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Ex-Gitmo Detainee: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

CNN
June 14, 2006

Shafiq Rasul, a British citizen, says he and two friends were on a humanitarian visit to Afghanistan in 2001 when they were taken prisoner and sent to the detention center in the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Rasul alleges in a $10 million lawsuit he and three other former detainees have filed against the U.S. government that he was grossly mistreated by interrogators during the two years he spent without charges at Guantanamo. The U.S. Defense Department says all detainees are treated humanely. It also says the "Manchester Manual," an al Qaeda training resource, provides instruction on making false accusations to influence public opinion. The story of Rasul and his friends is the subject of a new British movie, "Road to Guantanamo," directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross. Rasul spoke Tuesday with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer from Birmingham, England. This is an edited transcript of the interview.

BLITZER: Why did you go to Afghanistan a month after the attacks of September 11, 2001?

RASUL: Initially, we went to Pakistan. My friend was going to get married, and during the time that we were staying in Karachi, we were staying in the mosque. And they were saying in the mosque, talking about how we, as Muslims, should be helping fellow Muslims who are less off than ourselves.

And later on, [someone] said that there's going to be a convoy leaving with aid, food, water, to take to the people in Afghanistan and if anyone would like to come with us that they should then put their names forward.

And we discussed it amongst ourselves for a while, and on that basis, we decided to go, thinking that we're going to be there for the maximum of about seven days.

BLITZER: Did you think -- or do you think right now -- that Osama bin Laden is a terrorist?

RASUL: Of course. He's committed crimes against people. So I think if he was found, he should be tried for his crimes.

BLITZER: Do you believe he is responsible for 9/11?

RASUL: I think he has said it himself, that they [al Qaeda] were responsible for what happened in America. So on that basis, I think if he was caught, he should be tried for his crimes.

BLITZER: Good. Because I'm trying to understand what motivated to you go on that convoy to Afghanistan. Did you have any sympathy for al Qaeda or for the Taliban?

RASUL: No. We weren't going for al Qaeda. We weren't going for Taliban. We were going for the people of Afghanistan. It was a humanitarian group who were taking this aid. And we were going with them. It had nothing to do with Taliban, and it had nothing to do with al Qaeda. We thought we'd be there for about seven days. We'd get to see, like, Kandahar, and we'd be back in Pakistan within seven days.

BLITZER: And then you were picked up and brought eventually to Guantanamo Bay. The mistreatment that you allege in your lawsuit against [U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld] and others in the United States -- was that on the battlefield in Afghanistan, on the way to Guantanamo, or were you mistreated at Guantanamo Bay itself?

RASUL: On the way to Guantanamo, and in Guantanamo itself.

BLITZER: What specifically happened to you at Guantanamo that was so bad?

RASUL: Basically, we were tortured physically and mentally. We were beaten constantly, taken to interrogation, put in interrogation rooms for hours and hours and hours, in positions that are very stressful, that cause a lot of pain. And [being] taken out of your cell on numerous occasions, getting beaten, put into isolation for months on end, and constantly having this fear inside of you that you don't know on a daily basis what's going to happen to you, and having our religious rights abused.

BLITZER: Was that at Guantanamo -- I just want to be precise on this -- or was it before you were brought to the U.S. naval base, the detention center there?

RASUL: This is in Guantanamo.

BLITZER: So the interrogation and the brutal treatment that you allege -- that occurred by U.S. military personnel on the scene at Guantanamo? Is that your complaint?

RASUL: The only people that run Guantanamo [are] U.S. personnel. There's no one else running it. And these are the people who were doing all this to us.

BLITZER: Here's what a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Michael Shavers, told the Boston Globe in October of 2004 in response to your lawsuit:

"These individuals were captured in Afghanistan fighting illegally for al Qaeda. They were properly classified as enemy combatants. Their detention was directly related to this combat activity as determined by an appropriate DOD [Department of Defense] official before they were taken to Guantanamo. There is no basis in U.S. law to pay claims to those captured and detained as a result of combat activity."

BLITZER: Do you want to respond to that assertion by this Pentagon spokesman?

RASUL: We were in a prison in Afghanistan. We were taken out of that prison on the basis that we spoke English and we were British, and we were taken to Kandahar, the camp they had in Kandahar, and we were interrogated there numerous times, beaten there, as well. And then, one day, they decided to send us to Guantanamo Bay. On what basis, we do not know.

BLITZER: Were you surprised the other day when you learned that three detainees committed suicide at Guantanamo?

RASUL: I was shocked because I didn't think it would happen. But inevitably it [was going to] happen because there [were numerous] suicide attempts that would happen in front of me, and we'd hear about a lot them. It's a lot more than the people running Guantanamo are saying.

BLITZER: Did you ever think about committing suicide while you were there?

RASUL: Yes, because in the beginning, [when] we were taken to Guantanamo, we didn't know where we were. And we were interrogated constantly -- being told that you are members of al Qaeda, that you're going to be spending the rest of your life in Guantanamo.

This is not just by the Americans, this is by the British officials that came there as well. And on that basis, you start losing hope. And the only thing that's going through your head is to end it all.

BLITZER: But you never really thought about actually trying to kill yourself?

RASUL: I did think about it, but I had to be strong. I didn't want to fall into that. When you see it happen in front of you, then you start thinking about it. But I had to be stronger and not actually try and do it.

BLITZER: And now, you've been freed for more than two years. You're a British citizen. You're living back home in Britain. Has anyone charged you in Britain with any crime?

RASUL: No, we've never been charged. [When] we came out of Guantanamo, we spent 48 hours in a British police station. And after the 48 hours, we were free to walk the streets. And that was impossible to comprehend, from being under 24-hour lockdown, being called the worst of the worst, 48 hours later, walking the streets of the UK.

BLITZER: So your bottom line, Shafiq, is that you happened to have been at the wrong place at the wrong time in Afghanistan. Your motives were pure, but unfortunately for you, you got caught up in something way beyond your control. Is that a fair assessment?

RASUL: Yes. ... [I]t was five years ago. I was 23 at the time. And we didn't really think what our actions ... would lead to. We were like basically naive. If I was to go through the same situation now, I'd be thinking a lot more about it, because now I've got responsibilities, and I'm older and wiser.

BLITZER: If you had to do it over again, you wouldn't have gone to Afghanistan, is that right?

RASUL: No. I wouldn't even think about going there.

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