Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr.
February 11, 2009
Cageprisoners today publishes an exclusive interview with Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr, a former guard at the notorious prison camps in Guantanamo Bay. During
his term at the base, the former guard came into contact with a number
of those detained. He eventually embraced Islam in the presence of
former British resident, Ahmed Errachidi, known by the Guantanamo guards as ‘The General’. Holdbrooks has now spoken publicly due to his outrage at the policies taking place in Guantanamo and the continued unlawful detention of prisoners.
CAGEPRISONERS: I’m being joined by Terry Holdbrooks in the US, a former Guantanamo Bay guard. He’s speaking to Cageprisoners today, about his experiences as a guard and what is taking place in Guantanamo. Terry, hello, or more appropriately ‘Asalaamu alaykum’
Terry Holbrook: Ha ha! Wa’alaykum asalaam
CP: So, first of all Terry, can you just introduce yourself to our readers?
TH: Ah…Where to begin, where to begin? I’m Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr, retired specialist United States Army, 10.25.2005. I was in Guantanamo Bay in 2003 & 2004- prior to the other guard who you’re already working with- Chris; Chris was there a little later. The rules changed from when Chris was there as opposed to when I was there. Nonetheless, something needs to be done- the masses need to know about that place, some of these people have been held there for years without charge or any probable cause.
going a bit further back than that, it would be interesting to find out
about what family environment you grew up in, were raised in?
TH: Ah, you actually want to know about me? Let’s see here…my mother and father separated when I was six- they both decided that drugs were a little bit more important, as opposed to having a child or a marriage or being faithful or whatnot. Back then I wasn’t entirely too religious--religion wasn’t something that was brought up in my life. Obviously, being Christian America, you used to have a great deal of education about religion, you learn a wealth about Christianity, you see religious oppression all around, but nonetheless, that’s off-subject. The two of them separated, I went to live with my grandmother and grandfather; they were both kind-of ‘leftover hippies’ and whatnot, from the 60’s & 70’s and quite interesting characters in that respect (they’ve both passed away now).
I suppose you
could say somewhere between lower to middle class, is how I was raised--we struggled to appear as middle class, although we were very much
lower class. I had a relatively good childhood; I can’t think of
anything entirely dysfunctional--dysfunctions happen to everybody.
Graduated high school early; after high school I went to trade school--Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, an audio engineering
school--that was a stopgap thing that kind of happened and
disappeared. I tried it after spending entirely too many days and
evenings sitting around and drinking and doing nothing with my life,
and I wanted to amount to something more than what my parents had
amounted to--I wanted to amount to more than my family.
I had a calling within myself, and I just had to do something with myself. I
had to be productive--something that you could feel pride, something
that you could feel respectful and happy about. So…I decided to join
the army--it was a long story, as it happens--when I initially went to
the recruiter, I asked, ‘what is a job that I can do where I can get
paid to just kill people? I don’t want to do anything--I just want to
kill people--a job with the least amount of responsibility.’ And I
guess the military in the United States
at that time was hurting for military police officers, so, me not
knowing anything about the military, he signed me up as a military
police officer. In hindsight, with the scores I had in my exams I
could have done just about anything else--any job in the military. I
would’ve stayed in if I hadn’t been a military police officer.
CP: Right, so what were you doing just before you were assigned to Guantanamo Bay?
TH: Ah, let’s see here…that would’ve been back with the 252nd
Military Police Company. We kind of just sat around--they stay on
post, so they’re on-post military police officers, meaning they are
garrison, work with the police station on post, etc. They
never leave their posts--they take care of all the internal crimes that
happen--the trafficking, gates, patrol, etc, all that business--they
don’t deal with deployments and being actual soldiers; they’re mostly
just desk clerks. Nonetheless, I was working with them--that was my
first company out of basic training.
I was sitting down one day…as a matter of fact at Southgate, and Sergeant Neff had driven out to see us. We were told that we were going to the 463rd
Military Police Company, and upon further investigation as to why this
change was happening, (he replied that) we were being deployed.
‘Really?' Where am I being deployed to? (He replied) ‘Well, to Guantanamo Bay’.
‘Well, that’s convenient’ (!)--I just joined the army not too many
months ago--I just got married even fewer months ago, and my new wife
has just given up her entire life--dropped everything--moved down here
to the middle of nowhere…in the woods of Missouri (misery), and now I’m
going to be leaving her with no friends, family--nobody--she’s going to
be stuck here herself. Wonderful; good times; cheers (!)
you kind of answered my next question as to what were your feelings
when you were given the orders to guard the base, but further than
that, what was your perception of the “War on Terror” and those you
were soon to guard?
Honestly at that point in time, I would have to say I didn’t have
enough knowledge about it--I don’t think I had a formulated opinion,
nor did I perhaps care. What happened on September 11th has
come to me, as with those who’ve known me a long time, has caused me to
have a nickname as a ‘sociopath’, due to the fact I didn’t care.
