Enemy Combatant

Excerpts from Begg, Moazzam (2006)
Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey to Guantánamo and Back.
Free Press, London.

Physical Abuse

(B6) [A young soldier named Carlson] told me about things he’d done in other parts of the camp, without telling me which detainee was involved. ‘Some of the things I did with him, I can’t believe that I did that.’ He didn’t go into detail about exactly what he did, but he mentioned that he slapped him around a few times, and that they did things to this person that he was ashamed of, that he wished he’d never done in his life. ‘I don’t know what happened to me, how I could stoop so low to do such a thing?’ (Begg 2006, 223).

(B7) The MPs put me in a three-piece suit [triple shackling at the wrists, waist, and ankles] in my cell, and I shuffled out. They put me into the back of a tiny medical van, where I was squeezed in next to a guard. It felt like an oven, with the steel interior. There was no water to drink […] this journey took over an hour […] I felt myself getting dehydrated […] Sweat was streaming down my face, and I could feel it lying inside the shackles. I said, ‘I really, really, need some water, please.’ […] Suddenly I vomited right there inside the vehicle (Begg 2006, 224f).

(B8) They took me to a room and shackled me to the floor with a metal loop that stuck out of the ground. I was left sitting there on a chair, but I was so uncomfortable, I could barely move my legs, even to stretch. Finally I just lay on the floor. I was there for at least seven hours, without anybody coming in at all, and with nothing to eat or drink (Begg 2006, 225).

(B9) The next day was déjà vu. The same thing happened all over again, despite my having so specifically complained to Martin [from the British Foreign Office]. He had told me that MI5 would want to speak to me the following day, and I asked, ‘Can you make sure that the same ordeal isn’t repeated?’ But it was exactly the same, except that I took a bottle of water with me in the vehicle, and I didn’t vomit. I shouted out to get the attention of the guards, who had left me again, chained for seven hours in the interrogation room. I wondered often whether these exercises were carried out with deliberate malice, or was it simply incompetence (Begg 2006, 228).

(B11) [Sergeant Foshee] was talking about soldiers in [Camp] Echo who had soaked detainees with water, then left the air conditioning on full (Begg 2006, 235).

(B12) I only had one direction that wasn’t white steel wall to look at. Staring through the diamond-shaped caged mesh had begun to damage my eyes from day one in Guantánamo. Headaches increased and I was soon on more medication than I had been in my entire life. I developed acute pains in my ears and sometimes they felt like they were about to explode. I was prescribed sleeping tablets and antidepressants. I find it hard to describe the sense of utter desperation and claustrophobia I often felt during almost two years, isolated in a cell smaller than my toilet at home (Begg 2006, 239).

(B15) Many of the guards refused to get into conversations with “anyone in an orange uniform,” as I heard from Mesadore and knew for myself. Some of [the guards] tried to antagonize me by slamming the cell doors late at night, or brightening the lights. Others just clicked the shackles several notches more than necessary to cause pain and discomfort during transportation (Begg 2006, 254).

(B17) The word on Juma al-Bahraini, was particularly nasty. Soldiers in an IRF (Initial Response Force) team had entered his cell, and despite his assuming a compliant position, threw him to the floor and smashed his face repeatedly to the ground. The whole place was covered in his blood (Begg 2006, 296).

(B19) The Americans, for their part, had stripped [Sa’ad Iqbal] of all his clothes and placed him in isolation, apparently for disciplinary reasons (Begg 2006, 302).

(B23) Once Rashid [al-Jowfee] asked for a bar of soap after using the toilet. He was supposed to give it straight back, but he decided that he was not going to hand it back because he wanted to wash a little more. The guards decided that they would order the Initial Response Force team. I’d heard a lot about IRFs before, from guards who’d always threatened me with them, sometimes joking, sometimes seriously. In the earlier days they’d used pepper spray on people before they entered the cell. The IRFs were carried out by about five or six guards, and, apparently, always videoed. I had a good idea of the force involved, because whenever I was taken out from the main camp, from Papa Block, I passed the other blocks, and at the entrances I saw the riot gear all neatly piled and ready for use, with helmets and chest guards, leg guards and ankle guards, and big shields. The very sight of it was quite intimidating, but in use it sounded really intimidating. First there was the sound of stamping feet in unison, very, very loud on the metal floor, and with a hollow echo because the whole block was raised. They entered the block, marched towards Rashid’s cell with the sounds of the six pairs of feet stamping together, threatening violence, as it was meant to be […] The guards opened the cell, charged at Rashid shouting that he should get down […] Rashid did not get down on his knees and put his hands on his head, waiting for them to throw him down to the ground as IRF teams always did. He just sat there. When they threw him on the ground his nose hit the edge of the steel bunk, and it started bleeding. The person in the cell next to him shouted that his blood was all over the place. They physically carried him out in a prone position, and they took him to another isolation cell (Begg 2006, 317f).

Sexual Abuse

(B18) Other stories included how one detainee had had menstrual blood rubbed over his face during an interrogation, and how another was sexually enticed with a female interrogator straddling his lap while he struggled frantically to remove her (Begg 2006, 296f).

(B26) “The treatment of prisoners on the US mainland is probably worse than you guys have it, [said attorney Clive Stafford Smith] although your conditions are much poorer than anything I’ve ever seen on death row in the past twenty years. But now they’ve moved clearly into the realm of torture, and I don’t mean just psychologically. I’ve spoken to detainees who’ve been sexually abused, raped, and tortured. And God knows what’s happening to the ones held as ‘Ghost’ detainees, in places like Egypt and Diego Garcia -- and who knows where else.” (Begg 2006, 326).

