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Excerpts from The General

These are excerpts from the book The General: The Ordinary Man who Challenged Guantánamo. By Ahmed Errachidi with Gillian Slovo. London, Chatto & Windus, 2013.

 

Transport to Guantánamo


They’d strapped goggles over my eyes so all I could see, through the gap on the bridge of my nose, was a small section of my feet. They’d also made me wear earmuffs, and a thick paper mask, and mittens made from material so stiff I couldn't move my fingers and which cut off the circulation to my hands. And, on top of this, they’d shoved in a suppository that stopped me needing the toilet, and sprayed my head with a chemical that I could still feel burning through my skin. (p. 7)

We were chained together, our legs shackled to rings on the floor and to each other, while another horizontal chain joined us by our waists along the line. And so we sat, motionless, through a journey that felt like it was never going to end. Later I was able to figure out that the whole transfer took roughly twenty-six hours, during which time we were kept blindfolded, chained and motionless (p. 7)

It was the worst experience of my life. Forbidden to move, and cramped for such an extended period, I began to experience the most terrible pains. They shot, jagged, through my joints making me want to cry out, although I’d learned that if I did I’d only earn myself a beating. (p. 8)

The pain returned as my weight pressed down on knees that felt ready to crack. To try and relieve the pressure, I shifted to one side, Someone belted me, twice, against the back of my head, ‘Don’t move,’ a harsh voice shouted. ‘Don’t move.’ (p. 9)

Bagram


They shackled me so tightly while I was in the plane I felt like a small insect fallen into a spider’s web. As the plane roared up into the air, my attempts to find a more comfortable position were met by orders to neither move nor speak. The restraints they’d used on me caused me so much pain that I was relieved when, an hour or two later, I felt the aircraft beginning to lose altitude. (p. 54)

I fell into a deep sleep only to be awakened at around 4 a.m. by a nurse handing out medicine. I saw that my Uighar friend was now also with us and that he had a black eye, a bleeding forehead and a swollen nose: the soldier who’d claimed him as his ‘share’ had kicked him in the face with heavy boots. (p. 56) 

Bagram was a lawless place. Prisoners told me how they used to hear screaming and, although I was only beaten and not tortured in Bagram, when I was in Guantánamo I met one prisoner who told me that he’d been shackled by both wrists to a ceiling high enough to make him stand only on his toes. He was kept like this, screaming with pain, for eleven days… (p. 56)

There aren’t many people in the world who feel OK about going to the toilet in public but for , whose religious duty it is to keep our private parts concealed, this is especially difficult. (57)

There was one old Afghani in a cage of his own as a punishment because he would never respond to the soldier’s orders: the Americans didn’t understand that he was mentally ill, and they refused to listen when we told them. (p. 58)

On the second or third day in Bagram, the seven from my cage were locked in a room while a soldier held a rifle at the ready to stop us making any sound. I heard movement outside and someone asking that the door be opened, and I heard someone else reply that the door was locked because the room was unsuitable for use. An hour went by before they moved us back to our cage when the three Arabs in the neighboring cage told us that we’d just missed a Red Cross visit. After that, whenever we were moved to that locked room, we knew that the Red Cross must have come again, and that they would never learn of our existence. (p. 58)

Then they [the soldiers] tied our hands behind our backs with a cord that then looped around the crease of our elbows and onto the next man until we were all tied together. They could have achieved the same effect by looping the cord loosely but instead they tightened it so that it stopped the flow of blood to our hands. As we were already chained — we couldn’t possibly have escaped — the cord must have been meant to cause us pain. Which it did. (p. 61)

I felt someone bleeding and bringing their head close to mine, and I heard a rough voice whispering: ‘From now on, we’ll dictate our water, your sleep and your shit, until in the end there’ll be no life left to you.’ (p. 62)

Kandahar


I saw my friends hooded, and naked, and tied to chairs. I started crying, not for myself but for the humiliation of my friends. Then they began to shave my face. (p. 63)

They dragged me into an old hangar, threw me down on the sandy floor, and took off my hood and handcuffs. They tried to take off my leg irons as well but the irons were so tight they’d welded to my skin. So they left them on, telling me not to talk. (p. 64)

They had brought saws to cut off my leg irons but the irons were by now so firmly embedded in my skin that they just ended up cutting into my flesh. When they saw the blood pooling they went away, soon to return with a giant pair of pliers. They tried to use these on my leg irons but this caused me such terrible pain I started screaming. One of the soldiers was particularly brutal: every time I screamed he swore and told me to shut up. The pliers didn’t work and so eventually they got tired of trying and went away, returning on numerous occasions but still without success. It was only in the evening that they managed to break the shackles and so get them off me. It was such a relief: I thanked Allah for it. (p. 64)