September 11th happened and it didn’t phase me--in fact I
thought it was about time America got one--it should’ve happened a long
time ago--we’re not untouchable, we’re not some magical country--we’re
some high-horse-riding, our s*** don’t stink, unlearned individuals.
So it wasn’t
really a surprise to me--I didn’t feel too much emotion about it, and
when I look back, I think it was just before we went to Guantanamo we stopped in New York City
and saw Ground Zero. And I saw a quote on a wall that somebody had
written, ‘This was the worst tragedy that happened to mankind’, and all
I could really fathom was the numbers--how it was that 2700 people
passing away was the worst tragedy that happened to mankind? What
about the Armenian Genocide or the Crusades, or any of the other
horrible atrocities that have occurred--how was this so awful? So, I
suppose to answer your question, it wasn’t perhaps such a concern of
mine--I didn’t have enough knowledge to formulate an opinion, and as
such I went down with a very open mind. I wasn’t entirely happy to be
a prison guard, it was merely another desk job--it wasn’t what I wanted
to do in the military, but nonetheless it was a deployment, it was
something new, it was a change of pace, so I was halfway excited about
you get to the base. What kind of training were you given in terms of
dealing with Muslim detainees--cultural training, religious training--how much of that was given to you before you were…
TH: Cultural/religious training? Wonderful… None.
CP: OK, so what were your primary responsibilities at the base?
Being low in rank- I was just a Pv2 at that point in time (that’s the
second rank in the army if you’re an enlisted soldier), I was primarily
just a ‘grunt’- my job was to walk up and down the block, to ensure the
detainees weren’t passing anything between cells, to ensure that there
wasn’t any wrongdoings going on, that none of the detainees had any
comfort items they were not supposed to have, to collect trash, to
clean the block, to take detainees to and from their shower. And uh,
quite often was to take detainees to and from interrogation.
CP: Right, OK. So during the time that you were doing this, did you ever witness abuse of detainees, or indeed their torture?
Oh, a number of times. Which one would you like to talk about first--there are different categories of that--there’s interrogation, there’s
simple on-the-block procedure, there’s ERF squad procedures--which I
don’t believe Chris touched on--Emergency Response Force…
Some of the
interrogation tactics--what I’ve come to learn about the American news
is, if I read CNN and then I read the exact same article on Al-Jazeera,
and I battle between the two of them and come to a happy medium, I’ll
probably found the truth. I say with the example of that, for a long
time, CNN denied any time of wrongdoing, any type of religious
oppression or wrongdoing that ever occurred down in Guantanamo, when I
had seen Qur’an’s thrown in toilets, I had seen Qur’ans picked up with
a left hand, I had heard a good number and witnessed a good number of
guards cussing about a Qur’an or prayer for that matter, ‘Oh, don’t
touch this f****** Qur’an’, and that sort of thing--not entirely
polite, but nonetheless as I said I’ve seen them thrown in toilets,
I’ve seen them spat on--some of that happened quite often.
interrogation, there was a good number of times when we’d have downtime
or whatnot, and we’d sit in the same building that the interrogation
would be going on in, and there’d be detainees that would be locked up
for hours in horrible positions--for hours upon hours upon hours, in a
room that might be fifty degrees, might be sixty degrees, might be
colder, mind you they had a very thin jump suit on, and nothing else,
with nothing but a strobe light playing and unbelievably loud music,
some of which I reflect back on--some of which at a time I was a fan
of--music I enjoyed, but to an average listener--a random Joe listening
to that music, it was not anything anybody would like. Very often they
would play music, and the idea that you were being subjected to for
six, eight, ten hours--even I couldn’t listen to a song I enjoy for
that long--I’d go crazy.
There was a day
that came around where we had to issue flu shots to every detainee, and
obviously I can understand that due to the circumstances, maybe one,
maybe two; maybe a few detainees decided they were going to take
advantage of this to create some kind of uproar, and state that perhaps
it wasn’t a flu shot--perhaps it was going to be something that was
going to kill them. So this caused an uproar--it spread through the
camps quite quickly--it seems that within twenty minutes every block
within the camp had this idea--that they shouldn’t get their shot--that
their shot was bad, it was a horrible thing, it was going to kill
them. Quite amazing actually, here are all these dirt farmers, who
have no intelligence, at least that is what the army would tell us, and
they can get a message through the entire Camp Delta with all the
barriers in place, language, cells, construction, isolation, in 20
minutes. So what resulted--what should’ve been maybe a
four hour process ended up becoming a day and a half, a two day
process--for us to give every detainee their flu shot. And more often
than not, how that worked was with an ERF squad--an Emergency Response
Force, where one individual--the bigger individual (usually a redneck--there was no intelligence whatsoever), would be holding a giant shield,
and he would go running into the cell with four other guards behind
him. And they would run, they would tackle or slam a detainee into the
wall, or his bench or his faucet, whatever. And then in the quickest,
not very caring lackadaisical manner, subdue him and restrain him with
the shackles, and after that give him his shot. So a good number of
times that happened, detainee’s hands were stepped on and injured, or
had their stomachs intentionally kicked in, or perhaps their hand
slammed in the door and broken--a number of things like that occurred--it wasn’t an uncommon practice
know this might be a bit difficult, but it’s a question I must ask--did you personally commit any act you regret against these men, or
maybe even that you don’t regret?
