Witnessing Guantanamo: Transcription of Adel Hamad's Interview
Interviewer: Amy Goodman
Interviewee: Adel Hamad
Interpreter: Isma’il Kushkush
Date of interview: 31 May 2008
Almerindo Ojeda: Good evening. Good evening and welcome. My name is Almerindo Ojeda. I am the director of the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, the unit that is bringing this event to you tonight.
I’d like to begin by thanking our cosponsors of this event. First the UC Davis Hemispheric Institute on the Americas, the UC Davis School of Law, the UC Davis Muslim Student Association, and the American Civil Liberties [Union] of Yolo County.
I’d also like to thank the University of California at Davis for supporting us in this effort, both in the dzzling brilliance that you see here. They really deserve a round of applause. They [APPLAUSE]they’ve been at this quite a number of hours.
I’d also like to thank the university for their help with the publicity (very effective publicity as you can see here today). More generally, I’d like to thank my university, the University of California, for understanding that a great university must shed light on the central issues of the day and thus lead us to enlightened action. Let there be light [APPLAUSE].
Thanks are also due to University of California Television, that will be editing the footage of this event for later broadcast in YouTube. This will be done at no cost to us. And thanks also to our friends from Sacramento, We the Media, who are recording the footage that will be forwarded to the University of California Television. Again, they’re doing it at no cost to us. So thank you very much [APPLAUSE].
Many people helped to the success of this event. I’d like to thank them. First, my wife for her patience with my neglect and her dedication to this program. I want to thank the Davis Peace Coalition and Code Pink that helped us with the publicity and the ticket sales [APPLAUSE]. The Davis Enterprise, the California Aggie, and KDVS for publicity.
Finally, I owe my heartfelt thanks to Democracy Now!, broadcasting now in over 700 stations [APPLAUSE], especially here Amy Goodman, Denis Moynihan, Andrés Conteris, and Sharif Abdel Kouddous all of them helped a lot in this big event.
Turning to our friends there, in the other side of the world, I’d like to introduce Isma’il Kushkush (why don’t you wave, Isma’il? Thank you). Isma’il is a former student from UC Davis [APPLAUSE]. He studied history. After returning to his native Sudan, he started to work as a journalist. As such he got to meet all these great people we have around the table: ADEL HAMAD (can you wave for us, Adel? [APPLAUSE]), HAMMAD AMNO (Hammad, can you say ‘hello’ to us? [APPLAUSE]), and SALIM MAHMUD ADEM [APPLAUSE].
Back in February, Isma’il contacted me and asked me if our center would be interested in interviewing these former prisoners. It took me a few milliseconds to agree.
This is because our center are carrying out a Guantanamo Testimonials Project. The goals of this project are to gather testimon[ies] about prisoner abuse at Guantanamo, to organize them in meaningful ways, to make them widely available online, and to preserve them there in perpetuity.
As to our event tonight, we have a number of goals. The first is to gather testimony for our project, but also to educate broadly on the topic. Thirdly--and importantly-- we need to raise funds for the Guantanamo Testimonials Project. As you know, this event was billed as a benefit for the project. But given the size of the hall, the price of admission, and the cost of putting this wonderful video conference together, we will be able to cover expenses, but not much more. So as you came in, you got a free book with an envelope with a stub with which you can make a donation . Please consider contributing to our center. What will we do with your good money? Put on more events like this, for one. We might be able to travel abroad and interview former prisoners (I was in London last year and we got the only recording of five [former] Guantanamo prisoners speaking [there]. We have it in our website. This was done at personal expense. We are considering translating memoirs of former prisoners. There’s about eight or nine of them in all sorts of languages (Pashto, Arabic, French, Swedish, Norwegian) And those, of course, take expense to translate.
So consider us there as well.
Guantanamo—the prison—may close soon. Perhaps even by the end of the year [APPLAUSE]. But Guantanamo—the experience—will go on for years to come. We will need to know exactly what happened there. To acknowledge the suffering of fellow human beings, to hold perpetrators to account, to seek reconciliation with the rest of the world, and to prevent it from happening again. The Guantanamo Testimonials Project will not end with the closure of the prison. It will end when the experience of lawlessness and abuse it has created has been fully understood.
Please help us do that by placing your contribution in one of those envelopes.
