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Event details prisoners' abuse

Witnessing Guantanamo: Enterprise picture

Amy Goodman, host of 'Democracy Now' speaks Saturday with Almerindo Ojeda, director of the UC Davis
Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas about Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Photo: Greg Rihl
/ Davis Enterprise.


The Davis Enterprise
by Sharon Stello
June 3, 2008


Adel Hamad, born in Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast of eastern Sudan in 1958, was living in Pakistan and working for an Islamic charitable organization.

He was arrested at his home on July 18, 2002, starting a terrible journey to Guantánamo — the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — where he would be imprisoned without trial for 51/2 years.

Hamad spoke of being chained, hit and kicked, repeatedly interrogated for up to six hours, and placed in isolation for weeks.

Two other men, Hammad Amno and Salim Mahmud, told similar stories at a Saturday night event organized by the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas.

The center's director, Almerindo Ojeda, said while Guantánamo may soon close, "the Guantánamo experience will go on for years to come."

The center has started the Guantánamo Testimonials Project, collecting testimonies of alleged prisoner abuse from eyewitnesses including former guards, a military lawyer, a chaplain and detainees. Saturday's event was to raise money for the project, but Ojeda said he anticipates they will only break even.

About 400 people attended the event in Sciences Lecture Hall 123 at UCD. Former Guantánamo prisoners in Khartoum, Sudan, were interviewed via videoconference by journalist Amy Goodman, the host and executive producer of national radio news and television program "Democracy Now!" Isma'il Kushkush, a former UCD history student working as a journalist in Sudan, translated for the former prisoners who spoke in Arabic. Organizers said video of the event will eventually be posted on http://youtube.com.

Hammad, Amno and Mahmud said they were arrested because they worked for organizations that interrogators alleged had connections to al-Qaeda. The men said these groups did not support terrorists, but if there was some evidence to the contrary, then their managers should be prosecuted and not line workers.

These former prisoners described harsh treatment at Guantánamo, saying they were sometimes chained with their arms above their head for several hours, but not sexually abused or tortured with waterboarding.

However, Mahmud said he knew another prisoner who was sexually abused. The men said they knew of prisoners who had their heads forced into a toilet that was flushed repeatedly. Some heard of prisoners committing suicide, but Mahmud said he believes the prisoners were killed.

He said a guard "would depart from his humanity and treat you like an animal — you would be amazed."

Mahmud said he saw people with backs, legs and fingers broken. He claimed some had their good teeth removed or pieces of cloth left in their bodies during surgery. He said some of the fair doctors would tell prisoners to speak during interrogation so they could be given medical treatment.

The men said psychiatrists did not help them, but were used to destroy their spirits. Some prisoners were given drug injections that made them sleep for days at a time, the men said. And, they said, guards would treat the Koran with disrespect to further break prisoners' spirits.

"The effects of physical abuse could go for a week or two, but the effects of psychological abuse stays," Mahmud said.

Hamad's experience

Hamad said he was arrested by Pakistani forces and by a man he believes was an American.

The men said he would come with them for an hour or two, the Pakistani officers looked at his visa, asked the American if they should arrest him, and he said "yes."

"They told me not to move, put their weapons in my face and cuffed me," Hamad said.

They put a black hood over his head and took him to a jail, putting him in solitary confinement.

"I cannot even describe it. Very dirty. Hot — it was summertime. The food was really bad," Hamad said.

They took his photo and fingerprints and the American interrogated him with a translator. Hamad said he was jailed there for six months and lost about 65 pounds.

Hamad said he was eventually taken with others to a prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. He said their hands and feet were tied and their hands covered with heavy gloves. They were tied to the airplane floor, he said.

When they arrived at the prison, "they hit us and kicked us and took off all our clothes and left us naked and then they gave us red clothing. They tied our eyes and deprived us of sleep for three days. We were standing up for three days," he said.

Hamad said he passed out, was taken to the hospital, and then to a room where he and other prisoners slept on the floor.

"I would hear the cries and screaming of other prisoners and we were like this for two months. Then they took us to Guantánamo," Hamad said.

He said their heads and beards were shaved along with some men's eyebrows. They were given new prison clothing and numbers. Hamad became No. 940.

Hamad said they were deprived of sleep and at dawn, their arms and legs were tied and they were made to wear heavy earphones, black goggles and heavy gloves. They were left sitting on the cold ground until night and given only a dry piece of bread and some water, he said.

Then the prisoners were tied together. Anyone who moved was kicked, he said. Hamad said they were taken on a plane trip that lasted many hours and he was given a pill that made him fall in and out of sleep.

Once they arrived at Guantánamo, Hamad said he was interrogated for three to four hours and then left in a very cold iron cage — where he could not see or hear anything — for about two weeks. Later, soldiers interrogated him about the organization for which he worked.

Hamad said he and fellow prisoners kept their spirits up by reading the Koran, supporting each other and organizing entertainment gatherings. Letters from family and unknown Americans also helped.

"Some would send me letters and this would make me patient," Hamad said.

Finally a guard came and told Hamad that we would be leaving soon. After a final interrogation and medical exam, he was sent back to Khartoum, Sudan.

"I was extremely happy," Hamad said. "At the same time, I was sad because I left many brothers behind who were like me. Now I spend my time on the issue of Guantánamo and working towards (helping) the ones left and their families."

Hamad said he was saddened that the United States "would raise beautiful slogans of democracy, equality, justice and freedom, but unfortunately those values no longer exist."

Hamad said some guards were humane, but most treated the prisoners badly. Yet, he said, "they are soldiers and they were just obeying what they were told."

He said, "You should struggle against any government that abuses human rights and we are with you hand in hand in this struggle.

We want a government in the United States that will be an example for the world. We want you to be happy. We want everyone to be happy and peaceful," Hamad said.

Reach Sharon Stello at sstello@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8043. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com.


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