He [a fellow detainee] was allowed neither to sleep nor to sit in the ten days I spent there [a special punishment section]. If he as much as sagged they shouted at him to stand and they also kept taking him away for interrogation. Later I learned he was from Syria, and was regarded by the authorities as a high-value prisoner. (p. 65)

One [interrogator] liked to put a pistol on the table, closer to me than to himself, where I could easily have grabbed it. As he questioned me, he would be watching for my reaction to the pistol. (p. 65)

On one occasion we were made to watch as a Pakistani prisoner was forced onto his knees with his hand on his head. This prisoner had kidney problems and he couldn’t do it: he begged the soldiers for mercy but they just shouted at him to stay in that position. We watched and felt his pain but there was nothing we could do to help. (p. 66)

Each barracks had two buckets for use as a toilet. Every morning, the soldiers would pick two prisoners who, now in legs irons, would have to walk through the tents, collecting the buckets and emptying them into a waste hole outside. (p. 67)

That prisoner would then get up and go to the front and stretch himself out, face down. The door would be opened to admit three running soldiers, two of whom would fall to their knees on the prone prisoner — sometimes they fell with enough force to crack ribs — and then the prisoner would have to put his feet up in the air and his hand behind his back to be shackled before being pulled up like a package and carried out by his armpits. (p. 67)

When I asked if it wasn’t possible that we could sometimes be right and they wrong, it infuriated them so much that they ordered me down on my knees on the gravel for thirty minutes. (p. 68)

If the soldiers caught us washing, we’d be subjected to fifteen minutes’ kneeling: for prayers we had to resort to dry ablution, using the ground and stones to cleanse ourselves as we are allowed to if there is no water available. (p. 69)

Their barber did what he wanted with our hair, beards and eyebrows. Sometimes he shaved half a head or a cross into the head or bits of beards, all of which left us looking disfigured. This time he shaved off one of the Yemeni’s eyebrows and half of the other. And all the while laughing soldiers took photographs. (p. 71)

When I complained, a soldier punched me in the face, punch after punch, as a way of bidding me farewell. He hit me so hard, I knew my hood would tell the tale of what had happened to the man who was to wear it next. (p. 72)

All sound was dulled and our eyes, which we rely on to warn us of danger, no longer functioned. Try it: muffle and blindfold yourself in the security of your home, and see how long it takes you to feel really uncomfortable. And then imagine what it was like to be kept this way for more than twenty-four hours. (p. 73)

Guantánamo


I was ordered to wash under the clinic’s small shower and after that was issued with my orange suit. Then, despite having travelled for twenty-six hours, I was taken straight for interrogation. (p. 74)

[T]hey [the guards] knew how much we cared about our Korans and so showed this disrespect to intensify our feelings of humiliation. (p. 81)

If I asked them what they were looking for, there’d be no reply. I think they performed these searches so that the barrier between them and us would stay artificially high: the very act of searching helped stoke their fear of us while also making them feel that they were in control. (p. 81)

That feeling of alien hands, daily probing my body and my clothes, insulted and subdued me. I looked for reasons and meaning but I couldn’t find it: nothing they did made any sense. (p. 81)

The soldiers were bad but in some ways the interrogators were worse. They were the highest authorities in the camp: the soldiers, doctors, nurses, library and postal service were all under their orders. Should we complain of being deprived of post or pictures of our children, we’d be told to speak to our interrogators. Ditto if a blanket or a book was taken away. Even medication would be withheld until we answered questions. Some of the prisoners with plastic limbs would have them taken away until they answered the interrogator’s questions. I saw on Afghani prisoner who, having had his false calf taken away, was reissued with one that was too small. The doctors threatened to cut off part of his leg under his knee so this new false leg would fit: only if he answered his interrogator’s questions would the correct false limb be returned. (pp. 81-82)

If, because of the monotony of their questions, or the overextended period of interrogation, we refused to answer, they’d try to entice us with good food, or chocolates or books. If this didn’t work, they used coercion, like sleep deprivation or exposure to extreme cold. (p. 83)

In truth, however, they used religion to extort and pressurise us, punishing us by depriving us of our holy book and sometimes even preventing prisoners from praying and chanting the Adhan — the call to prayer. (p. 83)