No, not in the slightest--something that I don’t regret--something that
I’m very happy about. Ever done some abuse--no, there was never once
anything. A good number of the detainees--I’m not entirely sure if
you’ve had any feedback or heard any of the emails or whatnot, but a
good number of detainees referred to me as ‘the nice MP’--the nice one,
the good one--I was one of the very few, the Khalid. I didn’t have any
issue with Standard Operating Procedures; if the detainee was extremely
hungry--giving him extra food wasn’t an issue for me. I didn’t have an
issue with shackles--more often than not, if I knew a detainee--we knew
each other on a first name basis, I wouldn’t even bother with shackles--I would walk him to the shower, walk him to the rec yard etcetera--it
wasn’t an issue. When I got down there, it became apparent to me quite
quickly that there were only a certain number of individuals that were
here that had some type of anger or aggression towards the United
States--whether it’s wrong for them to fight or not, it’s not very
many--it’s far and few. As a result of such wrongful detention or
being wrongly accused--if they’re accused, though most of them
apparently haven’t been. So, this is wrongful detention--was there a
need for such brutality, why is there a need for such force? Why not
just become understanding or civil with the situation?
CP: Were you ever abused by any of the detainees?
Um, outside of a playful manner, none that I can think of. It’s kind
of an interesting thing to say, a playful manner-- perhaps I’d be giving
breakfast to a detainee and he’d grab my arm and attempt to pull me
into the cell, but it’d be in a playful manner--that he’d look up to me
and smile and ‘ha ha ha, don’t get complacent’, and I’d smile and
they’d smile--it wasn’t an issue. Some of them may have done that to
look out for me, and remind me not to grow complacent; perhaps they
were looking out for my wellbeing. But there were some
detainees that did want to hurt us and made an effort at every
opportunity to hurt us, so perhaps they were…I don’t know.
CP: A number of the detainees went on hunger strike for long periods of time…
TH: Dear God. That was a horrible nightmare…
was going to ask: did you feel that force-feeding was an appropriate
response to their protest? Was it humanely carried out? Maybe you can
give as many details about that whole period, or periods
Use of force-feeding didn’t occur when I was there; if a detainee
didn’t want to eat, it wasn’t an issue- they weren’t served, they
weren’t served food, it wasn’t a problem. They’d say they were on
hunger strike, and it would be noted in the computer, and as the result
of such we wouldn’t serve them food. So actually it would get to the
point where some detainees would have to be taken out of the block,
would have to be in the hospital, would have to be given food, and
under the circumstances I’d be willing to assume it was probably Ensure
that they were given--it’s like a formula, a shake. They probably gave
out on any given block, say [of] at least a twenty four-person block,
probably at least 17 of the detainees were having Ensure. I have no
idea on how many countless millions of dollars the US
government has spent on Ensure for the detainees. But nonetheless I
never saw force-feeding; I never saw anything of that practice. When
it got to a point where the detainees’ health was in serious jeopardy,
the medics would take care of it--and being that they were naval, they
usually had a lot more tact, great deal of politeness, a sense of care
to what they were doing--because they were working in the medical
profession as opposed to the correctional profession.
During your time in Guantanamo, did you form any kind of relationship
with any of the men you were guarding? Which detainees stood out?
TH: A good number of them… Detainee 590; ‘the General’, as we called him. There
were rumors for most of the detainees as to how they received the nicknames they had. We’d talk for hours and hours--we’d talk about books,
we’d talk about music, we’d talk about philosophy, we would talk about
religion…More often than not when I got the night shift I would
generally stay up and talk with him throughout the night--we’d talk
about the history of this war, what’s been going on, what’s taking
place in the Middle East for the last two hundred, three hundred, four
hundred years. And when you boil it down, fortunately he didn’t have
anything bad to say about the US
other than its most recent history. Apparently the United Kingdom and
France are primarily to blame for what’s going on in the Middle East--colonization and ‘culturalization’ of this continent for the purpose of
money has created a lot of the issues we now face; along with the US
feeling it can bear the role as the police officer of the world…Yeah,
there were a good number of them. 590 stayed up one night and--we’d
been talking about Islam for quite a while--I’d been studying Islam for
quite a while at this point, and one night he stayed up with me and he
transliterated how to say in English the declaration of faith, and
watched me as I said it, and whatnot. So I would say the first time I
declared my faith in Islam was probably in Guantanamo--was probably that night, with him.
CP: By Ahmed Errachidi?
