ideas that he was a leader, but the reason why we called him The General was because you could have a block that was rioting and he could walk under that block and say one sentence and everybody would be calm.
Deghayes: That’s true. But the interrogators really meant it. I mean, like Shaker Aamer, locked up inside prison.
Deghayes: For nine years Shaker Aamer the same way. They call him Professor because he was loved by people because he was loved for different reasons like Errachidi. It’s not because they speak good English and good Arabic and they were older in age and they used to translate for people and they used to try to help them.
Holdbrooks: Yea, yea, absolutely, they were problem solvers
Deghayes: And because of that, people respected them and loved them. And just because of [them] showing that they respected him a lot they started calling them names like Generals and Professors--and really intelligent people inside. The interrogators really did believe that kind of talk. And just because of that some of them are still in prison. Just because people respect them and how they look at them inside prison. Not because of what they acted and what they’d done before. I have seen Shaker's accusations and the things that they accused him of in the paper and it was like flimsy stuff. Stuff which they shouldn’t be kept for nine years just because of that.
Holdbrooks: Yea, we had some colorful and loving pet names for some of the detainees, obviously. Getting back to the question, Errachidi actually didn’t necessarily accept or like the idea, initially, of me approaching Islam. I told him, I was like “Hey, I think I want to convert, I think I want to actually take up faith.” I had never had faith in my life and Islam is the one and only faith that's ever made sense to me. He just kind of looked at me the day that I first approached him. He turns his head, he looks at me, and he’s like, “No.” He just waves his hand and wouldn’t say anything else to me for the rest of the day. I was, like, "Are you serious? Dude, we sit and talk for like 6 hours at a time, you’re just gonna wave your hand and say “no”? Ugh. Come on." And he wouldn’t talk to me for the rest of the day. I saw him a week later and asked him about it and he still said "no". And finally one night, I was working a night shift, and I came up on him and I talked to him. I was like “you know I’ve got my P’s and Q’s, I know about it, I want to take my shahadah. And he sits me down and we talk for about 2 hours, just discussing all of the stipulations you come across in Islam and in regards to American society and how living as a proper Muslim totally are not going to go hand in hand with each other. But after a long sit-down conversation he eventually gave in and he transliterated the shahadah for me so I was able to say it. And as for the military…
Deghayes: But Mustafa there’s a number of guards that become Muslim, and people don’t realize that. They think that you're the only person that did become Muslim inside Guantanamo. There is a number of guards who became Muslim there, and there is one female guard we're still in contact with. And she sends us messages. She said she is wearing a hijab and that she has become Muslim lately.
Deghayes: And she sends messages. But she is so scared to come out in the open. And we asked if it's possible for her to speak about it and we’re in contact with her.
There are a number of people who inside prisons…
Ojeda: We would be happy to have her testimony anonymously.
Deghayes: Yeah, I’ll tell her that because she sends a good message to Moazzam Begg, and she said, "Just tell your friends in London that the things that [I] experienced in Guantanamo changed [my] life completely." And one of the things she said, she said "I remember somebody who comes weak to the cells, from another prison, and you have the support you have, and the comraderie you had inside those prisons was just admirable." She was impressed by that and how people helped each other inside those horrible conditions.
Goodman: Omar, we’re about to come to the end of this conversation. The video-conference will close but in the last few days you questioned whether you wanted to participate in this at all. Can you explain why?
Deghayes: It was by coincidence. I was looking at my Facebook and somebody sent me a message on Facebook. And he sent me a videotape where an American soldier/personnel… I looked at the videotape and in that videotape there was an American soldier in Iraq who was raping a civilian, a woman, an Iraqi woman, and he filmed that incident, and he was bragging about it. It was so sad to see that these atrocities are still happening inside Iraq. And because American soldiers are doing these things by command, by Generals and others inside what happened in Abu Ghraib and many other pictures probably they had. I thought it wasn’t acceptable that I should be speaking to people who were still committing these atrocities inside those countries. Especially that we know that Obama has refused to publicize some of those pictures who they have in their hand, in their possession. I mean, the Ministry of Defense has in their possession, even worse pictures of American individuals who committed those criminal acts, and Obama, even though he is a lot better than Bush and the previous administration, but these people haven’t been put to accountability.
This man’s picture is in the Internet, and he’s doing those crimes. It’s so horrible if you just look at it, and he is probably at large, nobody has done anything to him. And he is bragging about it. And if America wants to respect itself this is the message and if they want people to take them seriously, and this war, it is a moral war. And if they want a moral ground, they should prosecute those criminal people who have committed those atrocities. So that was the reason that made me think, maybe I shouldn’t be participating in this.
Goodman: How do you know the video is real?
Deghayes: Yeah, I think it is real because this is not the only video, there are more, I’ve seen a couple of videos before. Some of them were women speaking in Aljazeera like for example Sabrina Janadi, an Iraqi young woman who described what happened to her and it is verified fact. And there are many, many others in Iraq. I’ve seen tapes of American guards bragging and speaking, everybody knows of the photographs that the Ministry of Defense refused to release because they said if they release them it will cause even more agitation in the Middle East because how much bad those pictures and those videos were and this means that this was happening inside those prisons and inside observation of offices and people’s superiors but those people who committed those crimes probably were encouraged to do that. Otherwise we haven’t heard of anyone properly brought to account.