Unlike the regular cells which were separated from each other by see-through mesh, the walls of the cells in the punishment blocks were made of solid metal. Being in one of them was equivalent to being in a box: prisoners could see neither daylight nor darkness, and, at least when I first got there, harsh artificial lights blared down twenty-four hours a day. Above the usual sink there was a boxed-in exhaust with a fan inside: it was supposed to suck out the stale air, but when it was on it was so noisy you could barely think. They’d switch it on when there was any commotion in the block so that we wouldn’t be able to hear each other. (pp. 85-86)

You were kept in the punishment cell, usually being let out every thirty days to spend a day in an ordinary cell, until you’d served your time, which meant there was an end in the sight, if only the end of this particular period of punishment. (p. 86)

They used different methods for these beatings. Some would press hard as they could on the soft point behind our ears. Some would lift our heads off the ground before smashing them down on the metal floor. Some would twist our fingers back hard enough to break them. And all the time they were doing this they’d be shouting, ‘Do not resist, do not move,’ even though by this point it was impossible to do either. They also filmed these attacks, telling us this was to ‘ensure the safety of the prisoner,’ which was laughable given the damage they were doing. Afterwards they’d use the medical kit they had brought with them to staunch the bleeding, bruising and bone fractures they’d inflicted on us. The unconsciousness was harder to patch up. But before the first aid was applied, our hands and feet would be shackled from behind as we lay face down on the floor; they’d put our faces over the toilet. (p. 94)

Such attacks would characteristically last for about fifteen minutes and then, after administering the first aid, they’d remove the shackles and then, holding on to each other, would slowly withdraw from the cell in a line, the last soldier remaining to restrain the prisoner until he was finally pulled from the prisoner’s body with such force they’d all end up falling backwards. Then the cell door would be slammed shut. (p. 95)

They [the ERF] had started in Mishal’s cell. I could hear him yelling and I could hear the sounds of them beating him. Through the small gaps in the edges of the food slots in our doors, some of the prisoners saw them bringing Mishal out on a stretcher. They also slaw blood on his towel. They started calling, ‘We saw blood, we saw blood, we saw blood.’ (p. 95)

These other injured prisoners were later returned to the blocks but Mishal didn’t reappear. This meant he must have been seriously hurt. It was then our duty, as we saw it, to spread the news of what had happened to the other blocks and to ask them to help find out how Mishal was. (p. 95)

They [the soldiers] attacked me there, pressing at the vulnerable point behind my ears and twisting my fingers and hands almost to breaking point. These were ordinary soldiers but they were acting under the watchful gaze of senior officials who crowded together behind the smoked glass. (p. 100)

There was a chair next to an iron ring that was anchored to the floor. I was told to sit in the chair and then they shackled my feet to the ring. My hands were also shackled in front of me and the chain which held the shackles was then wrapped around my waist. A smoked window hid the faces of the observers watching me from outside and, in addition, high in one corner was a camera trained on the chair. Once they’d immobilized me in a chair, they reprogrammed the air-conditioning unit and left. Alone in the stillness, I could hear nothing but the sound of cold air blowing. The temperature began to drop and I was soon shaking with cold. Knowing that they had to be watching me through glass, I called out to complain. A soldier came in to tell me that he couldn’t change the setting because it was programmed like that by order of the interrogator. (p. 104)

The cold intensified, but it was no longer my only problem: the way they’d shackled me to the chair and then to the ground caused me pain in my back that soon became almost unbearable. Despite my protests, they kept me in there for over six hours. Nobody came to question me: they just left me there shivering and in agony until at last two soldiers entered, unlocked me from the chair and took me back to an ordinary cell. (p. 105)

Two hours later, they came again, taking me back to the interrogation room. They tied me into the chair, and whenever I tried to lean my head to left or right in an attempt to relieve the pain, a soldier would burst in holding a stick, like a broom handle, which he would bang on the floor while shouting, ‘Don’t sleep, don’t sleep.’ As if I could have slept in those conditions. (p. 105)

I was right. Two hours later, back they came to drag me to the interrogation room again. This time the pain in my back and now my kidneys was unbearable. The chain around my waist was so tight that it stuck my hands to my belly and also made me bend in so that, with both feet also shackled, I sat on the chair in an inverted U-shape. Because the pain was so bad, I used my bent knees to topple myself onto the floor to try and relieve it. There I lay, still chained and curled like a foetus, as two soldiers rushed in, shouting, so loudly they frightened me, that sleep was forbidden. When I described the intensity of my pain, they told me to get back into the seat and that they’d call a nurse. When I complained about the cold, they repeated what they’d said last time: that the rules didn’t allow them to adjust the temperature without explicit permission from the interrogators. (pp. 105-106)

