The Guantanamo Archipelago - Escape from Camp Delta
by Françoise Chipaux
March 11, 2004
(As translated to English in the Index on Censorship: Inside the Axis of Evil, Issue 1/03)
Pakistani Muslim 'missionary' Mohammed Sanghir spent a year in detention without charge at the US base at Guantanamo in Cuba after he was seized by warlord forces in Afghanistan. He tells Françoise Chipaux of Le Monde what happened to him there - and what happened later...
Mohammed Sanghir, a missionary preacher with the Tablighi Jamaat, a non-political organisation for the propagation of Islam with several million adherents around the world, returned to his village in Pakistan last November after more than a year's imprisonment in the US base at Guantanamo in Cuba.
The first Pakistani to be released, he still wears the green plastic bracelet that bears his 'American' ID: US 9PK 0001 43 DP, plus his age (51), height, weight and a photograph.
Sanghir had been in Afghanistan around three months when war broke out and was taken prisoner in the chaos of the battle for Kunduz. "Together with around 250 people, 50 of whom died," he was loaded into a container to be taken to Uzbek leader General Rashid Dostom's notorious Sheberghan prison.
"They were screaming for water, they were banging their heads against the walls and there, right there beside me, they died," says Sanghir of his companions. After 45 days in Sheberghan "they turned us over to some US soldiers who blindfolded us and took us by helicopter to Kandahar".
There he was finally interrogated. "There was an American and a translator. They asked me where I was from, why I was in Afghanistan, if I had links with al-Qaida, if I knew people from al-Qaida, if I'd ever seen Osama bin Laden and if I'd be able to recognise him."
After this one summary questioning, a doctor called for Sanghir. "He took my fingerprints and one earprint," he says. Eighteen days later, they came again. "They shaved my head, my beard and my moustache, put a blindfold over my eyes and put me in a tent where I waited for two or three hours with some other people.
"Before they shaved us, an American woman who spoke a little Urdu said: 'We're taking you to a place where you'll have better facilities and you'll be more comfortable'."
The soldiers, he says, completely ignored his attempts to save his beard, which has religious significance. "I protested physically, but they weren't having any of it and they just said, 'It's not allowed'."
For the 22-hour flight to Cuba, Sanghir was tied to his seat, gagged, blindfolded and had earplugs in his ears.
"A woman gave us apples twice, and some bread and water," he recalls. The arrival at the Guantanamo base was rough. "While we still had our hands tied behind our backs and our eyes blindfolded, I was thrown outside and beaten by some soldiers," Sanghir says, showing his cheek.
He was to spend the next three and a half months, dressed in red overalls, in a cage open to the winds, "to the millions of mosquitoes and to the heat," and without even a minute's privacy.
"We were like animals. If we were men, why put us in a cage? In the beginning, they didn't let us pray or speak to each other, but after two days of hunger strike a superior officer came, allowed us to pray and gave us half an hour for lunch.
"Twice a week they took us out to walk, and they gave us a clean uniform once a week," Sanghir explains, adding that a doctor was always on hand. After three and a half months, he was transferred to a new, more comfortable cage, with running water and a WC in the corner.
Over the ten months he spent at Guananamo, Sanghir was interrogated around 20 times.
"The questions were always the same, just presented in different ways. First, they showed me photographs of members of al-Qai'da to find out if I knew them; then they asked me if there were any al-Qai'da members around me; they wanted to know if I'd met bin Laden and if I'd be able to recognise him. The photos were of people who looked like Afghans or Arabs."
Sanghir maintains he did not recognise anyone. The only people whom he saw at Guantanamo - "once, during a move" - were Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the ex-Taliban ambassador to Pakistan handed over to the US by Islamabad, "who looked very weak"; Khairallah Kwaiwa, ex-governor of Herat, arrested in Chaman on the Afghan-Pakistan border; Mullah Fazl, ex-commander of Kunduz; and another commander, Mullah Abdel Raouf.
"One day, a new general came and said to me, 'You're going to have some good news next week'," Mohammed explains, recalling his release. He is still shocked that not one US official expressed even the slightest remorse at the year he had lost and the humiliation he had suffered.
"They just said, 'You are innocent'. No one apologised."
Sanghir plans to claim damages from the US. "At Guantanamo, the soldiers told me I would get US $400 for each month's detention, but I only got US$100 when I arrived in Islamabad."
Sanghir makes his living using a machine for cutting wood, highly prized in this isolated and mountainous region. "For a year, my family had to borrow in order to survive, and now, how am I going to repay the money?" he asks, indicating how his machine has rusted from lack of maintenance.
"What can I do against the United States? It is a great power," he says, resignedly, when asked how he feels about the Americans.
His fellow citizens, in this highly conservative region, are not always so reserved. Painted in black on the wall of the village school two Kalashnikovs frame an unambiguous call to arms: 'Jihad on those who deny the Quran'.