Hultén and Ghezali (2005) Fånge På Guantánamo: Mehdi Ghezali berättar
This testimony is taken from the book Fånge På Guantánamo: Mehdi Ghezali berättar [In Swedish: Prisoner at Guantánamo: Mehdi Ghezali Tells His Story], written by Gösta Hultén and Medhi Ghezali, and published in 2005 by Leopard Förlag. We are indebted to Transcend for their generosity in providing us with a translation of the entire work pro bono. The author of the translation is Siv Syren. The editor for the translation was Gregor Mindlin-Miguel.
(MGTS4) In the interrogation room the prisoners could be held chained in foot shackles with a clincher in the floor in painful positions and in extreme cold or heat for a whole day (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 1, 6).
(MGTS9) The prisoners’ daily contacts with the outside world were limited to the prison watchers. These were military police who were changed every six months. “I felt their hate every day,” said Mehdi about these camp guards. “They restrained us with tight fitting handcuffs fastened to the floor of the interrogation rooms, the[y] played loud sounds and “music” in the interrogation rooms, they gave us forced haircuts and force shaved us, they placed the prisoners naked in their cells and threatened them with dogs, they deprived us of sleep and those who protested were put in isolation for many months” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 13).
(MGTS12) “We had to sit in the interrogation rooms with the temperature at over 40º Centigrade, with the sun shining and with the air conditioning shut off.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 14).
(MGTS14) “Cold storage room” was what Mehdi called the method that was used on a regular basis. “When the air-conditioning was put on the lowest setting in the interrogation room, which was about fifteen square meters, for twelve to fourteen hours, it became extremely cold. Beginning on April 11, 2004 I sat there twelve to fourteen hours every day for two weeks, excluding Sundays. I could see that they had put the temperature at the coldest setting.” Down at the floor level, where Mehdi sat chained with his hands under his knees, it got so cold that he started to shake from the chill. “After a while it was so cold that my body began to shake involuntarily and I couldn’t stop it. After a terribly long and tiresome day in the interrogation room, they threw some food at me. I forced myself to try to eat even though I was handcuffed. I looked at the interrogator as he was leaving the room. He laughed at me as I sat there chained to the floor. But that wasn’t enough. He turned out the light, and it was completely dark. When I bent forward, I couldn’t even see my hands, or what I ate. I remember that it was so cold that I felt as if my teeth were going to fall out of my mouth as I ate. It was as if I had no strength in my teeth or my gums.” Other prisoners told of being doused with water in the cold room. That was even worse, it made them scream. It was during such a penalty in the “cold storage room,” while foot shackled, in April 2004 that Mehdi sustained the foot injury that is still the only physical manifestation from his time at the prison camp. “It was the cold and the fact that I sat chained for so many hours with hand and foot restraints to a clincher in the floor. The hard and pressing foot shackles made me lose all feeling in my left foot. The Swedish doctor who examined me on the plane going home from Cuba said that he recognized it from other patients who had injuries from being clamped in the cold. But he also said that I would probably regain the feeling in my foot after a while and that the nerve wasn’t completely dead.” […] When Mehdi came home he was asked how he could know that he was in the interrogation room for as long as twelve to fourteen hours. “I could see that it was morning when I was taken there and that it was night when I was returned to my cage. Sometimes I also got a glimpse of the interrogator’s watch and I could see how long I had been interrogated” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 14f).
(MGTS16) All the interrogators posed, for the most part, the same questions. “After a while, after questions about my life, the interrogator left the room. I was left there, chained to the floor for several hours. But the actual questioning lasted only a little while. Most of the time in the interrogation room, I sat chained and waited.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 16).
(MGTS17) Everything that occurred in the interrogation room was filmed, says Mehdi. “They also filmed every time they stormed in to mistreat a prisoner in his cell” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 16).
(MGTS31) During the first three visits Mehdi was both hand and foot-shackled during the conversations with the Swedish visitors (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 5, 26).
(MGTS32) “We had been sitting tightly secured in the plane [to Guantanamo] for about 24 hours. No one told us where we were going. As soon as we came off the plane after having been tied down for 24 hours, they changed our clothes, took photos and fingerprints. Then the guards started screaming that we had to write to our families.” Mehdi [wrote a postcard to his father then, and] thinks that this postcard writing directly after landing in Cuba was a way of quickly learning the prisoner’s identities. Many were missing identification when they were captured (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 5, 29).
