Animal Number 64

- Do you sleep well? What are you thinking during the night?
- I see horses walk under the Earth.
- Do you talk to them?
- Yes, every night.
- In what language?
- In the one of the ants.

The American psychiatrist with Oriental features who interrogated Lahcen Ikassrien a Moroccan who lived in Madrid during 13 years, in the prison of Guantánamo (Cuba) remained silent for a few seconds, laughed and responded to the prisoner: "I speak the language of the butterflies".

According to Lahcen, that strange man who visited him in Camp Five (one of the centers of internment of alleged Jihadists) where he was locked up for more than three years, only wanted to know "if I had already gone crazy". "And I went along with his game", he says, now seated in an Arab bar in the Madrilenian district of Lavapiés, where he exhibits his war injuries from Afghanistan and the recent absolving sentence of the Audiencia Nacional Court after being extradited by the U.S.A. at the request of judge Balthasar Garzón. The public prosecutor accused him of being a member of al-Qaeda.

They did not talk in the language of the butterflies to Lahcen Ikassrien, 39 years old, from Alhucemas - a dark man, of average stature, strong and corpulent -, neither in Guantánamo nor in Afghanistan. The first session of torture was in the Afghan prison set up at the airport of Kandahar. There he understood that he was on his way to hell when, stunned and scared, he saw the plastic bracelet that a North American soldier attached on his right hand: "Animal Number 64".

It was December of 2001 and the special forces of the U.S.A. and their allies of the Northern Alliance were fighting against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban weeks after 9/11. "The previous night they had taken me to a tent where they said that there were doctors. They put a finger in my anus because they were looking for explosives and they threw me naked against a wall surrounded by thorns. They gave me a blue jumpsuit and they led me to bunker, where, tied to a box so that I could not move, several hooded men threw buckets of excrement, piss and frozen water at me. Before they had recorded me naked in a video ".

Ikassrien was not in Afghanistan by chance. He traveled there from Madrid after separating from his Moroccan wife and seemed fascinated by the Taliban government: "I wanted to know how it was to live there, if what was said about the Taliban was the truth. For me, Taliban was synonymous with Muslim, good Muslim ". Lahcen moved in the radical circles of Lavapiés, and frequented the Alhambra bar and the mosques of that district, according to testimonies of people who say they know him. He worked as a gardener, cook and in construction in Villalba, Getafe and Leganés until he was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for hashish traffic, in the prison of Valdemoro.

His trip to the Taliban stronghold was not easy. In November of 2000 he was stopped and expelled from Istambul (Turkey), where he remained for two months. "I traveled to Iran by bus and I entered Afghanistan through Herat in a taxi. They interrogated to me in a police station for six hours. They wanted to know everything. Where I went and what I wanted to do. These people did not trust anyone. I told them that I came from Europe to live like the true Muslims. They sent me to Kunduz, near Mazar-i-Sharif, and there I bought a taxi and a butcher shop that was run for me by two Afghans. I could not run it because I understood neither Pashto nor Arabic".

Lahcen assures us that he did not train in an al-Qaeda camp, as suspected but not proven by the Spanish police, and he maintains that he was not captured as a Mujahid by Imad Eddin Barakat, Abu Dahdah, one of the heads in Spain of that terrorist organization. The sentence that had him acquitted emphasizes that the relation between the two men had not been proven. He reiterates that he did not fight alongside the Taliban.

The Moroccan relates his capture in Afghanistan in this way: "the American airplanes were circling over Kunduz, and the inhabitants of the town left fleeing in trucks in the direction of Mazar-i-Sharif. I went in one of those trucks. The forces of Dostum [ the Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum] stopped us there, and they shackled us men with our hands to our backs. Then they took us to the prison of Qila-i-Jhangi ".

In the fortress of Qila-i-Jhangi, on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the most tragic episodes of the American invasion in Afghanistan took place: the rebellion of foreign Taliban mercenaries that resulted in the terrible massacre of 600 prisoners denounced by Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN.

Lahcen was lucky and was one of the few survivors, although the impact of a missile shot by a North American airplane blasted his arm and hand. "My group was in an underground trench and they were throwing
gasoline at us. Many died burnt. Then Dostum’s men flooded us with water and it went up to my neck. It was horrible. I left alive by miracle ". In the fortress of Quila-i-Jhangi there were the corpses of some prisoners with their hands tied behind their back. Lahcen also remained there with his hands tied.