This, I’d begun to understand, was going to be my new routine: six- or eight-hour sessions in intense cold and pain during which I was prevented from sleeping, followed by two hours’ break, in an endless cycle, twenty-four hours a day. (p. 106) 

When I refused to get up, two soldiers forcibly sat me back down in the chair and, with one of my left and one on my right, held me in my seat. It was agony. As soon as they stepped away I once more threw myself down. When they came to force me up again, I told them I couldn’t stand the torture any more. I pleaded with them to end it by killing me. They must have realized that I genuinely could take no more, and that no matter what they said, I would probably not stay in my seat. They left me lying on the ground. And so it went on. The nurse continued to administer regular painkillers and they continued to stop me sleeping. Should I so much as shut one eye, they’d come in to beat the ground with their broomsticks while simultaneously shouting at me not to sleep — which was a waste of time since I was shaking so hard with cold that there was no way I could have slept. (pp. 106-107)

One of my fellow prisoners later described to me how, while he’d been restrained in his chair, soldiers had poured a circle of chemical liquid around him that gave off an intense and unpleasant smell. He’d had no choice but to breath in this foul stuff, and when he did white foam came out of his mouth. He passed out, regaining consciousness to find that the soldiers had cleared up the liquid. All this he experienced in addition to my same severe cold, pain and sleep deprivation. (pp. 107-108)

Before he [a military intelligence official] left he told me that as soon as I agreed to stop inciting the other prisoners, they’d stop torturing me. In the meantime they kept me rotating between sessions with the harsh one who threatened me and the sympathetic one who said he wanted to save me. (p. 108)

At the same time, the soldiers stopped me from using the toilet by refusing to respond when I told them I needed to go. Once they held off for so long that I could no longer control myself and soaked my clothes and seat. (p. 108)

We refused to take them [the Korans] back so eventually the officials decided to force them on us. They came with the ERF who began to remove prisoners from their cells one by one. Each Koran was then placed inside the cell before the prisoner was returned to it. (p. 111)

I could hear how prisoners were resisting their removal and how the officials, knowing the danger of losing control, were brutal in their response: later I heard that many of the prisoners sustained injuries serious enough to put them in hospital. (p. 111)

While prisoners were usually taken from their cells and to the interrogation blocks in a small car, this time more than a dozen soldiers shackled me and dragged me there while simultaneously beating me. They pulled me with such force that the shackles stripped the skin off my ankles, making them bleed profusely. The soldiers were running as they dragged me and the shackles stopped me from being able to keep up so I kept falling on my face. That didn’t stop them: they continued to drag me all the way back to Brown block. (p. 112)

They beat me while my hands and feet were shackled, and when they were returning me to my cell they’d sometimes pull me off the car by the shackles on my feet. I’d fall to the ground and they’d drag me across the gravel. (p. 112)

He [the interrogator] asked me to act as a bridge between the prisoners and the camp authorities and, to force me into agreement, they took me to another room where the temperature was so low it was like being in a large refrigerator. Then they left me there to freeze. (p. 113)

I used to turn towards Mecca and pray while seated in my shackles and they’d let me do this. But now whenever I turned for prayer they’d rush in and turn me away from Mecca. A female soldier would come also and arrange herself seductively in front of me on the table and light a cigarette, all to stop me praying. If this didn’t have the desired effect, other soldiers would come in to shout and beat the ground with their batons until I stopped. (pp. 114-115)

They were wearing military overcoats but they took me out as I was, and they took me very slowly to the transport vehicle so I got drenched. They knew what they were doing. Slowly they put me on board, and slowly they drove me to the interrogation room. (p. 117)

The next incident that sticks in my memory happened after yet another new batch of interrogators rolled out the same old questions and we decided to put a stop to this stupid waste of time by refusing to speak to these new boys. The administration’s response was to institute widespread sleep deprivation. They developed a system of transferring prisoners between cells to keep them awake. When our friend Farooq’s turn came, first they strapped him to a chair in the cold interrogation room for thirty-six hours, all the time preventing him from falling asleep. Then they sent him back to his cell, and every time he so much as closed an eye, they’d make him move cells. Then back he would be taken to the interrogation room, there to remain for another thirty-six hours. (p. 119)

Even the major, who usually avoided direct confrontation, joined in and it was he who, by kicking me in the testicles, managed to bring me down. There I lay in the middle of the corridor as they rained down blows. They hurt me badly but that moment of freedom, and the pleasure it gave my fellow prisoners, made it worthwhile. (p. 121)