TH: I believe so, yes. It was not common to know detainees on a first name basis.
was referred to as ‘the General’. There was another man who was
referred to as ‘the Professor’- his name was Shaker Aamer…
They need to let him go…with the hunger strike and everything that’s
going on with him, and how he lost 100lbs- he’s lost 100lbs since he
started his hunger strike, as opposed to when I left. He has to be
dangerously unhealthy at this point--dangerously. The track record
that they have for him--he leaves in 1998, goes to Pakistan, goes to
Afghanistan, gets picked up in 2002, gets to Guantanamo Bay, and
they’re weighing him at 260lbs…I’m sorry, but I don’t believe how that
Taliban fighters of Al Qaeda are eating that well--I don’t believe they
have food that good, wherever they may be. I very much doubt it.
CP: And did you have any interaction with Shaker?
Plenty--he’s a wonderful character--unbelievably intelligent, very
polite, very well-mannered, great etiquette. He was a very rational
individual--if there was something he didn’t agree with, that he
objected to, he’d explain it. He’d be very polite--no matter whom the
guard was he was working with--whether it was a very ignorant uncaring
American with no recognition for his situation, or me, or Chris
perhaps--he was always a very polite individual, and would explain
whatever was going on in terms that anyone would be able to
understand. He was a wonderful person--I absolutely enjoyed spending
time with him.
I spent two days
in the hospital with David Hicks while he was having an operation down
there, and that was interesting--I got to hear his entire life story,
and his situation and whatnot. He didn’t go into entirely too much
detail--he did tell me he was in Afghanistan and he was fighting, but not against American and Coalition forces--he was referring to Afghanistan fighting off Russia.
He was a wonderful character as well--I enjoyed speaking with him. I
spent a good time talking to the Tipton trio; they were often on the
isolation blocks, which were on Camp One, which was the maximum
security camp if I remember correctly--excluding Camp Five, excluding
the new facility that was built in 2006--it was new at that point in
time--when I was leaving they were starting construction on it. Camp 5
was where a good deal of the 'dangerous detainees' that we had
knowledge of. I know there were other camps there, there were plenty
of other camps there--there has to be; at night you can see lights that
are in the mountains that are on--you know that there are other camps.
I’m sure there are other facilities…
spoke a little about the torture and abuse before, but a question that
follows on from that: who’s responsible for the abuses at Guantanamo? Is it just the actions of low-level soldiers (like they said took place in Abu Ghraib)? Or is this coming from higher up?
I’d say more often than not--ninety percent of the circumstances--it’s
just low-level soldiers; lack of knowledge, lack of empathy--individuals who don’t know anything about Islam, don’t know anything
about the Middle East, don’t know anything about the war--don’t have
any feelings or knowledge about it. They live in their small little
American bubble in the way life’s “supposed” to be--apple pie,
Budweiser, Marlboro Reds; let’s get drunk on the floor and populate the
world with our dumb children. That’s more often than not, the
individuals that have been doing that. It was a rarity that any
physical violence would occur in regards to interrogation.
Interrogations were, more often than not, mental or environmental
abuse--not a physical abuse. The closest thing I can think of that was
similar to physical abuse during interrogation was a point in which a
female interrogator had a blood capsule in her pants that she used to
simulate menstrual blood. Physical abuse primarily
happened just from lower guards. And sadly, a lot of it just has to do
with lack of intelligence--if they put just a little more effort into
screening individuals before they allow us to join the military, and
perhaps educating them in the military, (then) such things wouldn’t
you aware of any of the orders that were issued by Donald Rumsfeld
regarding the use of interrogation techniques? These were considered
tantamount to torture by international legal scholars--they consider a
number of measures that were put forward by Donald Rumsfeld
(specifically for the interrogation of detainees in Guantanamo) to be
tantamount to torture. Were you aware of these policies that were
coming in from there?
TH: I have some knowledge of it, and the primary reason behind that (granted that this was just hearsay), was due to the fact that Guantanamo wasn’t US soil. As a result of it [not] being US soil, we weren’t responsible for upholding the Geneva
conventions, so that’s why the facility has been utilized in the way
that it’s been utilized; it basically gives us free reign to do as we
please. Granted, it’s a horrible thing--it’s a horrible situation and
whatnot, but that was the general consensus and attitude as to why it
was how it was happening…I had very little political awareness at that
point--absolutely no respect for President Bush--that guy was just an
unbelievable moron. I don’t know how he was elected twice, but that
really says a lot about the US’s general population.
You’re obviously a critic of Guantanamo--not only now, but while you
were there as well. Were there others who felt the same way about the
base as you, or did you feel as if you were alone?
