The Benfell Blog: Witnessing Guantanamo
The Benfell Blog
by David Benfell
June 1, 2008
I went to UC Davis yesterday, where I attended Witnessing Guantanamo, an interview of three former Guantanamo detainees by Amy Goodman, conducted over a teleconference.
My somewhat edited notes follow:
Location: Science Lecture Hall, UC Davis – 31 May 2008 20:00
Moderator: Amy Goodman
with three former Guantanamo prisoners now in Sudan. They are
accompanied by a former UC Davis history student, now working as a
journalist in Sudan.
I was seated at far left, close to an outlet in the lecture hall. WiFi access does not reach Internet.
detainees in a long narrow room with a ceiling fan, seated on opposite
sides of a long narrow table; speaker phone visible on center of table.
on this side poor. There is a big screen at the center of the wall
behind the podium, but too close to the podium to illuminate Goodman
without fading lower left of screen. She would be satisfied looking at
the big screen that the audience will be watching. Monitor for Goodman
blocks view of her from several audience seats—she was not happy about
this. She wound up taking a seat in the audience—the second row. She
will be barely visible—if at all—on video, but a monitor on the side of
the room showed a brighter picture.
I attempted to record on two devices, my laptop (using the microphone with my headphones) and a digital recording USB stick. I should have brought a better microphone for this. The USB stick recording has heavy echo and though I converted it to MP3 format; I judge it unusable. The laptop got a recording that seems a bit soft but seems to have suppressed a lot of crowd noise. I have clipped the beginning of the recording from before the start of the program and amplified it as far as possible; the quality was now better, but still poor. I continued working on it, and the supposedly unlimited undo functionality failed. The recording is now unusable.
There are now four people seated around the table at the far end (in Sudan). It is about 06:00 Khartoum time.
Program begins approximately 12 minutes after I begin recording. (I have trimmed this part.)
UC Davis Television will be editing and putting this on YouTube at no cost to the organizers.
The theater is nearly full, but they say they are barely covering the expenses of running this.
Guantanamo Testimonials Project.
Adel Hasan Hamad
former detainee (Adel Hasan Hamad) interviewed was born on Sudan's Red
Sea coast at Port Sudan in 1958, arrested at his house in Pakistan by
Pakistani forces accompanied by American who instructed Pakistanis to
arrest him despite his possession of a visa. Denies having worked with
al Qaeda or terrorists. The organization, an Islamic charitable
organization, he was working for remains in operation. He was in jail
for 5-1/2 years. When arrested, they told him not to move, put gun in
his face, handcuffed him, put black hood over his head. They also
harassed his downstairs neighbor. He was put right away in solitary
confinement, very dirty, hot (summer time). “ The food was really bad.”
Interrogated by American FBI with a translator next morning. Kept at
this jail for 6-1/2 months; jail caused physical problems for him—he
lost 30 kg of weight. Not beaten at Pakistani cell. American did not
identify himself as an American. Then taken to Baghram (Afghanistan)
with hands and feet bound and heavy gloves, tied to floor of plane.
While on plane, beaten, stripped, “tied our eyes,” given red clothing.
Deprived of sleep, forced to stand for three days. Interrogated,
solitary confinement, chained even in cell, injuries, passed out from
exhaustion on third night, taken to hospital, then back to cell. Like
this for two weeks. Then taken to a “wide space.” Slept on floor.
Beating and interrogation continued. Heard cries and screaming from
other prisoners. Like this for two months. Knew he was at Baghram Air
Force Base from looks of place and from Afghani prisoners. Heard that
two prisoners were killed while he was there. Different interrogators,
different questions, insisting that he trained at “this camp,” traveled
to Kandahar, Iraq, helped the Muddah (ph), helped Osama bin Laden,
helped the insurgents of bin Laden. Dogs present at daily searches.
night, shaved heads and beards. Some had eyebrows shaved. Changed
number from 465 to 940. Different red clothing. Tied, black goggles on
eyes, same heavy gloves. Left sitting on ground—very cold. Only given
dry piece of bread and water. Then taken to “cargo,” prisoners tied
together. Anyone who moved would be kicked. Dogs always used in
searches to intimidate and I think to humiliate, bite clothing of
detainees as put on plane. Put on plane, tied to floor of plane, sat on
seats on side of plane. Gave us white pills before trip so “we did not
know exactly what was happening. We could not feel what was happening.”
Passing in and out of sleep. Not totally conscious.