After agreeing to the interview Isma’il proposed, I contacted Amy Goodman, and asked her to be the interviewer. Why Amy Goodman? Because she is the best! [LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]When it comes to issues of human rights, there is no other journalist in this country that researches the issues so thoroughly, identifies the right people to discuss them, and then shares them with the rest of us, by asking them that brilliantly simple question: What is the significance of this?
Ladies and Gentlemen, Amy Goodman [APPLAUSE].
Amy Goodman: Well, given that we have this rare opportunity I want to thank you, Professor Almerindo. And also a shout out to the medical workers here at UC Davis. We encourage the university to bargain in good faith and to ensure the good conditions for the workers at the university here [APPLAUSE].
But why don't we launch right in? Why everyone has gathered today is to speak with these three men. I consider this bridge between Davis, California and Khartoum, Sudan as a way to break the sound barrier.
Why don't we begin with Adel Hamad. If you could start by telling us where you were born, your life before your arrest, and then we'll move into when you were arrested?
Adel Hamad: I was born in the city of Port Sudan in eastern Sudan on the Red Sea Coast, 1958. I was arrested in Pakistan on the 18th of July, 2002 in my house.
AG: What were you doing in the years before you were arrested? What was your job?
AH: I was working in an Islamic charitable organization, The World [?] Assembly of Muslim Youth. I have worked in charitable organizations for 17 years, 1986 - 2002. In Pakistan.
AG: The U.S. government said that HERA Islamic Institute, an NGO that operated in Afghanistan, was affiliated with Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. What is your response to that?
AH: This organization has no connections with terrorism or al-Qaeda, and the evidence of that is that it is working until now.
AG: In Afghanistan?
AH: In Pakistan and all through the world. It is international.
AG: Describe the day you were arrested. Where were you? Who arrested you?
AH: I was arrested by Pakistani forces and there was an American with them.
AG: Where were you?
AH: I was in my home in Pakistan.
AG: How do you know there was an American there?
AH: From the way he looked and speaking to him in English.
AG: And what time was it? How did they take you away?
AH: 9:30 a.m. they entered my home. I woke up scared and I found them in front of me, and they told me that, "You will come with us," so I asked them what was the problem? They told me that, "You will come with us for an hour or two." When they looked at my passport they saw the visa in it and the Pakistani authorities told him that, "This guy has a visa. Should we arrest him?" And he said, "Yes, arrest him." And then I was in jail for 5-and-a-half years.
AG: How did they take you from the house? Did they put anything on you physically, and where did they take you?
AH: They told me not to move, they put their weapons in my face, then they cuffed me. I was on the second floor and we went down, and my neighbor was on the first floor and they also entered into his room and they woke him up and his wife was crying. And then they hooded me with a black hood.
AG: [TO OTHERS] We're just moving the camera. Just, could we move it right in the back and there? So we could watch the film and then we won't be looking away from him when he's speaking. And as far back as you can, so he sees other people [INAUDIBLE]. Much better [INAUDIBLE]. Yeah a little back further so he sees other people? Great. Perfect. OK, very good. Very good. OK
[TO ADEL HAMAD] Where did they take you to?
AH: They took me to jail, solitary. That was really bad. I cannot describe it. Very dirty, hot. It was summer time. Food was really bad. We were in this jail from that night until morning, and then they took our pictures and fingerprints. Then the American interrogated me with a translator, and asked me normal questions. Your name. I told him that, "You have my passport. It has everything in it." Then they put me in this jail for 6-and-a-half months. This jail caused many problems for me physically and in my health, and I lost 30 kilograms of weight.
AG: Were you ever beaten there?
AH: No, not in the Pakistani cell.
AG: And the American who questioned you, did he identify himself as an American?
AH: No, he did not.
AG: And so after this, when did you end up flying to Guantanamo?
AH: Then they took us to Bagram. It was an inhumane way, the way they took us to Bagram. They tied us in our feet and our hands, and they put heavy gloves on our hands, and they tied us to the floor of the plane until we reached Bagram. When we left the plane, they hit us and kicked us. They took off all our clothes and left us naked. And then they gave us red clothing, and they tied our eyes, and they deprived me of sleep for three days. And we were standing up for three days. An interrogation was going on with this, and I was in solitary confinement. And I was tied with chains in the cell that caused me injuries.