(MGTS37) When [Australian prisoner Mahmoud Habib]'s wife asked how it was at Guantanamo, he said, “Do you remember the film ‘Locked Up’ with Sylvester Stallone? That’s how it is here—only sleep, humiliation and torture" […] Mehdi confirms that Habib is one of the prisoners who had a very difficult time. “Once when he came back from an interrogation and was locked in his cell, he began bleeding from both his nose and ears after a while" (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 6, 35).
(MGTS45) “One Pakistani prisoner [at Kandahar] was hit in the eye and was badly injured. They operated and removed the eye and gave him an artificial eye. They did the same to another prisoner who only had a minor injury to his eye and needed a minor operation to make it better. One prisoner came back late to our tent in Kandahar. He looked completely worn out, and we asked him what had happened. ‘The interrogators tried to get me to confess to something I hadn’t done. They used electric shock to intimate parts of my body’, he said. When the soldiers came to get one of us for questioning, he had to lie on the ground with his hands over his head. The others were forced to stand in a line away from that prisoner. In Kandahar the Americans shaved off all my hair and my beard.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 11, 73).
See also: MGTS 6, 44.
(MGTS18) “A prisoner told about being called for interrogation. A scantily clad girl came up to him and said a lot stuff, then she put her hand into her underclothes and when she took it out, it was covered with menstrual blood which she wiped on his face.” Another prisoner tells of being forced to view full sexual intercourse between a guard and a woman on the floor in the interrogation room. Female guards also participated in these sexual harassments, precisely as shown in the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison […] "One prisoner from Libya was restrained by several male guards and threatened with rape" (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 16).
(MGTS19) “I was once taken to the interrogation room and the female guard in military clothes began to fiddle with me and said she could do everything for me and help me. She said her name was Silvia. She caressed my cheek and drew my hair back with her hand. I tried to remove her hands when she approached sensitive places. I always tried to conceal my weaknesses because I think that’s what they were after. I prayed to God that their plan would come to naught. Finally she screamed, ‘Look at me.’ because I kept my gaze down the whole time. She tried to get my chin up, but she did not succeed. Finally she gave up and told me that if I wanted anything, anything at all, I should tell the guards that I wanted to meet with Silvia.” Mehdi thinks this was a provocation since he, like other prisoners who are faithful Muslims, are not allowed to have sexual relations with women outside of marriage. He believes that if he had permitted himself to be provoked, it would have been used against him later to break him (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 16f).
(MGTS20) Sexual allusions, coarse sexual talk, and other verbal harassments toward the prisoners from male and female guards were, according to Mehdi, very common (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 17).
(MGTS8) Stomach problems were very common among prisoners at the camp. It was made worse by the way food was preserved and the dirty and bad-smelling water the prisoners were given to drink, while the guards were drinking Coca Cola and other soft drinks. The food was also served by the guards in ways to make it as unappetizing as possible. “Sometimes they mixed uncooked rice with cooked rice in our rice portions. Sometimes they also gave uncooked beans.” Uncooked rice swells in the stomach and can be very painful. Many prisoners lost a lot of weight, despite the fact that previously they had lived under reduced circumstances. During a period in the beginning of captivity, the prisoners received only military haversack rations. “The packaging was from thirteen years ago. It said 1989 on the packages. When that supply was used up, the food got fresher, “only” eleven and nine years old. This was food that was meant to be for soldiers for a very short period of time, for example, when they were out on a march. We started to get this food already in the camp at Kandahar in Afghanistan. This is what we were served at every meal. In Cuba we had it for lunch every day during the early time. Almost all of us got stomachaches from this food. Someone saw a mouse that had eaten through the packaging. It was dead, and we said it had died from the food” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 1, 7).
(MGTS11) “Sometimes they were mending pipes and shut off the water for several hours. But one day they shut off the water completely. Once we were without water for eighteen hours, and the guards said they were prohibited from giving us a single drop. We understood finally that this was just another way to torment us” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 14).
(MGTS13) “One day when it was horribly hot in my cage, I suddenly heard a lot of yelling. ‘Hurry up,’ the guards yelled and ran in different directions and were completely confused. Something terribly important must have happened, I thought. It turned out that it was so warm that a German shepherd had fainted, and they were pouring water on the dog from a hose. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel sorry for the dog, but I couldn’t help thinking what a difference there was between how the guards regarded the dog and us. How many brothers hadn’t I seen lying unconscious and suffering from different illnesses several days in a row, who couldn’t even eat. No one provided any help or bothered about them.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 14).