Guantanamo, interrogated for three or four hours, put in iron cage,
very cold. Could not hear or see anything; eyes and ears covered when
taken out of cell; cell closed, locked-- could not see anything but
some light. Like this for two weeks. Interrogated twice daily. Army
interrogators with translators, asked different questions about the
organization, insisted that it was terrorist organization. He insisted
he was just a normal worker, that they should hold the supervisors
accountable. “They said they had something they called 'secret
evidence.'” Justified his treatment with “secret evidence” that they
never showed him. “They never took me to trial.” They never beat him at
Prison affects a person, “especially if you are
innocent and there is nothing against you.” Many psychologists—“they're
the ones that caused mental illness, because they don't use them as
psychologists, but to destroy our spirits.” Loud music used on fellow
prisoners. “There were many psychologists. They're the ones that caused
mental illness.” Psychologists answered call for a fellow prisoner's
headache, said prisoner was possessed. Doctors would not come so
easily—it was the doctors who were “possessed.” Psychologists in
military uniform, no name—just Dr. and number and military rank. Women
also interrogated him. Each interrogation—there were hundreds of
interrogations—lasting 1-1/2 to six hours while chained to floor,
“sitting on a metal chair.”
Prisoners kept spirits up by reading
Koran, reciting phrases, supporting each other. Entertainment
gatherings on Friday nights. Told people coming from interrogations to
be strong, that they were heroes. Got letters from families, American
societies. Thanked his attorney.
Behavior/treatment changed and
place changed when his attorney came. Taken to camp “guana” which is
very nice—you can see the ocean, nice chairs, nice sofa set. “They
perfected the art of drama. When they wanted to show the guest that
things was okay, they would take you to Camp Four,” which had less than
5% of prisoners—only camp where pictures were allowed. There were at
least six camps.
They heard that some brothers were
waterboarded. Some prisoners' heads were placed in toilet—then they
would flush the toilet. One fellow prisoner witnessed this.
one of the guards told him he would be leaving this place. He thought
he “might be taken to a worse place.” Was taken to a general
prison—different cells—with some Afghans with him, then taken to
interrogation room, told him he would be leaving, congratulated him. He
protested the unfairness of his treatment. They asked him what he would
do when he left. He said that was not their business. “I will be happy
when I don't see their faces.” They asked if he would fight them. He
said he had not fought them in the past, would not fight in the future.
But promised to fight them with the law, and “try all my life to get my
rights from you.” Contrasted American slogans—democracy, justice,
freedom—with their disappearance from the United States. “The state of
justice does not exist with injustice.”
Told he would never be allowed to enter the US, he said “the United States is not God's heaven on earth.”
“interrogation,” medical examination, paper. There was a video camera.
Must sign agreement. They read agreement, translator translated. He
refused to sign. They threatened to keep him there. But he still
refused to sign.
After a few days, gave him new clothing. Asked
for sandals because he had a problem with his foot. He apparently never
got treatment for this while in prison. So they gave him a “Chinese
shoe,” cut from the back.
“How could you be a government and not bring proper shoes to your prisoners?”
few guards “were humane and had good morals. But most were liars and
treated us badly. Because they're soldiers and just obey what they're
He was happy to be back in Khartoum. Couldn't believe it. But sad because he left so many brothers behind.
is probably the only country that received its detainees and treated
them humanely.” Made a film and did a big conference about Guantanamo.
“We will still be working in humanitarian work and stand behind any
person to whom injustice was done.”
Hammad Ali Amno Gad Allah
former detainee (Hammad Ali Amno Gad Allah) from “Luna Mountains?” born
in Southern Sudan. Graduated 1995 in management, worked at central bank
from 1997 until 2001. Offered job by charitable organization (Revival
of Islamic Heritage) as accountant in Pakistan in January 2001—worked
there until 2002, when arrested.
Arrested at home, late at
night, while asleep. Loud noise. Pakistani police, two Pakistanis in
civilian clothing—believes they were Pakistani intelligence—and two
Americans in civilian clothes. Told him to “lift your hands and stand
up.” They tied him. Ordered by Pakistani intelligence agent to wake up
person on ground floor. He refused, was beaten, dragged him down. The
downstairs person heard the voices, woke up, and called to him.
him to what he believes was “the intelligence jail.” Guards in civilian
clothes. No military sign. In morning taken to be interrogated.
Americans present. Solitary confinement for four days. Interrogated
again. Arabic-speaking American asked him questions. Asked about
charitable organization's money. Hamad said the organization worked
according to well-known accounting practices. Stayed for 11 days at
jail in Kashauwi (ph); Pakistani intelligence agent told him that he
would be interrogated in Islamabad, knew he was innocent, but they had
to comply with Americans, “because we feared for the Pakistani nuclear
plant.” They thought he would be detained for two weeks. Very long
flight, not to Islamabad, which is apparently nearby, but to Baghram.