I was very much made to feel that I was alone. A good number of
individuals that I was [with] down there in my company were either resorting
to alcohol and ping-pong and bowling and sports all night, or looking
at porn, or whatever they were doing; as opposed to any type of saying
or trying to improve themselves, or trying to attach some intelligence
and further knowledge upon the matter. My interest in wanting to know
detainees, trying to know their stories and what’s going on. My
interest in Islam and my interest in wanting to know Arabic, at that
point it raised quite a few eyebrows at first.
have a few issues with being told to I have to hate somebody--if I have
to hate somebody, then there should be some great reasons as to why,
and if you don’t give me a reason, then I [am] not going to--it doesn’t
make sense, there’s no logic there. And so many times we would watch
this propaganda--these videos that the army had created about the evil
terrorists, the evil 9/11, the evil Muslims--and it’s ridiculous. And
not only that--they’d play it to the worst music; some of the most
horrible American music ever--and they’d put that to footage of some
bombings and killing and all this other stuff. I didn’t get it; it was
ridiculous to me. So I looked at it as an opportunity to meet
individuals from thirty some-odd countries, and perceive thirty
some-odd different perspectives of the world and ways of life--why not
take advantage of this and use it to further myself? And gain
knowledge in fact--knowledge that I might not be able to gain again.
I started talking to detainees, immediately I started befriending
detainees, and immediately I started studying the Qur’an and studying
Arabic, and yearning to know as much as I could about the history
behind the war--not so much the 2001 point of the war starting, or
‘Papa Bush’s War’, but really, two hundred years ago--what has caused
this war; why it is where it is now. And that created a sense of
isolation in a way, because nobody else really had an interest in that,
nobody wanted to know about that--they just wanted to do their job and
get drunk, and that was their day--do their job and get drunk.
CP: So how did you learn?
Initially it started off as curiosity and wanting to learn, but it
became some very regimented studies--I would study every day at least
an hour--I’d spend time on the internet talking in chat rooms--that’s
when I first learned about Cageprisoners. As a matter of fact, when I
was in Guantanamo, I was actually surprised that you had photos of
individuals’ bracelets, and photos that were taken of them (in
Guantanamo), of copies of letters…how you potentially got copies of
these things, it astonished me. Somebody on the inside had evidently
not been working for us. So words start becoming theories and thoughts,
expressions and feelings and started to create a sense of exile--a
number of individuals didn’t want to talk with me, I found I was
getting put on particular blocks, I was being put in certain jobs that
would prevent me from having any time to sit and talk with detainees.
I was never working night shifts--I was only working day shifts, and it
was hopeless--there was a lot to do during the day shifts, and a lot to
do during the evening shifts.
came to the point that a few squad leaders, a few sergeants within the
platoon, decided that they were going to take me out back of one the
houses that we were living in, and I suppose there was a ‘hazing’ of a
college fraternity--basically they tried to beat some sense into me;
that what I was doing was wrong and I was becoming a traitor, that I
needed to put myself in check and understand it. And I suppose saying,
‘that’s not really my prerogative’, wasn’t the best of answers, because
that pretty much sealed my fate for my entire time left in Guantanamo.
That place was
Hell--I’m not entirely sure who it was Hell for more so--a sympathetic
guard, a knowledgeable guard, or the detainees. I mean that, due to
the sense that some of the detainees knew that if they were in a
detention facility in their home country, it would be far worse--some
of them were happy to be there. I don’t mean that to say it’s a good
place--I do that to convey the knowledge that there were far worse
facilities they could have been in, and have had worse things happen.
Nonetheless, it was certainly difficult to be a guard who cared, or had
care or sympathy. It was quite a difficult experience to get through.
CP: Guantanamo’s probably the most infamous prison in the world. How do you feel Guantanamo’s impacted the world, in terms of being a symbol of detention?
I feel that if you’re anywhere else in the world and you see a bunch of
Americans holding up a sign that says G-I-T-M-O, you’d probably get to
see how bad we are at teaching spelling, or the whole educational
system is here, being that it is G-T-M-O…sorry, I have
some biased opinions towards the US and US citizens…Yeah, it probably
is, and I really don’t understand how it’s gained the celebrity status
that it has, so to say.
minimal knowledge of a lot of the events that have transpired down
there; minimal knowledge of a lot of the interrogation tactics that
have taken place and the sad fact is that the US
government has only kept up of nineteen individuals that they can hold
anything on. Out of that, five of them they have concrete evidence on--out of 774, it just goes to show that this is some excuse put forth by
the Bush administration to put forth something to appease the American
people and make them feel safe at night--when in fact there was no
threat, there was no threat to begin with. Only a fool would think
that 9/11 would happen without any knowledge of the US--it’s a ridiculous idea. But I honestly don’t know how it’s gained the status that it has, it’s ridiculous.
some ways you’re criticizing the practices of your country; do you
think in some way, that you’re being disloyal to America?