The forces of Dostum and the Americans put all the survivors of the riot in a container and they lead them to another prison in Mazar-i-Sharif where there were Pakistanis and Arabs suspected of supporting al-Qaeda. There Lahcen got to know the British Muslims who starred in the movie the Road to Guantánamo. "It was a yard outdoors. We were hundreds of people. There were no toilets, and we pissed next to each other. We did not eat anything during five days and on the sixth day they brought a rice plate for us to share. Volunteers of the Red Cross visited to us and said that they would take us home ".

"Why did you come to Afghanistan?", the American soldiers asked him time and time again in a house next to the prison where alleged doctors of the US army treated his wounds. "They put a gun to my head and they hit me with the gun's butt when I did not answer. I remained several weeks in that prison, and I found out from the people of the Red Cross that Dostum’s men had sold to me for 75,000 dollars. They had told them that I was an important terrorist. And the Americans paid them with false dollars. One night they removed me from the yard with other 15 people, they put us in a truck naked and took us by airplane to the Kandahar airport. There I discovered, by that bracelet, that for those people I was 'Animal 64' ". According to the Spanish police, Lahcen told the Americans that his name was Reswan Abdulsalam and that he was Spanish.

The torture sessions in the prison of Kandahar lasted a month (it was January 2002), and the Moroccan heard the same question hundreds of times: "Why did you come to Afghanistan?". "There a day seemed like a year. They burned my legs with cigarettes, they hit me over the head with gun butts guns, and repeated time and time again that a person like me did not have the right to live. On December 29, the Red Cross registered him as detained in Mazar-i-Sharif and a resident of Spain.

In Kandahar, the prisoners slept in big tents, and at night the American soldiers entered with lights and chose whom they were going to transfer to Guantánamo. One night, possibly that of February 6, it was Lacen’s turn. "They threw me to the ground with the dogs, they put their knees on me and they tied me up with cords while one of them recorded a video tape. In another tent they cut my hair, threw yellow disinfectant powder at me and they dressed me in a white jumpsuit. A dozen of us went on an airplane, all hooded, sitting on the floor, our hands and feet shackled. The trip was long, and relieved ourselves there, as they did not allow us to go bathroom. We did not know where we were going. We arrived in Guantánamo at noon ".

It took Lahcen six months to find out that he was in a US military base on the island of Cuba. Each prisoner had a different perception: some thought that they were in Africa and many others in Asia. When arriving, we traversed on our knees and hooded, a sharp stone ground which prevented us from running, and then we were brought to the infirmary, where our wounds were taken care of. The scale marked 55 kilos, 23 less than when he was arrested in Afghanistan. "My arm had gangrene, and, like in Kandahar, they gave me a paper to sign to authorize an amputation. A volunteer of the Red Cross advised me not to do it, as he thought that it was possible to save my arm and, thanks to him I kept it". They changed his white jumpsuit to an orange one, took off my "Animal 64" bracelet and gave him the number 72, "How handsome you are in that suit', said the person in charge of the infirmary while the others were laughing".

The hospital in Guantánamo was a tent, according to Lahcen, and there he remained for about three months, seated in a folding chair and tied at his feet and hands, in the company of other 20 prisoners, most of them Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis, all captured in Afghanistan, all terror suspects. "The soldiers entered the infirmary with dogs that barked wildly at us. We went on a hunger strike so that they would not enter anymore ".

Towards May, the Moroccan received the first visit from a Spanish delegation, a diplomat of the Embassy in Washington and police, led by Rafael Gómez Menor, then one of the chiefs of the Central Unit of Foreign Information, which had been investigating for years the cell of the Syrian Abu Dahdah. With the authorization of the United States they interrogated Lahcen; Hamed Abderramán, Hmido, a Ceutan also arrested in Afghanistan, and other prisoners who were allegedly linked to activities in Spain.

"They asked my permission to record the interrogation and I told them to do whatever they wanted. I told them my truth, but they wanted me to say that I was a terrorist and that I had trained in Afghanistan, something that was not true". On July 22, 23, 24 and 25, the Spanish police returned to interrogate him and to show him photographs of Moroccan radicals like Amer el Azizi, today on the run; and Jamal Zougam, one of the presumed authors of the March 11 attack whom they were already watching, and of the one-eyed Salahedin Benyaich, Abu Mughen, ex-Mujahid in Bosnia and now imprisoned in Morocco for the attack of Casablanca.