(MGTS21) The medical care at Guantanamo, according to Mehdi, was not as good as interrogators bragged. Medical and dental care—or rather lack of care and disrespect—were also used as a weapon against the prisoners, maintains Mehdi. “One prisoner had his arm amputated, bit by bit, even though it could probably have been saved. Many prisoners were hospitalized due to the hunger strikes. They got transfusions and were fed intravenously with nutrient solutions for a very long time. One prisoner tells that he saw an air bubble in the tube when he was getting a transfusion. He tried to get help from the medical personnel, but he didn’t get any. He suffered brain injury due to their neglect.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 17).
(MGTS22) Mehdi had stomach problems for long periods, and after the nerve damage from a tight foot restraint on left foot in April 2004 he was very worried about his foot, as he had lost all feeling in it. “Several times I told the guards who were supposed to represent the medical personnel and who distributed medicine, that I wanted to talk to a doctor. But they didn’t care. Several times I asked the medic for medicine for my stomach problem, but they never bothered to tell the camp doctor. The only time I got to meet with a doctor was when they were sending me home” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 17f).
(MGTS23) In the whole camp, with more than 600 prisoners, there was only one dentist. “The only ‘care’ that the camp’s dentist provided was to pull teeth. One prisoner said that he had eleven teeth pulled. I also met with the dentist. He said, ‘We only pull teeth, we don’t repair any.’” Therefore, Mehdi didn’t ask to see the dentist again, despite that he had severe toothache and many cavities. “We also did not receive any real toothbrushes, only small ones which were not usable. The toothpaste smelled so bad I couldn’t use it. Only when I was going home did they give me a regular toothbrush and toothpaste.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 18).
(MGTS46) “The toothbrush I got when I left Cuba was the first real toothbrush I had seen the whole time. The toothbrush the prisoners were provided was a little travel brush, which looked like a cosmetic brush and was not usable. Because of that my teeth became yellow and discolored, and I had toothaches for long periods." (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 11, 90).
See also: MGTS 14, 45.
(MGTS27) Mehdi noticed immediately that his treatment changed for the worse when he stopped answering questions. “It was in the summer of 2002, that I stopped receiving letters from Sweden. Before that, I had received letters from my father. I often asked about letters. When the Foreign Ministry visited, I requested that they ask the Americans about my letters. They said they had been told that I had not received any letters. The interrogators also said I had not received any letters because no one in Sweden cared about me.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 4, 21).
(MGTS42) Mehdi tells of an Algerian he met at Guantanamo, “He said he had been captured by the Russian mafia and sold to the Americans. They were three who rode in a car in Georgia when they were hit by another car. At first they thought it was an accident, but then they were hit again and hailed by a gang of civilian clothed, armed men who also shot at their car. Then all three were turned over to the American agents.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 6, 37f).
See also: MGTS 40.
(MGTS1) The first time I saw Mehdi Ghezali was one night in July. It was two days after the dizzying good tidings about his release. Through the window in a red little cottage somewhere in Sweden, I saw a young guy with long dark hair move in the light in there, as if in a dance. But it was not a dance. It was that movement pattern which developed when Mehdi moved the three short steps he was able to take in the cage in which he was confined for two and half years at Guantanamo Bay. Only three steps and then he had to turn. “I could only take three steps. I wanted to try to keep myself in shape, get the blood moving in my body and prevent my knees from stiffening. Therefore, I tried to move about in the cage,” explains Mehdi when he begins to tell his story. Now these movements are ingrained in the body. They are like the dancing movements that caged bears used to exhibit when they were presented at fairs and amusement parks after long periods of confinement. But that was before the time of modern animal protection laws, which forbid cages of this type, 2.00 x 2.40 floor measurement, for animals would never be barred in alone for several years (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 1, 3).
(MGTS3) During the first days in the provisional Camp X-Ray, the prisoners were not allowed to speak to each other. “If we spoke to each other, we were ordered to our knees with our arms above our heads for an hour or two,” says Mehdi (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 1, 6).
(MGTS5) “The food got worse if the interrogators were dissatisfied with an interrogation. Then they could, for example, decide that one wouldn’t get salt with the meal, or not get warm food, or not get any food at all.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 1, 7).