It turned into a nightlong confrontation. Gas and viciously barking dogs — I’d heard them before but never seen them used — were brought in while ventilation fans and machines that looked like giant vacuum cleaners were turned up loud to drown out our cries. They also shut off our water supply, a precaution they always took when deploying the ERF. Many prisoners were injured, one was badly bitten by the dogs and taken to the Echo segregation block so the rest of us couldn’t see his wounds. And all of this because we, as a group, stood by one of our fellows who was being so badly abused. (p. 121)

I was shackled to a chair while they shaved my head and beard. Every time someone went into punishment they shaved his beard and sexually humiliated him, and they did this because they knew that sexuality and the beard were culturally and religiously sensitive ares for Muslims, and they were determined to use this against us. (p. 122)

They [the soldiers] took it out on me. Once when I was walking while shackled between two soldiers, they tripped me and I fell. I hit my head and it bled profusely, but they gave me no medical attention. Once they slammed the food hatch on the door of my cell onto my middle finger, breaking it. Once they stood in front of my cell and shouted at me. One of them was holding a gas canister the size of a small fire extinguisher behind his back so I couldn’t see it. As soon as I neared the door, another soldier who’d crouched down, again so I couldn’t see him, lifted up the glass window so that his compatriot could let loose the gas right in my face. This is how they caught me off-guard. It was terrible — I thought I was going to lose my eyesight. I screamed at the top of my voice to try and ease the excruciating pain but this only seemed to give these soldiers more pleasure. At other times they’d bring a petrol generator and place it at my door. The fumes were horrific. I’d have to bury my head inside my shirt and breath through it. (pp. 124-125)

Camp 5 was its own particular kind of hell, used for prisoners considered to be of high value (although the administration’s assessment of what constituted high value kept changing). In this camp, prisoners never got to see any daylight: they were even made to exercise in the dark, and they were given very little food. Those who emerged from 5 told of their suspicions of being drugged. They would, they said, fall asleep for days on end, or find themselves with erections that wouldn’t go away: one of them told me he’d found a pill that hadn’t dissolved in a drink he’d been given. (p. 128)

The soldiers also used other methods to break us down. Once I was in a punishment block during the month of Ramadan when an escort took away one of the prisoners for interrogation just an hour before Iftar (the moment when that day’s fast is over). They shackled him to a chair and then sent in a female soldier who began touching him and sexually assaulting him by rubbing up against him and using pieces of foam to massage him. He was trying so hard to get away from her that he fell and broke one of his teeth. At other times the interrogators would cover the walls of the interrogation room with pornographic images. The prisoner would be brought into the room in the dark and shackled into the chair and then the lights would flare and he would find himself surrounded by these obscene images. Even minors, prisoners who were under sixteen, were subjected to this — one I met had been fifteen. A woman soldier who tried to seduce him told him that if he didn’t like women she could always find some boys. I also heard from a Syrian prisoner how one of the female soldiers did disgusting things with what she said was her menstrual blood. (p. 129)

Should a prisoner refuse to remove his own clothes they’d send for an ERF who’d spray him with gas before cutting off his clothes, leaving him either in his shorts or completely naked. I was  left naked on a number of occasions, because I always refused to comply with their orders to undress. I’d rather be beaten than be a willing instrument in their humiliation of me. (p. 130)

The times when they did manage to deprive me of my clothes were the worst, since I was left naked to fight the extreme cold and the bitter chill of the iron bed. There was no way, apart from using toilet paper, to shield myself. We were given our ten sheets after every meal and I’d save them until I had thirty so I could lie them between my skin and the metal bed. I’d lie very still and on my back the whole night, so I didn’t expose the paper, which the soldiers would have confiscated. Since those times I’ve suffered from sharp pain in my bones, perhaps as a result of the continuous cold I endured. (p. 130-131)

Using the excuse that they were protecting us by removing any materials which we might use to harm ourselves, they’d order prisoners to be stripped of our clothes, shoes, blankets and sleeping mats. The air conditioning would be turned up. (p. 131)

Much of my punishment time I accumulated by taking part in protests. Soon I was only allowed out into the ordinary cells once a month before being sent back to solitary to complete the three-plus years of punishment I’d accrued. (p. 132)

Weeks went by without my seeing anybody save the soldier who came three times a day to give me food or medicine, or let me take a walk at night when, again, I wouldn’t see a soul other than my unspeaking, unsmiling guard. (p. 137)

The camp rules stated that a prisoner in solitary should be allowed out one day in every thirty. Not me — they left me in there without a break. (p. 138)

