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Guantanamo Inmate Database: Wissam Abdul Ahmad

McClatchy Newspapers
by Tom Lasseter
June 15, 2008

AMMAN, Jordan — It was Wissam Abdul Ahmad's first night in the small jail in Kabul, Afghanistan, and he trembled with fear. Nine other men were crammed around him in the cell, he said, and he heard one of them, an elderly Afghan, wailing in the darkness.

The old man screamed a lot. He had hallucinations of men whispering threats in his ear, and he often urinated on himself. He was going mad, Ahmad said.

The guards who beat the prisoners with small rubber hoses were Afghans, but the interpreters and soldiers in the building next door were Americans, he said.

Ahmad said he'd been taken next door with a sack over his head and thrown to the floor of the interrogation room. When his body hit the floor, he said, the sack over his head rose just enough for him to see the first American combat boot flying at his body.

The sack was removed, he said, and he was hoisted onto a chair. There were U.S. soldiers behind him, he said, and an American man and woman were sitting in front of him, wearing civilian clothes and calm expressions. Ahmad said he assumed that they were with the Central Intelligence Agency.

"Then the interrogator shouted at me. He told me, 'Either admit that you are a part of al Qaida, or we will send you to a room full of dogs,' " Ahmad said.

Ahmad said that he wasn't a part of al Qaida. In fact, he told the two interrogators, he'd never been to Afghanistan before in his life. About 10 minutes later, he was taken back to his cell.

Ahmad, who has a young face underneath a long, brown beard, sat down in March 2007 with a reporter at his mosque in Amman, where he's now the imam, or prayer leader, to talk about his experience. When he began to talk about being punched or kicked, he shooed his 5-year-old daughter, Yaqeen, and 3-year-old son, Obaidah, out of the room.

It wasn't possible to verify many details of Ahmad's account. He didn't appear in front of a military tribunal, and there are no public accounts of the U.S. military's case against him. The Department of Defense refused to comment in detail about allegations of mistreatment by Ahmad or any other former detainees at Guantanamo and other detention sites. U.S. defense officials have said repeatedly that radical Islamists directed detainees to fabricate stories of abuse for their propaganda war against America.

Jordanian authorities also declined to give interviews about Ahmad, and his attorney, Zachary Katznelson, said he didn't verify the details of Ahmad's story. When a reporter attempted to speak with Ahmad again this April, he was unavailable; Jordanian intelligence agents had detained him for unknown reasons.

Ahmad's story is unusual in that he was captured while traveling through Iran, turned over by Iranian authorities, then imprisoned in an Afghan jail before entering the U.S. detention system.

Ahmad said he was detained on a bus at a routine checkpoint outside Zahedan, Iran, in January 2002. The Iranian police were suspicious of Ahmad, an Arab Sunni Muslim proselytizer who was traveling through a Persian Shiite Muslim country.

According to his account, he'd joined Tablighi Jamaat, a fundamentalist Sunni Islamic missionary group, after meeting members in a mosque in his hometown of Zarqa, about an hour north of Amman. He was 22 and working at a clothing store in the town, which is known as a bastion of conservative Sunni Islam.

His life had had little direction — he wasn't interested in a career in the army, like his father — and the group's call to return to the basic tenets of Islam, as it saw them, appealed to him.

Ahmad said he was 26 when he went on his first mission for Tablighi Jamaat, to Pakistan in January 2002, and was traveling in Iran on his way home.

The police asked Ahmad to get off the bus and come with them for routine questioning, he said. Ahmad said the Iranians held him for about a month without ever interrogating him or telling him why they were holding him.

He said he was then flown to Afghanistan, though it isn't clear by whom, and transferred to a jail in Kabul.

Two months after his first interrogation, Ahmad said, the Americans in the building next door questioned him again. They asked his name, his affiliation with al Qaida, his reasons for being in Iran — and he gave the same answers. After 77 days, he was moved to another jail in Kabul. This time, he said, he had his own cell.

He said he was interrogated once during his first month by Americans in plainclothes who again demanded to know about his relationship with al Qaida.

Ahmad said he was interrogated a few more times during the next year, but mostly he just sat in silence.

One day, the guards came and took him to a group of American soldiers. He said they shackled his wrists and ankles, and put a surgical mask over his mouth, earmuffs over his ears and goggles over his eyes. They put him in the back of a truck with a group of prisoners and drove them to the American base at Bagram Air Base.

The U.S. soldiers took him to an interrogation room, where he was asked whether he was a member of al Qaida. Ahmad couldn't believe he was getting the same question.

"I told them, 'Go ask al Qaida about this,' " Ahmad said.

For the first three days of his time at Bagram, in the spring of 2003, he wasn't allowed to sleep for more than two hours or so, he said. He was put in a small space on the floor, fenced off by concertina wire, and kept in the shackles, mask, goggles and earmuffs.

He then was moved to a small plywood cell, he said. The goggles were taken off, along with the mask and earmuffs. A guard outside hit the walls of his cell periodically to keep him awake.

Ahmad said he turned to silence and daily prayer, when he was able.

During daily interrogations, Ahmad said, he continued to say that he wasn't an al Qaida member. After about three weeks, he said, guards took him to a room, lifted his arms above his head and tied his handcuffs to the ceiling, leaving him standing on his tiptoes. He was kept that way for a week, he said, let down only for a couple of hours a day to eat and rest.

When the week had passed, Ahmad said, he went back to interrogation. An American man was there, smiling. Now, he said, what do you have to tell us about your connection to al Qaida?

Ahmad shook his head warily and said that, God help him, he didn't know anything about al Qaida.

He feared that he'd be tied to the ceiling again, but he was taken to another plywood cell.

About a week later, a guard came. It was time to go, the guard said. Where? Ahmad asked, hoping that finally he was headed home.

To Guantanamo, the guard replied.

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