Witnessing Guantanamo: Transcription of Hammad Amno's Interview
Interviewer: Amy Goodman
Interviewee: Hammad Amno
Interpreter: Isma'il Kushkush
Date of interview: 31 May 2008
Place of the interview: University of California at Davis (via videoconference to Sudan)
Amy Goodman: Hammad Amno, we’d like to ask to talk to you next. Welcome to University of California, Davis.
Hammad Amno: Thank you for hosting us. All the guys are thanking the University of California.
AG: Can you talk about where you were born, where you grew up, and then tell us about the work that you were doing before you were arrested.
HA: I am from Nuba Mountains and was born in the city of Juba in southern Sudan. Then I graduated the university in 1995. Management. I worked as an employee with the Central Bank, 1997-2001. Then I was offered by a charitable organization that is originally from Kuwait that works in Pakistan, so in January 2001 I went to work as an accountant.
AG: And what happened in 2001?
HA: I worked as an accountant with the Organization of Revival of Islamic Heritage, January 2001 until May 2002, and that’s when I was arrested.
HA: In my house.
AG: Which was where?
HA: In Peshawar, Pakistan. When I was sleeping at night, I heard a loud noise. I woke up, and then I saw Pakistani police and two Pakistanis in civilian clothing. I think they were with the intelligence. And two who I believe were Americans were also in civilian clothes. As soon as they entered they told me to, 'Lift your hands and stand up.' And then they tied me, and I was ordered by the Pakistani intelligence officer who was in civilian clothing. I was on the highest floor, and told me to go down and wake up the person on the ground floor. I refused and told him that that was not my kind of work, so he started to hit me and drag me down to wake up the person. So that person heard our voices, and called me from the window, 'What’s wrong, Hammad?' And then they spoke to him and left me, and I went up again, and when I went up again I saw the two Americans looking around the house. They were searching.
AG: And where were you then taken to?
HA: They tied me and covered my eyes, and took me to – they put me in a car and took me to a jail, which I believe was the intelligence jail because all the guards there were in civilian clothes and there was no clear military sign to it. I stayed there overnight, and then they took me in the morning to be interrogated. They were Americans. They took my fingerprints and asked me general questions. Then they took me back to my room--solitary confinement--and I stayed there for four days, and then they took me to be interrogated again--an American who spoke Arabic--and asked me questions: 'Why did you come to Pakistan? What do you do?' When I told him that I worked for a charitable organization and I worked as an accountant, he started to ask me about my accounting work with the organization, and about the funds. And I told him that the organization worked according to well-known and recognized accounting practices, so he didn’t ask me any other questions. All the questions dealt with accounting practices. And I told him that the organization worked according to the well-known practices of accounting.
Then they took me back to my room and I stayed there for six days, and I stayed about eleven days in jail in Peshawar. On Thursday, the sixth of June, a Pakistani intelligence officer came who introduced himself as such, told me that, 'You will be transferred to Islamabad and an FBI interrogator will interrogate you.' And they told me that, 'We know you are innocent, and there is nothing against you in Pakistan, but this is because of the pressure of the American government and its allies, so you had to become victims of Pakistan because we fear for the Pakistani nuclear plant, and you will stay in Islamabad for a week, no more than two weeks, and then after interrogation you will return home and practice your work.'
But unfortunately, in the evening they took me to the airport. I didn’t think that the distance between Peshawar and Islamabad was that far for them to take me by plane, but maybe for security reasons. But they took me to Afghanistan because it was a much longer trip. They took me to Bagram. Before they took us to Bagram they tied us and covered our eyes, and put us in a cargo plane, and tied us to the ground of the plane, and it was a very tiresome trip. When we arrived there, they tied us tightly together on our arms. We arrived at night, and there were many holes in the ground. We were tied together so when someone walked and they couldn’t see, some would fall and when they would fall they would pull the chain, so it would be very painful on our arms. And the soldiers would shout at us and hit us until we reached that camp, and then they sat us down in an uncomfortable way on our knees, and our hands were tied to our backs. It was a group, but I couldn’t tell how many because I couldn’t see, so they take us one by one. I think this lasted for about two hours.
And after that they entered us into a room and took our clothes off, and gave us new clothes, and they interrogated us that night. The interrogators would hit us and make fun of us and one would push us to the other, and the other would also make fun of us. And then they took us to different cells that were more like barns, and we saw some of the guys there from different nationalities, but it seemed that the most were from Afghanistan.
AG: How would they make fun of you?
HA: One would pull me from my clothes, then push me to the other. When I told them that I was an accountant, some would start singing with the word, 'accountant,' and laugh at me and look at me.
AG: How long were you held at Bagram?
HA: I stayed in Bagram for two months.
AG: Were you beaten at all?
HA: I personally was not hit, but there were different types of punishment. They made me stand for long periods of time, they would tie our hands to the ceiling on top for a long period of time. This happened to me twice, and I would hear the screaming of others in the interrogation room.
AG: Was there sexual abuse?
HA: I personally, this did not happen to me, but we heard about this.
AG: Did you know of anyone who died there?