The doctors gave me an injection — I don’t know what it was supposed to do but it stopped me sleeping— before sending me back to Echo. After that, I was so ill I didn’t even know what I was saying or doing. They had broken me at last. I had lost my mind. They took away my clothes and moved me to Delta block where they held me in a cold room reserved for the mentally distressed. At times they’d shackle me, naked and without even shorts, to the iron bed. I lost track of time and what was happening, but I do know that after a while they sent me back to Echo. Despite the fact that I was under the influence of the drugs they had given me, only sleeping with sleeping pills and pumped full of other drugs, they started taking me to interrogation. They were happy to see me in such a terrible state and they spread the news that the General was finished. (p. 139)

For Clive’s [Clive Stafford Smith, lawyer] first visit I was shackled with a black belt rather than with the usual chains. But when he came back two months later, I refused the belt and insisted on the chains. The soldiers tried to resist my demand, but when I then refused to meet my lawyer, they gave in and chained me. The chains had a blue metal attachment which restricted movement and stuck to my hands causing considerable pain. When Clive came in, and I’d been untied, I showed him the blue attachment and the chains and we’d discovered that they’d been made in Britain. I asked him to note the marks these chains made and to see how long they remained visible on my wrists. We sat together for over three hours and the marks were still clearly there. I did this because I wanted Clive to see the ill effects of the shackles and I also wanted him to know that the administration used the black belt to try and hide their normal brutal forms of restraint whenever lawyers or the Red Cross came around. (p. 142)

If Clive and Reprieve, many of whose members are volunteers, could uncover all this, why couldn’t the all-powerful American and British intelligence agencies do the same thing? Either they hadn’t bothered to check my alibi or else they had checked it, found out that it was sound and still continued to detain me. (p. 145)

Once every thirty days we’d be sent to one of the outside blocks for a single day before being taken back. The intention was to keep us separate from the rest of the prison population, including prisoners in the other segregation units, so that we’d have no chance to organise protests. (p. 147)

[T]he current protests were just beginning to die down when the prison administration brought six new prisoners to our block. These six were being punished for destroying their toilets, which they’d done after the soldiers had not only failed to give emergency medical attention to a prisoner, but also had refused to take him to the clinic after he’d started vomiting up blood. (p. 149)

I developed a stomach complaint which required me to be on constant medication. As soon as I stopped eating they’d stop my medication and I’d be attacked by sharp pains in my stomach which would grow unbearable. This time I kept up my strike for three days, stopping it because I thought I was going to collapse. (p. 159)

As soon as Hamzah had been shackled into his chair, the interrogator began to curse and swear and then threw a small fridge, injuring Hamzah. (p. 160)

The noise they made was akin to a roadside drill or giant bulldozer tearing up metal and compressing it. Having covered their own ears with protective earmuffs, the soldiers would switch on these hooters, never failing to send a ‘Have a good day’ in our direction. These hooters were kept on for hours. If food arrived, we would have to eat with their blaring. I felt as if my brain was being shaken to bits and my eardrums torn up. Even after the hooting stopped, the sound stayed with me, and I’d continue to feel the pounding along with a pain in my ears for quite a while. (p. 162)

The hooters weren’t the only things brought into play. They placed large vacuum cleaners in the front, middle and end of each block along with two hedge trimmers, not to clean the floor or trim the hedges but to deafen and disorientate us. While this was going on the soldiers would hide in their offices at the entrance of each block with their ears protected. (p. 162)

[A]fter the declaration of the state of emergency, spray cans were issued to ordinary soldiers along with permission to use them when they felt at risk. The result was that the soldiers would spray us for no reason. The gas was strong enough to burn your eyes and mouth as well as every contact point on your skin. This feeling of irritation would continue for hours and if you tried to wash the area with water, they would only make it worse. If you got it on your clothes, you would have to remove them. (p. 162)

Now any low-ranking soldier had the authority to summon the ERF. So they began to regularly raid the cells and brutalise, and they were free to do so because their officers had stopped visiting or supervising the blocks. Not one was to be seen: all we had were ordinary soldiers and they were intent on punishing us. (p. 163)

There had always been soldiers who’d breached the stated and accepted code of conduct but they used to conceal these infractions. Now they did whatever they wanted, and openly. In fact, they began to enjoy it as if it were entertainment. They’d shout and cheer while they were brutalising us — they sounded like cowboys with their ‘yee-has’. There was no escape. (p. 163) 

