Guantanamo Inmate Database: Mohammed Irfan
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — To get a sense of how bad things were at the U.S. detention camp at Bagram Air Base, you first have to hear Mohammed Irfan talk about how the Afghan guards treated him at the jail in Sherberghan.
During the year or year and a half that Irfan said he was there — there were no calendars — he was taken out for prisoner counts once a week. Every time that happened, Irfan said, he stood in a courtyard and shook because he knew what was about to happen: A guard would walk up and begin beating him with a plastic garden hose filled with dirt or with a stick, until he fell to the ground in pain. Then they'd beat him some more.
During his time at Sherberghan, Irfan said, he knew of at least 30 other Pakistanis who died of starvation.
That was Sherberghan. He was sent from there to Bagram where, unbelievably, things were even harder, Irfan said.
"Bagram was the worst," Irfan said of his 40 days there. "I was never treated so badly anywhere else as I was at Bagram."
While the violence at Sherberghan was more intense, it came only once a week, he said. At Bagram, Irfan said, he was beaten almost every day.
Many other former detainees whom McClatchy interviewed also said that Bagram or its sister installation at Kandahar Airfield was the nadir of their time in custody. As much as the physical pain, Irfan and others said, it was the sense of dehumanization that gripped them during their time there. Many said that they felt like animals, sleeping on the floor of an airplane hangar in groups of five to eight, penned in by concertina wire.
Prisoners weren't allowed to talk to one another or to look at American soldiers; they were ordered to look down at their feet while sitting in their cells, Irfan said. Guards frequently kept them awake at night with threats and taunts, leading to days that seemed never to end.
Men frequently had their beards shaved as punishment, a source of deep humiliation for devout Muslims, who consider their beards a literal extension of their faith. The men weren't allowed to pray aloud or to have prayer leaders, a cornerstone of their lives before that point.
Every trip outside the cell area included a punch or kick from the guards.
"We were told we were being taken for a shower," Irfan said. "But they would take pictures of us, laugh at us; they would beat us to the ground and then drag us around naked.
"When they took us to the interrogation room, they would punch us, kick us and knee us and push our head into the wall. They did this on the way to interrogation and in the interrogation room."
A classified report by Pakistani police officials who interrogated Irfan and other former detainees after they were released from Guantanamo in 2004 said it "became apparent during the interrogation that (the) majority of them had been subjected to severe mental and physical torture."
U.S, military officials say that former detainees' stories of physical abuse are part of a coordinated propaganda campaign.
Irfan, who fixes equipment at a sugar mill, said he'd traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001 as a volunteer medic before troops loyal to U.S.-backed Afghan warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum rounded him up with hundreds of other men outside the town of Kunduz.
Irfan said that he wasn't a combatant, but one of the men he was arrested with admitted going there to fight, and the U.S. military accused another prisoner — who was from Irfan's town of Sadiqabad — of being a militant commander who'd led some 2,000 fighters.
While he was describing what happened at Kunduz — a broken treaty, then a standoff between Dostum and the Taliban — Irfan said things like "when a skirmish broke out between us and Dostum's men" and "we should fight for our lives," which suggest that he was armed at the time, as was almost everyone around him.
Being flown to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was almost a relief after Bagram, Irfan said.
That's not to say that he wasn't hit at Guantanamo, he said. The guards still punched him occasionally, and when he asked, in broken English, why they did, they laughed and punched him some more, Irfan said.
But because he didn't participate in hunger strikes and usually kept to himself, he spent most of his time sitting in his cell, waiting for the next meal.
He said that he was interrogated only a handful of times during his year or so at Guantanamo. His last six months were spent in Camp Four, an area that allowed detainees to live in communal rooms, play soccer and eat together.
It wasn't great, Irfan said, but at least it wasn't Bagram.
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