Goodman: So what made you decide to participate then?
Deghayes: When Almerindo talked to me he said it is better to speak to the people about this, about everything. We are not those same people, we are different, we are trying to convince the people in the United States about the atrocities that did happen under this so called “War on Terror.” We are trying to show the people and explain the truth and, Omar, if you don’t participate in this, all you are doing is disappointing us who are trying to organize this and trying to explain to the people what the reality is and what really is happening on the ground. Because people usually only hear one side of the story. And to make a proper judgment, we need to hear both sides of the story.
Ojeda: Omar, is reconciliation possible?
Deghayes: I think definitely it’s possible. Of course, I mean, we humans, nobody wants war. I don’t think that the Afghani people want war. They’ve been badly affected by war. No people in Iraq want their country to be occupied and shelled and tortured and bombed. But reconciliation, we must learn to respect each other, and we must learn to resolve our problems not by might and force; we should respect people’s perspectives. I mean, some people have different ways of looking at things in life. We, as Mustafa was saying about his transformation to Islam, we have different values, we look at things differently but this doesn’t mean that we have to fight each other. We can sit down and negotiate and we can understand. As I said, you know, things can and will probably get worse when you use might and force to solve problems. All of us have families and we know that even in our own families, when we try to force your children or force people who are weaker than you in a family to do something, it never succeeds. What it does is it causes rebellion and makes things worse [APPLAUSE].
Goodman: Omar Deghayes, is there anything else you’d like to add. The video will probably go off at any point.
Deghayes: Yeah, just really want to thank all of you for coming here, it has been a pleasure. I’m so happy to know people like yourselves who are brave enough to stand by their principles and advocate, I hope, for what is right, and advocate [for] understanding and listening to the other side. It has been a pleasure to participate and I am pleased that I have changed my mind and did participate. I hope you are able to change things to the better in the United States and probably in the world. Thank you very much for having me here, it’s been a pleasure [APPLAUSE].
Goodman: Mustafa Abdullah, is there anything you would like to say to Omar Deghayes?
Holdbrooks: You really think reconciliation is possible? This could totally turn into an absolutely off conversation; we should probably just have it over Facebook or something, via email. The amount of restructuring that would be required in America, both socially as well as our educational system. There is so much that would have to be done to revamp it to make any kind of ground work, to lay a bridge of connection between the East and the West. It’s inspiring to me to hear that you have hope that reconciliation could be possible. Quite frankly, I’m always surprised and shocked to hear of another detainee who has gotten out and has not decided to retaliate. I think it is amazing; it is certainly something that I commend all of you for. And in regards to that sister that you were speaking of, just let her know, it’s the responsibility of all of us Muslims. If we know of social injustice and what-not happening to our brothers and sisters, it’s our responsibility to take some type of action towards it. Even if she speaks anonymously, she’s still speaking and taking action and that’s what is going to help facilitate change.
Goodman: Mustafa, the response of other soldiers, officials, officers to your conversion.
Holdbrooks: I managed to actually keep my religious views and affiliations to myself and relatively quiet. There were only two individuals that were in Guantanamo that had any knowledge of that and they were individuals that I could trust. There were very far and few that I could trust. A lot of the same side-effects that Omar was mentioning from being in Guantanamo, I had as well. I still have nightmares about that place; I suffered mass amounts of alcoholism trying to forget it. It’s awful. But I kept it a secret until we got back to Fort Letterwood. When we got back to Fort Letterwood, nobody cared what I was doing at that point, they were back with their families and they had their beer and their play stations and everything else. They didn’t care what I was doing. So, I became irrelevant at that point and that was the point in time that I became comfortable enough to talk about it. Family and friends haven’t had anything negative to say about it, they’ve been supportive of me and what I do. At least the people I still talk with. If they want to have a conversation with me, then they are my real friends, if they don’t, then they weren’t friends to begin with.
Goodman: So what are your plans now?
Holdbrooks: Hopefully, to get my book out. I have another four drafted in my mind that I would like to write; the next four will be fictitious however. But I have four more books I would like to write that will point out a lot of comparisons and contrasts between the United States and the Middle East and hopefully help bridge the gap between the East and the West. Help try to create some type of understanding.
Goodman: And Omar, your plans now?
Deghayes: Now my plans are simple. Just continue to live my life and try to achieve what is good and try to help those who are left behind in Abu Ghraib and many others in Sikh prisons and I think it’s a call to mission to help to release them. I graduated, when I was young I always wanted to do human rights law and I did. And now, I think I may be in a better position to work as I am working now as a human rights lawyer to help many, many others who are less fortunate. Because in my whole life, I have experienced how oppression can be. When it happened to my father and family in Libya and when I grow up and went to Guantanamo. There is a lot that can be achieved by talking and by advocating for those rights [APPLAUSE].
Goodman: We want to thank you both for taking this time and really participating in this historic event of a prison guard and prisoner at Guantanamo talking to each other and sharing with all of us your experiences there. Thank you very much [APPLAUSE].
Ojeda: Thank you very much for your attendance. Outside the door there are books by Amy Goodman and books by some other author you might know. Both of them are interesting for people who have attended this meeting. Please look them up. Amy will be signing copies of her book and the other author will be signing copies of his book as well.
Goodman: And maybe next time Mustafa will be sitting next to us, signing his book as well.
Holdbrooks: Inshaallah [APPLAUSE].