Once, our friend Abu Bakr Al Yemeni was told to weigh himself. Abu Bakr always took part in hunger strikes and as a result he only weighed about forty-seven kilos. Because of the pain in one of his legs, he couldn’t stand, but when he told them this they sprayed him with gas while he was lying on his bed. Then six members of an ERF stormed his cell. Before they did so they switched on the hooters and other appliances and created the most enormous noise and they also shut off the water supply to stop us splashing them and closed the windows so that nobody in the other blocks could hear our shouts. Then they began to beat Abu Bakr until he was screaming with pain. They beat his head so many times against the metal sink that his blood spilled everywhere. After this we couldn’t hear him screaming any more, but only faintly moaning. It seemed like he was unconscious. There were two cells between mine and his, but I had a clear view of this assault. Some of the others threw bodily waste at these soldiers but for me this was the first time I reached Guantánamo that I didn’t shout out or beat the walls of my cell. I was paralyzed with shock. I looked and I looked. The attack was beyond anything I could do something about. Abu Bakr bled so much they later had to hose down his cell. He spent over two weeks in the hospital, and when he was brought back, his head was stitched and his hand broken and he couldn’t stand at all because he’d not been able to obey an instruction to weigh himself. And even after this ferocious attack they didn’t leave him alone. They came back after a few days and sprayed him with more gas for no reason whatsoever. (pp. 163-164)

This happened to our Tajik friend, Abdel Kahar. It was during the month of Ramadan, a mere few minutes before the call to Maghreb prayer and the breaking of the fast. The soldiers waited until the prayer cone was in the middle of the corridor and then they waited some more. Exactly at the moment of the call to prayer they stormed the block and trampled all over the prayer cone, which according to the new camp rules they were obliged to leave alone for twenty minutes after it was put up. Then they sprayed gas over Abdel Kahar and stormed his cell, beating him, in defiance of our prayer and the breaking of the ritual fast, before they left. (p. 164)

They began to distribute some sort of new meal as well, on tissue paper rather than plates, in the punishment blocks. The portions had always been small but now they were even smaller. These meals consisted of two bars, each about the length of a finger and the width of two fingers, and weighing about 150 grams. It was a mixture of various foods, mainly beans, cooked dry in an oven and handed out without accompaniment. These bars would cause the intestines to harden, resulting in constipation, especially when the prisoners were on this diet for days. (p. 165)

And a curtain around the toilet was forbidden once again. Should a prisoner try to use one of the thin mats as cover, or anything else for that matter, his cell would be stormed and he’d be beaten. (p. 165)

Soon the cells around me started to fill with former hunger strikers. The first to arrive was a man from Yemen. I was shocked at the sight of him. His nose was bruised and coated with dried blood and his face was like an empty black sack. He was shaking with fear after what he’d gone through, though he was very pleased to have me looking after him. He was followed by other strikers, all of them looking like men who’d crawled out of their graves. Their eyes were sunken and almost petrified, their bodies stick-thin, and every one of them was similarly bruised around the nose. I knew how strong these prisoners had been before they went on hunger strike, so I could tell that they’d been subjected to something terrible. When I asked what, they told me they’d been moved from the hospital into punishment cells which were extremely cold. There they were strapped into chairs — ones that looked like chairs used for executions — and soldiers began to violently push thick tubes into their nostrils. These tubes hit their guts before being pulled out by force and then reinserted in the same way. The prisoner would scream in pain but the straps prevented him from moving his head. Once the tubes were reinserted, the soldiers poured approximately six cans of concentrated milk and two bottles of water into a bag connected to the pipes, all of which were pushed very quickly into the stomach. A red laxative liquid used to relieve constipation then followed. After that the prisoner would be left strapped and shackled for two hours. If he vomited the whole operation would be repeated with the addition of straps to keep his mouth closed. Because of the red medicine, prisoners would inevitably soil themselves, but they were not allowed to change or wash their clothes. This process was repeated twice daily and every time the prisoners cried out in pain they’d be asked why they didn’t eat. After the bag had been emptied, the soldiers would pull out the tubes with such force it felt to the prisoners as if their guts were being ripped through their nostrils. Any screams, which were unavoidable, would be met by an injunction to ‘eat, eat’. This was how the administration put an end to the hunger strikes. (pp. 167-168)

Whenever we tried to sing the call to prayer, they’d switch on those appliances and also beat on the doors of our cells with red fire extinguishers. They cursed and swore at us, using the worst words imaginable and telling us that prayer was banned. They did this every time I called out for prayer. I continued undeterred so they filled my cell with gas to make me stop. (p. 170)

They also stopped us from sleeping. They’d knock on our doors every ten minutes and tell us to move and show our skin, an exercise they called skin and movement and which they kept up twenty-four hours a day. They claimed that they were doing this for our safwty so that they could be sure we were still alive. There were thirty-six cells in Oscar block and they knocked on the doors of each and every one. If a prisoner didn’t respond or didn’t move they’d bang on his door with fire extinguishers or release gas into his cell. (p. 170)