Tied to floor, covered eyes. On arrival, put in holes in ground. Tied
very tightly on arms. It was dark and they were walking. When someone
fell, they would pull on chains, painful for arms. Beaten. In a group.
Couldn't tell how many because he couldn't see.
After two hours,
stripped, then had to change clothes. Interrogated that night. Beaten,
ridiculed, bullied. Stayed at Baghram for two months. Cells “were more
like barns.” Confined in uncomfortable positions, twice made to stand,
hands tied to ceiling. Heard the screaming of others in interrogation
room. Did not personally experience sexual abuse, but heard of it. Did
not know of anyone dying while he was there.
Brought food early
before trip to Guantanamo—so they knew something was up. Tied hands and
feet. Goggles. Covered ears and mouths. Plane was very cold. More than
24 hours in transit to Guantanamo.
Harsh treatment on arrival.
No one could move or speak. Hands tied tightly. Held in uncomfortable
position. Hit and kicked when they tried to adjust to a more
comfortable position. Forced to kneel. Kept like this for hours.
Changed clothes again. Taken to interrogation. Three hours in
evening—he was very tired. Taken to isolation. Containers—very dark
room-- couldn't see what was outside. But “bright lights on top that
were on us.” Very cold—air conditioned. No blankets. Suffered from
cold. Stayed in isolation for about a month. Interrogated many times.
taken to “collective prison.” Isolated cells, but everyone could see
everyone else in cells. Stayed there three years. No physical abuse.
Denied any relationship to Taliban. Reiterated that he came to Pakistan
only to work. He thinks he was treated a little better than “the other
guys.” Sometimes threatened. “If you don't cooperate with us, you will
stay here forever. . . . I will write a very bad report.” He replied
that he wasn't concerned with this; he knew he was innocent “150%.”
abuse of religious articles at Baghram. Guard had number of Korans in
front of him, put stereo on top of them. Hammad said not to put this
type of music on the Koran. When they interrogated a fellow prisoner,
they would search the Koran. Somehow this was mistreatment of the
Koran. When he complained, he was taken to isolation again—very cold.
Also heard that one guard put the Koran in the toilet. Did this in two
cells, detainees complained. Insulting the Koran was a way to pressure
prisoners, “to affect our spirits, but we were patient.”
claimed his name had been in anti-US Arabic-language document
supporting “Afghan brothers.” In December 2004, a review board claimed
he was an enemy combatant, that he confessed to being an accountant for
Organization of Islamic Revival—previously known as Committee to Help
Afghanis—that supported terrorists and whose funds had been frozen.
saw no indication of a relationship with terrorists. “Helping people is
not a crime.” Pointed to US also claiming to want help for Afghans at
Tokyo conference in 2002 from allies and friends.
“There were no
such documents to begin with,” so they didn't show them to him. They
said it was “secret evidence.” “How could one be accused of something
without looking at the evidence?” He asked, was his name just on the
paper or was he considered one of the scholars? His interrogators
If I had books on capitalists or Marxists, and his
name was on the book, that does not mean he is a capitalist or a
Marxist. They finally decided he was not an “enemy combatant.” Stayed
in a different chamber for two months and then was returned to Sudan in
“We should distinguish between the American people
and the American government. I think the American people are a good
people and the American government does not reflect the American
The nine-four (number 9-4 on their arms) were the worst guards, supposedly from Washington, but not sure.
a film about being in Guantanamo after return to Sudan. Tried to
reflect the suffering of the families whose sons are still in
Guantanamo. Goodman wants a copy of the film.. “It can be done.”
“There were children there who were not mature.” An Egyptian spent his 16th birthday at Guantanamo.
While he was in isolation, a brother from Saudi Arabia supposedly
“wants to commit suicide.” They took blankets. Argues that suicide is
not possible. “I think this was a made-up. . . . The rough group went
to some of the colleagues there. They took the towels but there was
really no place for the towels to be tied.” Towels and blankets both
too thick to use in hanging. Distance between ceiling and ground was
too short to hang. Towels were not allowed, sheets were not allowed. He
is now back in Saudi Arabia.
detainee (Salim Adam) born in Port Sudan. Hammad was his colleague at
charitable organization. He was at home in Pakistan in the shower
around 1 am. Knock on door. Very late. He lived on second floor. Saw
Pakistani man in civilian clothes. Salim is married to Pakistani woman,
thought it might be one of her relatives. Civilian knocked in
disrespectful and unordinary way. He woke up his wife so she could
dress up. He thinks they were in a position to attack his house from
house under construction next door.