TH: Do I think I’m being disloyal to America,
or disloyal to the American lawmakers (the government), because those
are two distinctly different questions. Being disloyal to America, no--it is my job as a citizen of this country to speak the truth, to
exhibit my freedom of speech, my freedom of choice, etcetera--that’s
my right…evidently why I served for what I’ve served for. I feel that
if something like that is going on--if all those wrongdoings are being
done on our part, then something needs to be said about that. I was
reading a news article on CNN today as a matter of fact that, evidently
detainees who are being released are resorting to terrorism against the
Again, pardon of my French, ‘no s***, what did you think was going to
happen?’ I mean, put innocent people in a caged facility and treat
them horribly, then wonder if they’re going to resent America
afterwards--they’re going to harbor some feelings of hatred and
animosity--it’s ridiculous; you’d had to have known it would happen. I
don’t understand it, it’s ridiculous to me. But disloyal to America,
no; disloyal to American politicians, lawmakers--yes. But they’re
disloyal to us as well- I don’t see any wrongdoing…it’s sort of how it
goes--they’re liars, they’re crooks, they’re well dressed thieves.
Bringing in a more recent point, Barrack Hussein Obama has promised to
close Guantanamo within a year--do you feel that this is a reasonable
prospect, and are you hopeful that there’ll be a reasonable change
under his presidency?
I’ll tell you, I was very afraid…very afraid and hesitant at first with
the idea of Obama becoming president; the rest of the world, when it
comes to politics and economics, it’s used to having a crooked white
Christian liar for its face, as president. And when you put an
intelligent, honest black American up in the front, obviously there’s
going to be some challenges--obviously there’s going to be countries
that are going to see how far they can push buttons, how much they can
get away with. And that was something that I was very apprehensive
his inaugural speech, he’s certainly written a great deal of checks
that I hope he’s capable of cashing--he’s done a good number of things
in just a few days to undo the eight catastrophic years of American
history that President Bush was. And if he lives up to all his
potential, he will certainly be an amazing individual--he’ll certainly
be a better turning point for the world. When it comes to Guantanamo,
that’s great--I think it should be closed. I think it should be
closed, and the detainees who are left there should be free, with the
exception of the very few that they happen to believe they have
evidence on. And if they do in fact have evidence, then great; try
them--do what should be done. But with the rest of them, how do you
make up for stealing seven years of someone’s life? There’s nothing
you can do to give that time back- it’s just gone. I think it’s
probably my biggest quarrel with Guantanamo Bay--it’s that these people are being forcefully held and probably just sold
out, and for what? How are we going to fix that; how are we going to
make things better; how are we going to restore those lives? There’s
nothing you can do--no reparations are going to make up for it, and
it’s just an awful situation.
you really think there’s going to be that much change in Obama, simply
because only yesterday he ordered drone attacks in Pakistan
that killed a number of innocent civilians. So, the message being sent
is that militarily, the policies are a continuation from the Bush
I think that the biggest issues with the war that a lot of people get
caught up on and very much fixed on the idea of innocent civilians,
innocent casualties. Unfortunately, that’s a fact of war--there’s
always going to be innocent civilian casualties, and with the press and
the internet and all of this knowledge being available as readily as it
is (on the fingertips of anybody), I would be willing to assume…if I
were a leader of an organization or a group who was trying to attack
somebody else, I would definitely hide my soldiers and embed them with
civilians. When you can show civilians killed, it creates sympathy and
it creates a tragedy and it creates more people who feel for your
cause. So that’s going to continue to happen, that’s always going to
continue to happen.
As for the
actions he’s done, I’m hoping he has some justifiable means as
to…hopefully it results in something better. I do think that he’s
going to bring a great deal of stability to the world--I do think he’s
going to help create a significant difference in the world--not just in
the US and our political affairs, but he’s certainly going to create a
difference overall. Getting the US out of the Middle East is the first
thing that needs to occur; how the US can stop policing the world is
the second thing that needs to occur--that’s not our job, that’s not
why we’re here. To usher democracy and the greatness of democracy,
then just lead by example--why do we need to enforce it? How’s that
any different from a world dictatorship so to say?
CP: You’re obviously away from Guantanamo
now, and you’re free of it, and there have been a number of men who’ve
been released. What would you say to detainees who were released
without being charged with any crime if ever you were to meet them?
That’s a good one. Tarek (Dergoul), I don’t know if I’m pronouncing it
correctly, was actually the first detainee to get in touch with me, and
all of these events transpired within about two weeks of each other--it
was really a quite interesting two weeks for me. He sent me an email
that stated ‘I forgive you’ as the subject line, and it was just
interesting to me to think that he not necessarily assumed, but the
thought that I was trying to contact people who were detainees to
apologize. An apology is not going to make up anything. I’d love to
see the point in me to apologize--I was unbelievably hospitable and
nice, and I tried to give care while I was down there. I hope I made a
difference in their lives--some little bit of brightness in their
But if anything,
all I have to really say to them is ‘thank you’--for having the courage
and strength to persevere and not give in to any type of evil or
wrongdoing. Thank you for sticking to Islam and leaving it as pure as
it should be, and just loving and caring and forgiving. And that’s
pretty much all I can think of; they gave me far more than I could ever
possibly think of--it was a life-changing experience. I’m both deeply
grateful and deeply saddened to have been a part of Guantanamo Bay
CP: How do you feel about the perception of Muslims in the US?