(MGTS10) The most common “punishment among punishments” was to deprive prisoners of sleep for a long period of time. Another method used was to never allow the prisoners to sleep when it was dark. At Guantanamo the sun shines every day in a cloudless sky. But at night, everything is wrapped in a black, Caribbean darkness. “But the lights were always on above the cages. This made it more difficult to sleep. In the interrogation rooms there was a light that flickered the whole time, like a camera flash that was going continuously.” To deprive people of sleep is a classic way to torment them. “One becomes completely destroyed after a while for lack of sleep. Some of the prisoners couldn’t take it. They became completely desperate and started screaming. We tried to comfort each other. But it was dreadful. “In order to further disturb sleep, we were forced to constantly change cages. Sometimes I would have to change every hour during the day and every other hour at night. When I was changed from cage to cage, the guards called me a “frequent flyer.” This is [what] they called everyone who was constantly moved. Many of the guards also made loud noises or screamed at and taunted the prisoners when they passed by. The cots the prisoners slept on had a hard metal bottom. “The cots screeched at the slightest movement and made a terrible noise, which also made it difficult to sleep. Many of us chose instead to sleep on the cement floor.” “The guards could also come several times during the night to say we had to change cages, or that we should come for interrogation. Once, during an interrogation, when I had not slept for several days, I wanted to stand up and move around because it was so cold. I fell asleep standing up and woke up as I was about to hit the floor.” Loud American hard rock music was also a way to disturb sleep and sometimes prayers. “Also, there was always some construction in progress. Machines rumbled and clattered all the time. It was never quiet.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 13f).
(MGTS15) Mehdi soon lost count of how many times he was taken to the torture room and interrogated. “Sometimes it was every day. I think I was questioned several hundred times” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 15).
(MGTS26) “During the first six months or so I answered as much as I could of the interrogators’ questions. But the interrogators were constantly changed. They almost always asked the same questions. I have probably been interrogated about a hundred times, but I had nothing more to say. I thought the interrogations were a sort of persecution, not that they actually wanted to know if I had committed a crime.” “Finally, it was probably in the summer of 2002, I thought it was meaningless to continue to answer the same questions again and again, so I quit saying anything. I didn’t even answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 4, 21).
(MGTS28) In the spring of 2004 his father’s name and then his mother’s name became part of the questioning. “They said that my father is a very dangerous man, that he had met with various persons who were dangerous terrorist leaders and that they were going to imprison him and put him in a cage beside me in Guantanamo” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 4, 22).
(MGTS29) “Finally, it was probably in June, an interrogator began talking about my mother also. He told me that his own mother was dead and that he regretted not having traveled to be with her before she died. He didn’t want me to make the same mistake he had made and to regret it for the rest of my life. You will not get another chance, and this you will carry with you for the rest of your life. He said there was something terrible he had to tell me about my mother in Helsinki, but he was not allowed to tell me what had happened. It sounded as if she were dead, or that something terrible had happened. It was horrible.” It was because of this, with certain trepidation, that Mehdi called his mother as soon as he landed in Sweden (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 4, 22).
(MGTS30) Many visitors from other countries seemed to be police who interrogated the prisoners, almost exactly as the American interrogators. When some police came from Egypt and interrogated the Egyptian prisoners, they blindfolded the prisoners so they couldn’t see the faces of the police” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 5, 26).
(MGTS33) During the flight the prisoners were only given emergency provisions. They were not allowed to use the toilet, but were forced to urinate in their clothes. This was another method to humiliate the prisoners, which later would be used many times in the prison camp (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 5, 29).
(MGTS34) At the last visit [of the Swedish delegation], in December 2003, the delegation had with them the Koran in Swedish and a Swedish anthology with writings by known Swedish authors, a gift of the Guantanamo Group [= a group working on behalf of Mr. Ghezali]. “I was only allowed to keep the book for a day, then the guards took it from me. But I had time to read the whole thing. I did get to keep the Koran” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 5, 30).
(MGTS38) “There was a prisoner who tried to hang himself with his own sheet. A team of specialists came and cut him down and cordoned off the cell. He was taken away to the hospital. When I left Cuba he was still not back at the camp” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 6, 35).
(MGTS39) “A prisoner in a cage next to me went completely crazy due to lack of sleep and began climbing up the net of the cage and screaming. As far as I know, there were only one or two who actually tried to kill themselves” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 6, 36).
(MGTS47) When Mehdi asked for his letters at his departure from Guantanamo, he was given only three. The Americans kept the many letters and cards with support and encouragement that had been sent from Sweden (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 11, 91).
(MGTS48) “It was completely unbelievable to meet [once I was released] so many friendly people after all those who had hated me. I did not know there was single person in Sweden outside of my family who cared about me. The Americans had made me believe that I was completely forgotten.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 11, 91).