Sleep deprivation is the worst kind of torture. Physical torture creates pain but this only lasts for a specified period of time whereas sleep deprivation can be prolonged for days and even weeks on end. True it leaves no marks or injuries or traces in the victim’s blood but it harms him psychologically and it also leaves its own scars in the body. It leaves its victim wanting to die. (p. 171)

To those of us eating they’d give us our food on tissue paper and the portions were very small, but it also continued to be so intensely cold that I ended up having to choose between eating this tiny amount or using it to block the vent grille. I could bear the hunger, but not the cold, so I wet the food until it was the consistency of dough which I then stuffed into the vent. (p. 171)

After a few days they moved Yasir and Mani to the outside blocks and shifted me into cell 18. This cell was of a new design. Its air conditioning unit blew cold air with greater force through a twenty-centimetre-wide duct, and this air was so extremely cold I couldn’t pass beneath the duct. I spent many weeks in this cell and ended up feeling as if I’d been buried in ice. The desperation to have just one warm night’s sleep came to seem more important than freedom. (p. 172)

The soldiers used to release a liquid chemical into our cells through overhead air-conditioning units and it was so strong it would melt the paint off whatever it touched. It had a pungent smell which caused headaches, dizziness and vomiting. They used to release this gas and storm the cells for the most trivial of excuses. They’d order a prisoner to look at the ceiling, for example, and should he disobey they’d storm his cell and beat him. Or when there were kit changes they’d give out clothes that were either too big or too small for a particular prisoner. Should he dare ask for the right size, they’d once more worm the cell and give him a terrible beating. (p. 172)

We prisoners refused to accept that the three had killed themselves. We couldn’t understand how it could possibly have happened given that four soldiers were supposed to always be patrolling the blocks and monitoring us. Mani had also been on a list, that the interrogators had shown him, to be released. (p. 175)

These were not the only deaths in Guantánamo. Later the prison administration announced the suicide of Abdul Rahman, another Saudi national, one of the veteran hunger strikers in Camp 5. They gave no details except to say he was found not breathing. My experience of Camp 5 told me that it would be impossible for anyone to hang themselves there. The cells there had been designed to prevent suicide or self-harm — the walls were made of concrete and there was no hoop, ring or opening to which a prisoner could tie anything. (p. 175)

To the outside eye, Camp 6 might have looked like a decent enough place but its up-to-date facilities were only for show. The prisoners weren’t permitted to sit around the steel tables that stood in the middle of the block to suggest to visiting journalists that we socialized there. Only soldiers were allowed to use them, and they’d often gather around the while we ate our meals alone in our cells. And although there was a large patch of ground that seemed to be there for exercise, we were never allowed on it. Instead we had to walk down long, thin cages for our exercise hour. These cages were made of wire but eight-metre-high concrete stood beside the wire walls and darkened them. Camp rules forbade prisoners from touching the wire, a rule that was designed to prevent the prisoners from getting any exercise because if you accidentally touched it you’d immediately be sent back to your cell. Refusal to comply with an order to leave would result in your being gassed and attacked by the ERF. (pp. 177-178)

When they took a prisoner to the clinic or for interrogation inside the prison, they’d put on blindfolds, earmuffs and face muzzles before dragging the unlucky prisoner through the corridors. They did this not because we posed a security risk against which they must take precautions but because they knew that to be shackled, blindfolded and muffled in this manner was terrifying. (p. 178)

I’d heard of prisoners who’d been told that they were going to be released, who’d even been given new clothes and taken to the airport, only to be informed that the intelligence service had found evidence to show that they’d been lying, and so they were taken back for a fresh round of interrogation and investigation. This trick had resulted in some of these prisoners losing their minds. I told myself I wasn’t going to fall into this same trap. (p. 182) 

I’d known that my release would be hard on those soldiers who wouldn’t have wanted me to leave Guantánamo safely. Now they showed their rage by grabbing me aggressively and slamming me hard into the wall. They tightened my shackles and smashed my head against the wall again. Despite the pain, I didn’t shout out. I told myself to bear this, their final opportunity to assault me. (p. 184)

At the airport I was put on board a military cargo aircraft. Once more I was made to wear earmuffs, blindfold, muzzle, and once more I was searched. This search was humiliating, done, I am sure, out of revenge and the regret that this would be their last chance to do this to me. This time I didn’t hold my tongue. I swore at them, using the longest, most offensive words I could, and they deserved every one of them. The shackled me to a long aircraft bench. (p. 185)

 

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