On the third night I couldn't resist the tiredness so I passed out, and they took me to the hospital. Then they took me back to the cell and I was like this for two weeks. Then they took me to a wide space and we slept on the floor, and interrogation was still going on, threats and hitting. I would hear the cries and screaming of other prisoners, and we were like this for two months. Then they took us to Guantanamo.
AG: How did you know you were in Bagram?
AH: I knew from the looks of the place. When I asked the interrogator, he asked me, "Where do you think you are?" I told him, "I'm in Afghanistan." Then I asked other prisoners, Afghanis. They told me that this was the Bagram Air Force Base.
AG: You heard screams. Did you hear of prisoners being killed there?
AH: I heard of two Afghans that were killed because of torture.
AG: Did you see it? Did it happen while you were in Bagram?
AH: I did not see it, but I heard. But it was a known story.
AG: Did you ask your interrogator about it?
AH: No because if I would have asked I might have been the third victim.
AG: Did the interrogator change, or was it always the same person?
AH: It would change.
AG: And did the kinds of questions change?
AH: Yes, the questions would change. There were many questions.
AG: What was their focus?
AH: They would say that you trained in this camp once, and that you traveled to Kandahar, and you met the Mullah, and then you traveled to Hirat [?], and that you helped Osama Bin Laden, and you helped the surgeon of Bin Laden. I told them that, "You might be referring to someone else because I have never been to Hirat or Kandahar, or never met the Mullah, or know anything about him. I have no relationship with that."
AG: So talk about how you were moved to Guantanamo.
AH: At night, they shaved our heads and beards, and some of the prisoners' eyebrows were shaved. And they changed the clothing to another red clothing, and they changed our numbers, and they gave me the number 9-4-0. And my old number was 4-6-5 in Bagram. And they left us that night. They deprived us of sleep, and at dawn they tied us and they put heavy earphones on our ears, and black goggles on our eyes, and the same heavy gloves. And they left us sitting on the ground.
From morning to night we were sitting on the ground, and it was very cold. We were sitting like that, and we only ate a dry piece of bread and some water. Then they took us to a cargo, and they tied us like this, all tied together, and we were sitting. And the truck took us, and anyone who would move they would threaten him and they would hit him, and they would kick him until we reached the plane. And then they took us to the plane, and they made us sit on chairs on the side of the plane, and they tied us to the floor of the plane. And the trip lasted for many hours. They gave us pills before the trip, so we did not know exactly what was happening. We could not feel what was happening.
AG: What do you mean? How did the drugs affect you?
AH: I would sleep and wake up, sleep and wake up. I was not in total consciousness.
AG: What color were the pills?
AH: White...yeah, white.
AG: How many of you were taken to Guantanamo in that trip?
AH: Thirty. About thirty.
AG: When you were at Bagram, did you see dogs? Were dogs used at all on you?
AH: Yes, they always used dogs. Every time there was a search they would bring the dogs, and the search was daily. They would bring the dogs and would sit like this, and we would sit on our knees and put our hands up, and then they would do the search. And they would bring the dogs around us.
AG: And what would the dogs do?
AH: And at the airport when they hit us, the dog would hold on to my clothes and bite me.
AG: Where did they bite you?
AH: On our clothes. They would hold the dogs back, but if they would let the dogs go they would definitely bite us.
AG: When you got to Guantanamo what happened?
AH: When I reached Guantanamo the interrogation went on for three or four hours. Then they left me in an iron cage. Very cold. I could not see anything or hear anything, and I was like that for about two weeks. They would take me to interrogation daily twice a day.
AG: You couldn't see anything or hear anything because of the room, or because your eyes and ears were covered?
AH: When we would leave the cell they would cover my eyes and ears. In the cell it was closed, locked, so you really couldn't see anything.
AG: It was dark?
AH: There was some light.
AG: And who were the people who were questioning you there and what were they asking you?
AH: They were Americans from the Army with translators, and they would ask different questions about the organizations and say that it was a terrorist organization, and I would say that, "This organization has no relationship with terrorism and do you have evidence? Don't hold me accountable, but hold the manager or the people in charge of the organization accountable. I am just a normal worker, and work and get my salary."