HA: Not during my period, but after that we heard.
AG: And then how were you taken to Guantanamo?
HA: On the day that they took us to Guantanamo, they brought us food early, not at the normal time that they would bring food to us, so we figured out there was something. So they had a list and they would call names, then they would tie us, our hands and our feet, and would tie our eyes with goggles, and our ears, and masks that covered our mouths. So they took us to a place and we couldn’t see. Then we stayed there for a long period of time. After that they took us with a car to a different place, and then they took us to the plane, and we were tied and they tied us to...on the plane. And the plane was very cold, and we were with our normal clothing.
After a few hours they changed planes. And then they would take us and our feet would not reach the ground, but they would put us on carts, until they took us to a different plane. Then we reached Guantanamo. It took about more than two days because it was more than 24 hours. Then we reached Guantanamo.
AG: And can you talk about your treatment in Guantanamo?
HA: Once we arrived it was harsh treatment. When we left the plane they took us to a car and no one could move or say anything or even scream. And our hands were tied tightly and it hurt us, so when we tried to move to be in a more comfortable position, they would hit us and we would be kicked. Then they put us on the floor and we sat on our knees, and our hands were still tied, and we stayed like that for hours. Then they changed the clothes that we came with and took us to interrogation.
I entered interrogation in the evening, and it lasted for about three hours and I was very tired. And then they took me to isolation, which was basically containers in a very dark room and you couldn’t see what was outside, but there was bright lights on top that were on us. And it was very cold--it was air-conditioned--and the first day we had no blankets, and we suffered from the cold. And I stayed in isolation for about a month, and during this period they interrogated me many times.
Then they took us--they call it a 'collective prison', but really it was isolated cells because everyone could see the other from the cells, and I stayed there.
AG: For years? For about five years?
HA: I stayed there for three years.
AG: Were you physically abused in any of those interrogations?
HA: No, I had--I have--no relationship with al-Qaeda or Taliban, and I came from Sudan in 2001 to work, and all that information is evident in my paper, so I think I was treated a little bit better from the other guys. They continued their interrogation, but sometimes they would threaten me, 'If you don’t cooperate with us you will sit here forever.' An interrogator said that, 'If you don’t cooperate with us I will write a very bad report.' I told them that, 'I’m not really concerned with this because I know that I am innocent 150%,' so I really didn’t care for [about?] the threats, and I stayed like this until I left Guantanamo.
AG: Did you see any abuse of religious articles or of the Qu’ran?
HA: Yes, in Bagram, one of the nights. The guard had a number of Qu’rans in front of him and he put a stereo on top of it, and I told him that, 'This is a Qu’ran. Don’t put this type of music on this,' and then he got mad and shouted at me and told me to sit down, and we would get mad, though we couldn’t do anything. In Guantanamo, one day in the cells, one of the guys was taken to be interrogated, so when they would take him they would search the Qu’ran, and then the brother would have to do it in front of them. After he would open the Qu’ran a guard would come in and open the Qu’ran again and look at it. And the Qu’ran of course is holy, and they shouldn’t treat it like that. Many of the detainees got mad that [at] this and to complain, and because of this I was taken to isolation again. And I stayed there for two weeks. Isolation was known as a place of punishment. I was very cold.
Once I was at Camp Four, and we saw the guards moving quickly and taking prisoners, and we heard that one of the guards took the Qu’ran and threw it in the toilet. This was in the Afghan chambers. And they did this in two cells, and the detainees complained about this. And because we were peaceful, when the Qu’ran was abused, we told them, 'Take the Qu’ran,' so it would not be insulted or abused in front of us. And in the beginning they would take the Qu’ran, and when they saw that all the brothers wanted to give the Qu’rans to the ... orders were given that the Qu’ran should not be taken from the detainees. They wanted to use it as a way to pressure us, to insult the Qu’ran in front of us, so they would affect our spirits. But we were patient. This is an example.
AG: The government said they found your name in an Arabic language document, in which numerous Sudanese sheiks and Islamic scholars identified the United States as the greatest enemy of Islam, and called for support of Afghan brothers by any means.
HA: I’m glad that you brought this up. In December 2004 there was a review board of enemy combatants, and they told me that, 'You were an enemy combatant for the following reasons.' They told me that, 'You confessed to being an accountant with the Organization of Islamic Revival, which is considered an organization that supports terrorism,' and they told me that, 'This organization used to be called, ‘The Committee to Help Afghans’ and the assets of this organization were frozen because it was suspected to support terrorism, and then the fifth point was that we found your name in an Arabic document with a number of scholars--Sudanese scholars and Muslim scholars--that considered the U.S. to be the greatest enemy of Islam, and that we should support the Afghans by any means.'
I refuted all these points. I told them that, 'I worked as an accountant with the Organization for Islamic Revival with a contract and this was normal. [It] wasn’t disallowed. And [if] it was considered as an organization that supported terrorism, I have no knowledge of that. When I worked with them I saw nothing that showed that they supported terrorism, and we have no relationship with al-Qaeda or Taliban, and this can be proven by...because the organization has continued to work until now.' And the third point which I refuted that the organization which used to be called the Committee to Help Afghans, I told them that, 'For the organization to bear such a name, there is nothing wrong with that because helping people is not a crime.'