Medical Abuse

(B20) But Feroz told me the harrowing story of how he wrote that confession under the influence of drugs administered by US military medics, and that he had never engaged in hostilities against the US or coalition forces (Begg 2006, 309).

Legal Abuse

(B5) ‘We want you to read and sign these documents,’ [the four interrogators] said, placing six typed pages in front of me on the table. They had written my confessions […] They told me that if I didn’t sign, several different things could happen, none of them good. They included sitting in Guantanamo for many years before anybody even looked at my case, then a summary trial—a formality before conviction. ‘It’s going to be one very short trial, they’re going to look at the evidence we present, and they’re going to take that on face value. That means you’ll be imprisoned for life, or you could face execution, or both—execution after a very long time.” (Begg 2006, 197ff).

(B10) She left after those two weeks, still maintaining that the lawyer was going to come soon. It never happened. They kept me in that limbo for a very long time (Begg 2006, 230).

(B27) It was months since I had refused to speak to them. But I was taken to interrogation from Papa at least twenty-five times in less than three months, much more than at any period in Echo. This time around they started playing mind games [...] Military intelligence, and many other different agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and NSA, who didn’t always identify themselves, came to interrogate me. It was intense, sometimes twice a day (Begg 2006, 334f).

(B28) ‘Why don’t you answer our questions?’ said another man. ‘You have family, people could get hurt.’ [...] ‘Look, something could really happen in your country. You have your family over there, and you wouldn’t want anything to happen to them’ (Begg 2006, 339 &342).

Psychological Abuse

(B2) My cell, my new home, measured about eight foot by six foot. It had a toilet in there, an Arab-style toilet, all metal, on the ground […] Nothing had changed, in fact, things were worse. From Kandahar to Bagram, from Bagram to Guantanamo: each time I thought things were going to get better, but they actually got worse. What could be more bleak, or grimmer, than being in a cage like this? I could not even see out of it clearly as it was covered with a pale green steel mesh, doubled, with one part of the mesh set vertically and the other horizontally, so they crisscrossed one other. I could barely see through it, it was a strain on the eyes […] Here in Guantanamo, in this steel cage with its mesh sides steel roof and floor, steel bed, steel toilet, all inside a white, new-looking, brightly lit room, I felt despair returning as I took in my surroundings for the first time (Begg 2006, 194).

(B3) I lay there, wondering why I was in this place, separated from everyone else. I realized I was completely alone, but I never imagined it would last for almost two years—never allowed to see another prisoner (Begg 2006, 195).

(B13) In Guantanamo there was a rodent nicknamed the Banana Rat, the size of a domestic cat, with long rat-like tail. Some soldiers and interrogators would wear orange T-shirts depicting these animals as detainees. I never actually saw one (though I had seen a similar T-shirt in Baghram), but one of the guards had slipped up and mentioned it to me, and then later I had it confirmed because other people were talking about buying these T-shirts and taking them home as souvenirs (Begg 2006, 243).

(B14) I tried to draw out information from [a psychiatrist called Dr. B] about other detainees, asking about the worst cases she’d seen in Guantanamo. She told me there were people who’d lost all sense of time, reason, reality; people who had been kept in a solitary cell, completely blocked off with no window, eight foot by six, like mine, but with absolutely nobody to speak to, nobody. She said some of them just ended up talking to themselves. She also confirmed that there had been suicide attempts. I had heard from the guards about one detainee who they called Timmy, who had hanged himself. They managed to get to him in time to save his life, but he head become a vegetable by the time they did, so he was always in hospital, shaking, unable to speak (Begg 2006, 244).

(B25) Being back in a completely closed room with no windows felt unbearably stifling after Camp Papa (Begg 2006, 323).

(B29) I sat alone in my room waiting for them. I was chained to the ground and seated on a swivel chair. There were cameras recording my every move, and everything I said. (Begg 2006, 341).

See also B15, B12.

Age Abuse


Religious Abuse

(B16) Some guards mimicked the prayer call in a really grotesque way, upsetting us all (Begg 2006, 291).

(B22) The prisoners in Romeo didn’t have sheets like we did which we put up for privacy when using the toilet. They had to do everything in front of each other, and in front of the guards. It was really humiliating (Begg 2006, 317).

(B24) Every evening, at exactly the same time, we hear the call to prayer, and the US national anthem. Trouble often flared up at sunset when both these things happened simultaneously— no one wanted their right overshadowed by the other (Begg 2006, 319).

See also B21.

National/Ethnic Abuse

(B21) Once Uthman told me about a case of a detainee in there being wrapped in an Israeli flag and made to bow in front of a woman soldier. There was a general call to pray for Mohammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi, who we had heard was being very, very badly assaulted. At the time I did not put the two together (Begg 2006, 315).

Verbal Abuse


Unspecified Abuse

(B4) Much later, the FBI tried to paint themselves as the squeaky clean ones, who saw all of this torture going on, and started speaking about it as though they were not involved. From my experience, they were an integral part of the process (Begg 2006, 197).

Abuse en route to Guantánamo

(B1) But soon I could not think about anything except how miserably uncomfortable I was [on the flight from Bagram to Guantanamo]. The earmuffs pressed really heard against my ears, I found it very difficult to breathe through the facemask, and of course I couldn’t see. With the din of the engines, the pressure of the shackles around the waist, and the handcuffs, I felt I could not last long […] I was getting desperate to be drugged so I would be out of al the misery, so I kept doing something to get the guards’ attention. Despite the pain of the chains rubbing on my skin, I pushed my wrists or my arms against the goggles or the facemask or the earmuffs to get them off […] I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting in this position for nearly two consecutive days. I shouted over the roar of the engines to whoever could hear me, “Can I have a sedative, or something, to drug me, please? This is unbearable (Begg 2006, 192-193).