See also: MGTS 9, 14, 27, 32, 37, 44.
(MGTS24) There were several children among the prisoners at Guantanamo. The youngest boy, who was from Afghanistan, was only eleven years old when he was confined in a cage at Guantanamo (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 19).
(MGTS25) From the beginning there were also seniors who were 80 and over 100 among the Afghani prisoners. “One old Afghani man told the Americans “I fought against the Russians when I was young and strong. Now you come and take me when I am old and can’t defend myself” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 3, 19).
(MGTS40) “Murad [Kurnaz, the German prisoner of Turkish background] was only 19 when they took him. He says that the Americans changed the documentation to show his age as 22" […] Murad, according to Bernhard Docke, had first been accused by the United States of being friends with a suicide bomber. Finally, it came out that the suicide bomber was still alive; the one they were alluding to was Selcuk [a friend Murad met at a gym in Bremen], who was acquitted by German justice of any wrongdoing (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 6, 36f).
(MGTS41) “Several prisoners at Guantanamo were children, or nearly children, but the camp leadership changed their papers and made them several years older. The youngest Guantanamo prisoner, who I think came from Canada, was not even 14 when they took him in Afghanistan” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 6, 37).
(MGTS43) Mehdi, who had seen [Haji Faiz Mohammed] at Guantanamo says, “There was a very old man I saw being conducted past my cage. His whole body shook when he walked, steadied by a sort of four-footed crutch. He was even chained. A brother asked the guards, ‘He’s also a terrorist, is he not?’ A brother told me he was 105 years old. I almost got tears in my eyes when I saw him” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 6, 38).
(MGTS6) “There were several hunger strikes. They could start when a guard desecrated the Koran or was brutal toward a prisoner. For example, they once allowed a dog to pick up the Koran from the floor” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 1, 7).
(MGTS35) Mehdi maintains however that all the hunger strikes in the camp were for religious reasons. “It started as protests when the guards trampled on or handled the Koran in a insulting or condescending manner, when they disturbed the prayer time or mimicked and taunted the prisoners’ prayers […]" (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 6, 32).
(MGTS36) “It was also a great psychological torture to see how the Americans handled the holy Koran, God’s word. Every time we exited the cell they flipped through the pages so see that it didn’t contain something forbidden, even though we had nothing in the cell. They threw it on the floor after flipping through it. Sometimes they had a dog nose around it or pick the Koran up from the floor. Sometimes it went so far that they threw the Koran in the toilet. That was too much and most of the brothers didn’t want to keep the Koran when it had been polluted and wished they had never accepted it in the first place. They began returning them. Then came the order to those who collected the Koran not to accept any more. Some asked why and they answered “for political reasons.” It would have looked very bad if Muslims found out that the holy scriptures were being dishonored in this way and it would arouse many feelings.” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 6, 32).
See also: MGTS 9, 11, 18, 19.
Abuse en route to Guantánamo
(MGTS44) “For approximately two weeks in the beginning of January 2002 I was held captive by American soldiers at a military base outside of Kandahar in Afghanistan. It was bitterly cold winter there. All the prisoners were shoved together in herds like cattle and we had to try to sleep together in a kind of large military tent. The camp in Kandahar was horrible. First they made us all undress so we were naked. It was winter, cold and windy and we were freezing cold. The American soldiers in Afghanistan treated us worse than animals. They threw me to the ground while my hands were chained behind me so I couldn’t catch myself. They woke us constantly during the night. One American soldier threw stones at me when I was lying on the ground trying to sleep and was unable to get away. We got almost nothing to eat and drink” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 11, 73).
(MGTS2) “When the prisoners discussed “human rights” among themselves, which the United States supposedly supports, we would say that we would be very grateful if we got “animal rights.” We didn’t even get that. The Australian prisoner David Hicks joked once that he should ask to have a cat as company in his cage. But he didn’t think that the American animal protection laws would permit it,” says Mehdi as he smiles. When the guards laughed at the prisoners’ demands to be treated like human beings, the British prisoner Jamal al-Harith, who was released in the spring of 2004, demanded to at least be treated like the dog that lived in a green doghouse in the vicinity of the cages (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 1, 3f).
(MGTS7) “The wagons one sees on TV of prisoners lying in them are often prisoners who are on hunger strike. One Kuwaiti prisoner probably holds the record—he has been on hunger strike for over a year and has had to be force fed” (Hultén and Ghezali 2005, Chapter 1, 7).