And I’m kind of asking this question outside of your own identity as a
Muslim, so maybe before you became a Muslim, so what do you feel about
the perception of Muslims in the United States?
TH: 'What’s a Muslim?' would be my first response. Followed by, those terrible dirt farmers are all evil. That would be the view in Christian America, there isn’t anything else here. Perhaps you own a diamond business, or you’re in politics, then maybe you’re Jewish; otherwise there is only Christianity here.
One of the
difficult facts of coping with Islam and that transition, as a matter
of fact, is music--I own probably close to six hundred CD’s that I’ve
purchased. A good $4000 in keyboard equipment, a bass guitar, and I
love music. It’s a wonderful, phenomenal thing. And to give up
music...that’s quite a challenge. I know I’m not the only one--I’ve
spoken with another detainee as well who gave up music, and he told me
about how it was a very emotionally distraught situation for him, but
I’m straying off topic...
Yeah, I’ve heard that from a lot of people I know who converted to
Islam say the same thing--that giving up drinking and pork was easy--it’s just music was the difficult part. I’m not just talking about
Muslims who live in the US, but what is the perception of US citizens to Muslims around the world full stop?
Again, I was saying it’s really Christian America- you don’t learn
anything else about the world. When you’re going through high school,
through middle school, through elementary school... I always thought
there was a good comparison to that and many conspiracy theories that I
won’t bother with, but our history of World War 2... my sophomore year
of high school, I went to an A+ high school in Arizona (supposedly one
of the better educational institutions of public high schools)... what
did that evolve to? ‘Hitler was bad; Hitler killed six million Jews.
The end.’ OK, that’s maybe the abridged version--perhaps the other
seven million people he killed that weren’t Jewish--that were mainly
gay, or crippled, or another ethnicity or color or another creed--do
they not matter? Did they not exist? We don’t care--you don’t hear
anything about them. You don’t hear anything about the Armenian
Genocide; you don’t hear anything about Islam. It’s just not common.
The Ottoman Empire? What’s the Ottoman Empire? That’s crazy; you would never think to ask that, because they never teach that.
We don’t learn about Islam in school, we don’t learn about other thoughts or schools of belief--it’s just Christianity, Catholicism, and more obviously all the other different sects--it’s Presbyterianism and Protestants and Latter Day Saints and so forth. A whole bunch of people just take whatever they want out of a faith and make it their own, as opposed to following it as it’s given to them. I literally knew nothing of Islam prior to going to Guantanamo Bay--literally nothing. And I’m not trying to come across as pompous or arrogant, but I’d like to think of myself as an intelligent individual, and it’s embarrassing to say I knew nothing of Islam--here’s a quarter of the world’s population and I don’t know anything about them!
leads me on quite nicely to my next question, which is: you have
yourself quite recently converted to Islam--can you tell us the story,
in as much detail as you like, about how this took place, and really
the whole story up until now?
TH: Considering how much gets put in print, I’ve always felt a lot more comfortable in the environment of the Middle East. I had a holiday in Turkey--it was wonderful; I absolutely loved it. It was so much fun being in civilian clothes and walking around in Turkey
and just talking with people and shopping, going in the markets and
seeing this way of life. When it comes to seeing the faith, it’s nice
to see that there’s a faith out there that isn’t ridiculous; it’s nice
to see a faith out there that isn’t hypocritical--it simply is what it
is. And it’s amazing to see the discipline of twenty thousand
individuals to drop at the same time and pray in such unison. It’s
just such discipline, such structure and order--it’s amazing.
My later teen
years, probably about fifteen to nineteen, I spent a good deal of time
working for an individual--Tahir. Tahir was his name, but we just
called him ‘Tom’. ‘Tom’ was from Iraq,
and we had another individual who worked with us in the store; I can’t
think of a name off-hand... I was going to say William, but it wasn’t;
he was a Syrian. Tom owned a Mediterranean Cafe, and I
spent all kinds of times there, and I loved being around there--and I’d
go to their house for Christmas, I’d go to their house for holiday; I’d
spend holidays with them. Of course I had my own family that I could
spend holiday time with, but it was much more fun to spend time around
them--I felt much more comfortable.
when I wanted to start learning Arabic, probably early sixteen when it
kind of became something I wanted to do. I realized at that point in
time, still having a very capitalistic mind frame and
possession-orientated mind, that learning Arabic would be a great way
to make a great deal of money very quickly with a job that requires
minimal work--with a job in an oil company. So Arabic has always been
something that’s been a thought of mine; I’ve had an unbelievable
fascination with structure and order for as long as I can remember--structure, order and discipline are three of my favorite words in
history. I just love them--they’re just phenomenal words. With that
being said, Islam is a very disciplined, regimented faith and it
requires a great deal of effort, a great deal of conviction and feeling
must be put into it, and it’s very structured and organized religion.
