Human Rights Watch, March 2007
All seven Russian inmates who were returned to Russia—Rustam Akhmiarov, Ravil Gumarov, Timur Ishmuratov, Shamil Khazhiev, Rasul Kudaev, Ruslan Odizhev, and Airat Vakhitov3—were originally detained by US forces in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Although it is difficult to generalize about seven men of different ages from different regions of Russia, they shared some common traits. All of them are not of Russian ethnicity, and come from ethnic minorities in Russia that have traditionally been Muslim. In general they did not come from privileged or well-to-do families, though at least two of them had received higher education and spoke several languages, such as Arabic.4 Although they embraced different levels of piety, at least some of them claim they went to Afghanistan as a religious undertaking, either to learn more about Islamic government under the Taliban or to study Islam.5 Several said they fell prisoner to General Dostum, the Uzbek warlord in the north who had long battled the Taliban, and were survivors of a prison massacre at Qala-e Jangi, a fortress controlled by Dostum, in late 2001.
All of them came into US custody, one way or another, not long after the US invasion of Afghanistan, and were transferred through detention facilities in Afghanistan before ending up at Guantanamo Bay on various dates during 2002.
In statements to the British human rights organization Reprieve, which is helping to prepare lawsuits against US officials for torture and ill-treatment suffered by detainees at Guantanamo, six of the seven detainees described their treatment at US bases in Kunduz, Bagram, and especially Kandahar and Guantanamo Bay.6 The statements all reflected that mistreatment by US forces in Afghanistan, and especially at Kandahar, was especially severe: beatings; deliberately inflicting serious pain upon the wounded (by deliberately letting stretchers drop, for example); forcing detainees to kneel on small rocks for hours with their hands behind their heads; exposing detainees to the elements, especially cold; denying medical treatment, especially for the wounded; jumping and landing with the knees on the backs of detainees’ heads; depriving detainees of sleep; forcing detainees to run while shackled in painful positions; threatening detainees with dogs; desecrating the Koran and interfering with daily prayers; and at least initially, failing to honor the dietary restrictions of Muslims. Some said bright lights were shone on their faces throughout the night; others described crude and degrading attempts at sexual humiliation.
All the detainees interviewed by Reprieve uniformly described the transport to Guantanamo as particularly painful: the flight lasted more than 24 hours, during which time each detainee was tightly shackled at the ankles and wrists and not allowed to move, not even to rest his body against a neighbor. The detainees wore masks through which it was difficult to breathe, as well as goggles and earmuffs that clamped painfully on the sides of the head. No bathroom breaks were allowed.
At Guantanamo Bay the detainees received different kinds of treatment. None of the six who spoke to Reprieve said they were beaten. But all complained of intense psychological pressure, including long periods in solitary confinement, sexual humiliation inflicted by female staff, sleep deprivation, and the spraying of a pepper gas that in some cases may have caused long-term damage to the eyes. Many complained of being put in a freezing cold room for several hours, sometimes after being allowed to “shower” but given no towel to dry off, apparently to worsen the experience of cold. All of them were given injections without information about what the syringes contained, and some said they felt seriously ill afterward. Several complained of extreme disorientation and despair in not knowing when or if they would ever be released.7
Despite this litany of mistreatment, when he was asked to compare his treatment at the hands of the Americans and at the hands of the Russians after his return, Ravil Gumarov told Human Rights Watch, “In the final analysis, the Russians were worse."8 The detainees’ experience in Russia is the focus of this report.
3 Their names have been spelled differently in different databases and some detainees have even been listed under different names. For example, Rasul Kudaev is referred to as Abdullah Kafkas in one US Department of Defense list. This report uses standard transliteration from Cyrillic of the detainees’ names as they were commonly known in Russian.
4 Many of them spoke another local language such as Tatar, in addition to Russian.
5 Rasul Kudaev told reporters that he did not support Islamic government because he had seen how such a government operates in Afghanistan, and “there’s war there all the time.” See “Rasul Kudaev, arrested in Kabardino-Balkaria, has not turned up in Pyatigorsk prison” (“Rasula Kadaeva, arestovanogo v Kabardino-Balkarii, v pyatigorskoi tyurme ne okazalos”), Caucasian Knot News, January 20, 2006, http://www.kavkaz.memo.ru/newstext/news/id/922021.html (accessed July 22, 2006). At least three of the detainees said they went to Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic bordering on Afghanistan, because of repression against Muslims in Russia. They claim they were seized there by fighters for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and taken to Afghanistan, where they were imprisoned.
6 Ruslan Odizhev was not interviewed by Reprieve because he quickly went into hiding after his return to Russia. Interviews with Reprieve on file with Human Rights Watch.
7 Although the Russian detainees’ allegations were taken in the context of preparing litigation, their accounts are consistent with numerous other accounts of detainee abuse at Guantanamo collected by Human Rights Watch in its research in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UK and other accounts and reports collected for the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project, a joint project of Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and the New York University Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. See Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, NYU CHRGJ, By the Numbers: Findings of the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project, April 2006, http://hrw.org/reports/2006/ct0406/index.htm.
8 Human Rights Watch interview with Ravil Gumarov, date and place withheld.