AG: Did they ever show you evidence?
AH: Until I left they had absolutely no evidence to show. They had something called, "secret evidence."
AG: And how did they say they got it?
AH: They say that, "We have secret evidence." And until I left they never showed me the secret evidence and they never took me to trial.
AG: Can you explain what happened to you there? Were you physically abused?
AH: Physical abuse, some hittings and things like that. But being in prison has a psychological affect upon a person, and 5-and-a-half years with no crime definitely affects a person, especially if you are innocent and then there is nothing against you. They did not take me to trial, and they never charged us directly, tell you that you did this with no evidence. You can keep your person for a few months, but not for five years with no charges and no trial.
AG: Did you experience loud music?
AH: Some of my colleagues were tortured with loud music, or sexually, and you as a human rights activist must have heard of the type of abuses that took place in Guantanamo or in secret prisons.
AG: Did you ever meet a doctor or a psychologist at Guantanamo?
AH: There were many psychologists, and they are the ones that caused mental illness for us because they don't use them as psychologists, but to destroy our spirits.
AG: Can you give an example, and did you ever learn anyone's name?
AH: An example -- a colleague was suffering from a headache, so we told the authorities that, "This person has a severe headache." So the psychologists came and told him that, "Are you suffering from sleep deprivation? Are you seeing things?" So the psychologists were the first doctors to come to the prisoners. But the normal doctor would not come that easily. So they would say things like, "You were possessed," but we would say that these guys are not possessed, but the doctors are the ones that are possessed.
AG: Did you remember any doctor's name?
AH: They have no names. Not the doctors or the interrogators, they have borrowed names. They have numbers.
AG: Did they have any name on their uniform?
AH: They had a military uniform. It would say "Doctor" and, with a number. And the military rank.
AG: Were there any women who questioned you?
AG: How did they treat you?
AH: They would ask questions and there was immediate translation, and there were many questions. There were hundreds of interrogations, and each interrogation would last for an hour or two. Three, three hours – three to six hours. The least would be an hour-and-a-half to two hours. And all this time the prisoner would be chained to the ground and sitting on a metal chair.
AG: You were held for more than five years. How did you keep your spirits up?
AH: I and all the brothers, except for a few [INAUDIBLE], we would read Qu'ran, recite, pray, and this is how we kept our spirits high. And we would support each other. Each one would support the other. And sometimes we would have entertainment gatherings. We would have jokes, speeches, songs. We would do this every Friday night.
And we would support the brother who came back from the interrogation tired, and we would tell him that, "You're a hero. You're a man. Be strong." [INAUDIBLE] And also the letters that we would get from families and friends would make us patient, and I would especially thank many from the American society for my sanity. The American society is humane. Some would send me letters and this would make me patient. And I would thank my attorney, Mr. Steven T. Wax and the group, and he would make me patient and say that, "You will be leaving soon." And these words from outside and inside was the reason why we were patient all these years, and this is how we kept our spirits high.
AG: Would the behavior change when your lawyer would come to Guantanamo?
AH: It would change and the place would change, their latest methods to gain the support of the attorney. They would take us to Camp Iguana, which was very nice, and you can see the ocean in front of you. Nice chairs, and a sofa set that was nice, so when the attorney would see you like that he would think that it, you know, was always like that. So they perfected the art of drama. So when they wanted to show the guests that things were OK, they would take you to Camp Four. Camp Four had less than five percent of the prisoners. It was a nice place and comfortable that had playing fields. Media and the journalists, and the guests were taken there and they would take pictures. But Camp One, and Two, and Three, and Five, and Six, and Echo, you could not take pictures at. And there were secret camps that we did not know about. No one knows anything about it, except God. This is what they, some of the methods that they used with us to cover their mistakes and...
Almerindo Ojeda: [This is] Almerindo, hi. I wanted to ask you if you knew anything about water boarding. Do you know what that is?
AH: We heard that some of the brothers were treated like this during some of the interrogations. And some of the prisoners, from what we heard from our colleagues, in the cell that they would place their head in the toilet, and then they would turn on the flush. My brother Salim here had witnessed this. He saw that with his own eyes.
AO: We'll follow up with him.
AG: Can you talk about the day you learned you would be leaving?
