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Freed Guantanamo inmate alleges systematic beatings

Agence France Presse
December 18, 2009

SARAJEVO (AFP) — An Algerian-born Bosnian man just released from the US military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay said Thursday he had endured systematic beatings and abuses on a scale beyond imagination.

"Nobody can imagine how horrible it was. Even the devil couldn't have created such a bad, bad place," Mustafa Ait Idir said in a telephone interview with AFP, two days after arriving back in Bosnia, his adopted homeland.

Idir, 38, and two other detainees freed from Guantanamo, Mohamed Nechla and Hadji Boudella, were the first inmates to have been released by the US administration of President George W. Bush under a judge's orders.

"I was questioned and beaten more than 500 times during those seven years," Idir alleged. "The guards used to come in groups of six or seven, always using a spray against us first, and then the beatings would start."

There were at least two different types of gas sprayed at the prisoners, he alleged, adding he suspected they were tear gas and another substance which caused dizziness.

Idir, who said his finger was broken so badly in one such episode that he can no longer move it, accused US authorities of beating other prisoners, all in a systematic way to cover up human rights abuses.

"I once saw a doctor with a group of guards. The doctor pointed to different places on a body of a prisoner saying 'hit him here.' After the beating, there were no visible marks on the body but that man was in such pain he couldn't move," he said.

Idir, Nechla and Boudella were among six native Algerians arrested in late 2001 on suspicion of plotting an attack on the US embassy in Sarajevo. They had been living in Bosnia where they had been given nationality.

They were transferred to the US camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in January 2002, even though a Bosnian court ordered their release due to lack of evidence.

But on November 20, a US judge acknowledged five of the six had been illegally detained and ordered their release, in the first such ruling.

Idir said he was never told why he was held in Guantanamo, a tiny enclave on the southeastern coast of Cuba.

"They never asked me about the alleged plot. They said they only wanted information about Arabs in Bosnia, Islamic charities and embassies of Islamic countries in Sarajevo," he said.

He was repeatedly asked what he did at home, what gasoline he used in his car, what television shows he watched and why he wore expensive clothing.

Idir, a computer technician and karate coach, was reunited in Sarajevo on Tuesday with his wife and three children aged seven, nine and 11.

He had come to Bosnia in 1995 a few months before its war ended and worked with the Islamic charity Taibah, which was blacklisted by the UN in 2004 for suspected terror links.

Besides the beatings, prisoners were humiliated all the time, he alleged.

"They swore at us mentioning our families, our religion, the God. They used to throw the Koran in the toilet, and at one point one of them wrote a curse mentioning Allah on the holy book while the other threw dirty underwear at it," he said.

Idir recalled how he was kept in a variety of bare cells, some in pitch-black darkness, others strongly-lit up.

He said the prisoners were allowed to go outside every day but their conversations were often interrupted.

"As soon as they heard us talking, they turned on a kind of machine that produced terrible noise".

Idir said he had just learned his wife never received many of his letters, while he received some of hers but they were censored, and sometimes two years late.

"One of the prisoners received a letter with every single word blackened, except one and that was 'mother'."

However, prisoners started receiving old newspapers from the middle of 2008.

Idir said he expected to be released by the US judge.

"We were told prisoners would be split into two groups. One was to be released by judges' orders while the others were to be released by (US president-elect Barack) Obama once he enters office," he said without elaborating on the source of the information.

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