While he went to answer
door, he heard attack on his house from upstairs. He answered, they
made him raise his hands, and handcuffed him. They wanted to enter. He
said his wife was upstairs. They got a Woman's police officer to go
upstairs. They all went up.
He was a little sick. They refused
him to let him take his medicine; they threw it (out?). They took him
in car outside. Started to break down neighbor's house who was
traveling. Searched his house. Then took him to what he thinks is
Pakistani intelligence prison. American man and woman came. He was kept
in isolation, in very bad condition. He couldn't sleep at night. At
nine or ten they interrogated him.
They told him that because
the Americans were helping to prepare elections in Pakistan, he would
be taken to Kandahar, then returned to Sudan. But he was taken to
Baghram. Treatment was like Hamad. Marks on hands. “Many of us could
not move even two steps.”
One prisoner had metal in his knee.
Forced to kneel, “the metal went out of his knee,” he was in pain. The
metal had had been put in to repair a broken leg. Now he couldn't move.
He spoke many languages, therefore he was dangerous—they hit him. He
was from Algeria, had lived in Germany and France.
“We were naked and the doctors came to us. They looked for marks on our bodies.”
“Welcome to America's prison and we would be here for years.” Fishing expedition type questions.
my neighbor spoke, they would say you were speaking. . . .” They would
make this claim even if he was sleeping. Hung by arms in metal cages
with small metal doors with head covered with a hood. “I couldn't
scratch. If I moved they would be hitting us and they would be making
fun of us.” Feet touched ground, he was standing, but could not sit
down. Tied to a high place.
This was not the only way.
or heard of sexual abuse. “The stories of others are many.” He was not
sexually abused, himself. “We don't know” who sexually abused—mentions
a Saudi. Left for Guantanamo on the same day as Hamad.
was worse. Because they treated me differently from the group I was
with. In the same group that Hamad worked with, there were four
Sudanese and one from Jordan.”
Numerous threats and attempts at
manipulation—threatening his children. Smoked cigarette, exhaled in his
face. “There were many different methods of interrogation. . . . The
effects of physical abuse could go away after a week or two, but the
psychological effects” would stay with you. “He would depart from his
humanity and treat you like an animal and you would be amazed. There
was no doubt he had studied at a university. He might have many
degrees. But Guantanamo was a strange picture of humanity.”
saw people whose backs were broken. . . .” Other bones broken. Good
teeth taken out. Bad teeth... Operations performed, cloth left inside.
Guantanamo, a doctor would be under the supervision of the most least
ranked person.” Some doctors refused to work under these conditions. He
did not meet any psychologists. Addictive drugs were substituted for
medicines. Many prisoners were tortured with medicine “because they
don't speak during the interrogation.”
A prisoner from
Uzbekistan was injected with something that made him speak for days. It
was addictive. Cites other prisoners. Including Dr. Amen, a surgeon
from Yemen—became addicted to the injections. Left Guantanamo and
became insane. “Once he was injected, he would sleep for days. He would
eat and sleep.”
Isolation very cold with bright lights. Great
wall like the wall of China. Could not see sun. Two could barely walk
in this room.
Released December 2007. “Pain in bones, weakness
in sight and hearing, and my stomach. This is because we were placed in
cold places for a long time. And I spent most of my time in isolation.
And there were many punishments against us. From 2004 until I left, I
would not speak in the interrogation because I didn't see any use in
Doesn't believe there were any suicides. “I think the
first three—at midnight we heard them—and after fifteen minutes, an
emergency situation was announced in the (?). And even the other
prisoners were amazed at what was happening. . . . You might say they
died because of torture because all of them were on hunger strike.”
did not see waterboarding. My neighbor—they insulted the Koran.....”
Witnessed prisoner's head put in toilet and flushed. “Some of the
guards would intentionally throw the Koran.”
“Insults to the
Koran was a method of torture from the Defense Department.” More than
300 psychological methods. “This was one way.” This continued until he
They heard about peace protesters and human
rights activists came to Guantanamo. Visited, but with conditions.
“None of the prisoners could see them. The news would come to us via
“A ten-year old boy who was arrested . . . he
was crying and saying, 'get me out of this place and why are you
holding me?'” A guard played with him. The kid went to Guantanamo.
“You must change the government of Bush.”
It is past 10:30.
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