And pardon me for saying religion--it’s a way of life--that was
probably one of the biggest things that drew me in. That, and general
comfort with the Middle East, being around Middle Eastern individuals,
being fascinated by Middle Eastern lifestyle and music--everything that
encompasses the Middle East. I’ve always found the Middle East far
more beautiful than anything the United States has to offer, or Christianity... t just didn’t make sense to me.
When I started
reading the Qur’an it was in fact said to me that you should seek
Hadeeth and read Hadeeth--read about the way of the Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him), and try and live your life like him. And I did
that--I got a copy of Hadeeth, as well as a number of other books--about
seven books, as a set. And it was great knowledge--it was great to see
a faith that was set up the way it is, and... I’m kind of running out of
words here. It didn’t necessarily happen immediately--I know my
comfort with Islam hit very quickly after getting to Guantanamo Bay,
I knew that I was very much comfortable with Islam. There’s nobody
underground--who would I give this to? I knew I was comfortable with
Islam; I didn’t have an issue with it--I’m actually pulling up to the
Mosque right now.
I came back from Guantanamo
and went back to the army, and the company was set up differently, it
was restructured, I was around different individuals. The whole
‘hazing’ exile in my platoon kind of dissipated, and eventually I
became accepted again. And I turned 21 and drinking--quite a lot as a
matter of fact, I had quite a horrible alcohol problem for a number of
years. And that, along with being reunited with my wife and having my
civil liberties (so to say) again, Islam was kind of put on the side
unfortunately, and I kind of wish I had those years to make up for the
knowledge... but nonetheless it was put on the side, and I went back to
being my old self--being a very angry, hateful, spiteful individual,
and listening to some of the more negative music (I don’t need to
reference any of the artists), negative movies, negative video games--negativity. And it consumed a good part of my life--it consumed a good
number of years.
From the point in time that I turned 21, which was shortly after getting back from Guantanamo,
until just about the beginning of this year (2009), I really didn’t
have much to do with Islam. I still read on it; study on occasion, I
would still feel something inside of me that I knew it was the right
path; it was the right way to live life. And occasionally when
conversations of faith would come up with a few of the individuals that
I have an open heart with and that I cared about, until the time came
when Islam would strike me, and that would be the faith I would adopt;
that I felt comfortable with. But it was put on the side for many
years, it was shelved.
It was kind of
at the beginning of this year, I made a commitment to myself that I
would stop drinking and stop smoking--I was going to try and be a
better Muslim, try and practice Islam more and be a good person--change
my life, change the negativity of my surroundings and get this virus,
this disease--continual perpetuation of American consumerism and being
what TV tells you to be and don’t think and live in a little bottle--bye, bye, bye. I just wanted to get out of my life--I wanted to get
out of this country and live and really feel and be human, and have
emotion. And as I mentioned, there’s a lot of difficult changes that
have come out of that, but with each day that goes by, a new door
opens, and something more beautiful is there than I ever realized. I’m
starting to see situations in a way I would never see them; starting to
feel towards matters and subjects that I would never see it.
Let me give you
an example so you can kind of understand yourself--once I had a
conversation with an individual who knows how to make me very angry--very quickly and effectively, and once I realized how angry I was, it
made me physically nauseous, and I had never been the type of person to
be bothered by my anger. I thrived on my anger and my hatred and my
wrongdoing and, I suppose, evil nature, for years. And to be nauseated
by my feelings of anger, it was just a nauseating experience, and it
led me to think that this must be the right thing to do, when being
angry makes me feel sick, it has to be right.
CP: JazakAllah khair (may God reward you with good); we really appreciate your honesty.
CP: Just maybe a penultimate question: do you feel now that you live in a different world now that you’re a Muslim?
Very much so, very much so. As I’ve mentioned that, after seeing
situations and seeing things and seeing; I go to my local mosque every
Sunday for an ‘Introduction to Islam’ class--just to refresh myself on
the basics, as well as to learn new things. And there was this little
girl who was in the class, who was with her mom; a little girl who was
maybe two or three, and she was crying and playing with things, and
fiddling around and whatnot, and I think how my old self would have
reacted in such a situation; I would have been angered; it would have
been something that was a nuisance to me. I looked at her and she just
had this adorable smile, and I looked back and smiled at her and felt
peaceful, content about it, and something like that wouldn’t have
happened... never, ever used to happen.
Thank you for giving us so much of your time. I’d like to end by
asking you if there’s anything you’d like to share with our readership.
TH: Yeah, the most powerful tool that we have that is available to every human being is education, and with education you’re going to further yourself; you’re going to better yourself, you’re going to come with a better understanding of the world around you, and it will help you become very peaceful; relieve you of the discontent. It’s a chance you have to take, and you take that chance and you reach that peacefulness... it’s unbelievably rewarding--it’s worth all of the effort. Go forth for knowledge and don’t believe what the TV tells you; go forth and put the knowledge and effort to learn.
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