According to Lahcen, the Americans began to treat him worse after these visits, and torture and threats followed one another. "They said that, according to the information of the Spaniards, I was an international drug trafficke,r and that I financed Jihad inside and outside Spain".

The prisoner left the hospital hooded and was transferred in a light truck to Camp Delta. His new home was a metal container of a meter and a half of width by two meters of length, with a washbasin and a bed without mattress. There was an intense light that prevented him from sleeping and water was scarce. Holes in the wall allowed him to see and to chat with his cell neighbor. The heat was unbearable and he wore only his short, orange colored, trousers.

"Who is this guy? You know this group?". The interrogations at Camp Delta were held in a special room, and reminded the Moroccan of his experience in Kandahar. They showed him hundreds of photographs of Jihadists and spoke of tens of groups close to al-Qaeda. "They came to the cell, they used a spray that made you cry, you turned around, went down on your knees with your hands intertwined over your head, and they tied your hands and feet with chains. They led you to a room with plastic walls, and there they left you alone for hours. Hours of anguish waiting for them to arrive. They put ventilators so that you were freezing cold".

The following visit of the Spanish police officers took place about seven months later. Lahcen thinks that it was at the beginning of 2003. Again, they were several agents led by the same commissioner and a member of the Embassy. The prisoner listened to audio tapes with a series of conversations intercepted by the police in which Abu Dahdah spoke with a certain Hassan who supposedly was him [Lahcen]. But he denied
that that voice was his. "They offered me to become a protected witness. They said that they would give me money, work and a house if I collaborated. They offered me to let me speak to my mother the following morning. I said yes to them, as I had no news from her for three years.".

According to Lahcen’ story, the next day a captain and an interpreter prepared to let him call his mother in Alhucemas in front of Spanish police officers: "You can speak for two minutes. Tell her that you are alive and well, but do not say where you are ". "I responded to them that if I could not tell my mother where I was, I would not accept the call, and they went away angry. Soon the Americans returned and gave me a beating. They undressed to me and threw me into a container where there were rats. I remained alone for three days, naked, without food or water. Like an animal. People from the Red Cross came to visit to me and asked me why I was there ".

Although the police stated in a report presented in the trial that they did not return to see him in Guantánamo, Lahcen assures that the agents returned in June or July of 2003. "They came with more photos. I told them that I was Moroccan and that they did not have the right to interrogate me. They replied that they wanted to help me. ' Every time you come, the Americans torture me”, I reproached them "I was also interrogated by Moroccan agents”.

Like on the other occasions, when the Spanish police left Guantánamo, the Americans tortured Lahcen asking him to recognize some people. "Again I was naked for several days and without food. An interrogator who called herself Ana came and began to show me more photos. I refused to answer. They brought black dogs with muzzles, they hooded me and the animals barked and they struck me with their legs. I only felt the shoves, I did not know if they were loose. My companions heard everything and struck with their fists at the cell walls ".

The last visit of the Spanish police took place after March 11, in 2004, when José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero had already announced the return of the troops from Iraq. "Ana came with a different attitude and told me that those people [the Spanish agents] only wanted to get revenge on me, that she gave me the opportunity to attack them during the interview. I realized what they wanted to use me. When the Spanish arrived they left me free, without handcuffs and chains tied to the ground. They wanted me to attack them... When they went away, Ana reproached my attitude, and I answered her: 'Am I here for the 9/11 or to hit the Spaniards "?

Lahcen finished his stay in Guantánamo in Camp Five, where he was transferred hooded towards July 2004. There he received the visit of the psychiatrist who looked oriental and who said he spoke the language of the butterflies in which nobody talked to the Moroccan. "They tell you: 'If you do not collaborate you will be here all your life. To eat, I got a piece of bread and a little of onion. It was hell. You could not hear any noise, you did not know if it was day or night ".

One of these nights, "Animal 64" was lead to the infirmary, where they gave him a check-up and read a document in Arabic to him that stated that the Government of the U.S.A. did not have anything against him, but if they found he was linked to al-Qaeda they had the right to take him to Guantánamo again. "They wanted that I signed it, but I refused".

Lahcen was led hooded to an airplane that took him to the military base of Torrejón de Ardoz, where he arrived on July 18, 2005 surrounded by soldiers. Until his recent trial, where the interrogations of Guantánamo have been annulled, he has remained imprisoned in Soto del Real and Palencia. Now he strolls free with neither documentation nor work "You know something? The Americans kept my Moroccan passport and 4,000 dollars".

Get Spanish original here.