And I told them that, 'The U.S. had called for a conference in Tokyo in January of 2002, and called upon its allies and friends to help the Afghani people. For the organization to be called, ' [The Committee] to Help the Afghanis' is a good thing, and the U.S. calls for such things.
Then I went to the fourth point and told them that, 'For the assets of the organization to be frozen, and as an accountant or as a graduate of Management that this was a correct and proper action because if there is any doubts or concerns about an organization, the first thing to do is to freeze the organization until one looks into their practices.'
AG: Did they ever show you the documents they were referring to?
HA: There are no documents to begin with, but I’ll bring this up in my last point. This is all talk; they are accusations. There is no evidence. But they said there were 'secret evidence'. But I laugh at this because, I mean, how could one be accused of something without looking at the evidence? The last point that you mentioned, I said, 'Is my name just on the paper or was I considered one of the scholars?' They said, 'We don’t know.' Then they said, 'No, it was just on the paper.' I told them that, 'That was not a crime.' First I told them that, 'I am sure that there is no such document to begin with. But let’s assume that this paper existed and my name was on it. It’s not a crime and it doesn’t suggest that I follow the Taliban. If I had books about capitalism or Marxism, and my name was on it, it does not mean that I am a capitalist or a Marxist. And this was just hearsay,' and then they left me.
And after five months, in May 2005, they took me to interrogation and told me that, 'We have good news for you. That the committee has said that you are not an enemy combatant, and you will return to your country once the arrangements are made between the two countries.' And they took me to a different chamber, and I stayed there for two months, and July 2005 I returned to Sudan.
AG: Were there any guards who showed you acts of kindness?
HA: I say that we should distinguish between the American people and the American government. I think the American people are a good people, and that the American government does not reflect the American people [APPLAUSE], and that’s why the guards were different because people are like the fingers of a hand, different. Some are good and some are midway, and some are really bad. And all of that existed in Guantanamo. And I specify, 9-4 was the worst company of guards in Guantanamo. They were really bad, and they treated us really bad, and tried to start problems with the detainees. But some of the companies were not so bad.
AG: Who were the 94? Where were they from?
HA: We’re not sure, but we heard that they were from Washington, but we’re not exactly sure. All of them were Army, but they had nine dash four on their arms, and that is why we called them, '9-4.'
AG: And how long were they there for?
HA: November 2002 [to] June or July 2003. We’re not sure exactly, about a year-and-a-half.
AG: Hammad Amno, did you make a film about your experience?
HA: Yes, we did a film about being in Guantanamo, and our goal was to help those who are still in Guantanamo, and we tried to reflect the suffering of the families of those whose sons were still in Guantanamo. And we wanted to reflect the public opinion, what happens in Guantanamo, and I think it did [that] to a certain degree. It showed the suffering of the families who still have sons in Guantanamo because this is an inhumane suffering. Some have left their families, and some left their parents and they were the main supporters for them. So we tried to reflect this to the public opinion and to human rights activists.
AG: Can we get a copy of the film?
HA: Yes, it can be done.
AG: Did you know any children at Guantanamo?
HA: There were children there that were not mature. There were a few that I saw, but I wasn’t sure how old they were. But there was one called Omar [INAUDIBLE] with an Egyptian background. He was in the same chambers, and he told me that he completed his 16th birthday at Guantanamo. And when he was arrested he was 15. And he stayed in Afghanistan for some time, and then was sent to Guantanamo.
AG: Did you know any of the people who committed suicide at Guantanamo?
HA: I did not witness that. I left in 2005, but in January 2003 when I was punished in isolation, there was an incident to a brother from Saudi Arabia. On that day, everything was normal, and then one of the 9-4 guards came and ordered all windows to be closed, very small windows, in which no light or electricity [?]. So the cells were extremely dark, and we were like that from about 4:00 to night, and there were suspicious movements from the guards in the evening, but around 8:00 P.M. they said that, 'One of the detainees wants to commit suicide.'
After that they took the blankets that were with us. But I think this was made up. But the riot control came in, too, which is called the 'Rough Group,' went to some of the colleagues there.. that the towel... they took the towels but there was really no place for the towels to be tied. There were very small holes or entries for air to come through, so a person could not tie anything there, and the towels could not cause suffocation or be a way to hang because they were very thick. And the blankets could not also be used as a way to hang because they were very thick. And even if someone tied it, the distance between the ceiling and the ground was very short, so it would be impossible to hang. And to begin with, towels were not allowed, sheets were not allowed, so we think this was just made up from them.
So the person that we heard of was harmed greatly and was not able to move afterwards, but he was in the same trip that I left [INAUDIBLE], fortunately. Now he has a shaking. It was very...
AG: He’s back in Sudan?
HA: No, he’s Saudi.
AG: OK, Saudi.
HA: His name is Mishal.
AG: Well Hammad Amno, thank you for telling your story.
Transcribed by Katherine A. Masters, 15 July 2008.