AH: One of the guards came to me and told me that, "You will be leaving this place." The guards were very harsh in the way they spoke to us [INAUDIBLE] move from this place. I wasn't sure what he meant. I thought that he might be taking me to a worse place. But I felt that this was it. And my attorney had told me before. They took me to a general prison that is of different cells, and I had some Afghans with me, and after a few hours they took me to the interrogation room. And in the interrogation room they told me that, "You will be leaving this place soon, and we have come here to congratulate you with this." And I told them, "What are you congratulating me for?" And they told me, "You will be leaving." I told them, "If you've let go of me as an innocent person and were fair to me, I would have left happy. But now I am not happy for leaving." So they would ask me, "What are you going to do when you leave?" I told them, "This is not your business. I will be happy when I don't see your faces." So they asked me, "Will you fight us when you leave?" I told them, "I did not fight you to start with, and I won't fight you in the future, but my fight will be of a different kind. I will fight you by law. And I will try all my life to get my rights from you. Do you want to say your last words?" [APPLAUSE].
I told them that what I'm sad for, that the United States of America would raise beautiful slogans: democracy, equality, justice, freedom, and they were great men that put these foundations for the State. But unfortunately these values no longer exist in the United States. Our grandfathers told us that the state of justice (or truth) does not exist with injustice, and that the state of injustice with justice might remain. So your state, your country is now unjust, and this is the end of this government. I told them that the government of Bush with this policy has done bad to the reputation of the United States.
They told me that, "You should know that you will never enter the United States." I told them that, "The United States is not God's heaven on Earth." [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]. And I told them that, "I was far away from you and injustice was done to me, so I'm afraid that if I'm between you, more injustice will be done to me." So he got very mad and his face changed, and he told the guard, "Take him back to his cell."
AG: And then what happened?
AH: Then they did a medical examination to me, and they gave me a paper and a video camera. And then a person of authority came: "You must sign this agreement." And then he read the agreement to me, and the translator would translate, and they told me, "Do you want to sign?" And I told them I would not sign. They told me, "You should know that if you don't sign you will remain here." I told him, "I will remain here and I won't sign on anything. I am not an enemy combatant. I never fought you, and I will not fight you in the future, and I will not sign on anything that has an obligation."
And after that they left me alone. After a few days they gave us new clothing, and I told them that, "I want a sandal because I have a problem in my foot. I tried in prison to have them cure my problem." They said, "OK, we will give you a proper shoe," because I was prevented from wearing a shoe that was closed from the back. So they gave me a Chinese shoe cut from the back. I forgot it at home; I would have shown it to you. That was the last thing I left with from prison. I told them, "How could you be a government and not bring proper shoes to your prisoners?"
AG: Did any guard show you an act of kindness?
AH: Yes. Yes, very few.
AG: What was it?
AH: From the interrogators, some treated us well. And from the guards, treated us well. They were humane and had good morals. But the most were liars and were bad in their morals. And they treated us badly because they’re soldiers and they’re just obeying what they are told.
AG: And what was it like to leave Guantanamo and to arrive in Khartoum?
AH: I was extremely happy, and I couldn't believe myself. And at the same time I was sad because I left many brothers behind me who were like me, were deprived of life, work and family, deprived of his mother, his wife. I didn't like the scene, to leave these guys like that. And because of the nature of my work I couldn't stand inhumane scenes.
AG: And what are you doing now in Khartoum?
AH: Now I spend my time in the issue of Guantanamo, and I'm working towards helping the ones left, and their families. And we also have many activities and visits. And Sudan is probably the only country that received its former detainees well, and treated them humanely. We sat with many of the authorities here, and we told them about Guantanamo, and our brother Hammad here made a film about Guantanamo. And we did a big conference, and we invited many human rights activists from all around the world. And if we knew you we would have invited you, too, but we did not know you, but God willing we have a conference in the future and will invite you. Three or four weeks from now [APPLAUSE].
And after we used to work in charitable work, [INAUDIBLE]. Now we're more interested in working in human rights issues, so we are closer to you. And I will still be working in humanitarian work. And we will stand next to any person who injustice was done upon.
AG: Well, we want to thank you for sharing your story, and I'll ask you for a final comment after we talk to [END OF RECORDING].
Transcribed by Katherine A. Masters, 11 July 2008.