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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
http://www.news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=8674

Teleconference 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.

Former 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.

Layout 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

First 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.

At 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.

At 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 Guantanamo.

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.

Finally, 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.”

After “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?”

Very 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 told.”

He was happy to be back in Khartoum. Couldn't believe it. But sad because he left so many brothers behind.

“Sudan 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

Next 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.

Took 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.

Then 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%.”

Saw 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.”

The US 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.

He 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 didn't know.

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 July 2005.

“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 people.”

The nine-four (number 9-4 on their arms) were the worst guards, supposedly from Washington, but not sure.

Did 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.

Suicide? 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.

Salim Adam

Third former 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.

“If 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.

Witnessed 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.

“Guantanamo 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.”

“We saw people whose backs were broken. . . .” Other bones broken. Good teeth taken out. Bad teeth... Operations performed, cloth left inside.

“In 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 doing so.”

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.”

“I 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 left Guantanamo.

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 our attorneys.”

“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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