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Al-Qaeda Family: Going to Guantanamo

CBC News Online
March 4, 2004


During the months Abdurahman was in the CIA safe house in Kabul, suspected al-Qaeda prisoners were being rounded up all over Afghanistan. Hundreds of the prisoners were put on planes and flown to Cuba to the infamous Camp X-ray at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.

The world could see that the prisoners were being treated harshly. Abdurahman didn't know any of that when the CIA proposed a new plan to him. They would plant him as one of their spies in the prison population and he would funnel information to them. He says the plan was explained to him by his favourite CIA agent.

"She said, 'Well, you'll go to Cuba. You'll be working for U.S. there, talking to other detainees and telling us what they tell you.' I said, 'How long is it going to be?' She told me it would probably be from three to six months. I said, well, you know, faster. So I said okay."

Abdurahman says he was told that he would have to be treated like any other prisoner on the way to Guantanamo to avoid suspicion. He was taken to the Bagram airbase near Kabul where the Americans had built a processing center for suspected al-Qaeda captives. There he began what he calls the longest and most painful ordeal of his life. He says he had no idea what he was getting into.

"They took off my clothes and everything. And they started taking pictures of me. Pictures, of my face and then pictures of my private parts, like my back, you know, my penis, taking pictures of every part of my body.

"They check your, your, you know, your anus. They put their fingers inside to check it out? All of that is a humiliation to any person. They put me in the orange suit and then they put me on the ground: hands, legs, everything cuffed and my face covered. I was kept on the ground, on the concrete with nothing but that orange suit for twenty-four hours.

"I stayed in Baghram for ten days and then they took us, they showered us, they put us in new orange suits. The cuffed us up - hands, legs - to the stomach and they put us in a room. They had us sit cross-legged on our ass for eight to nine hours.

"You could not move. You could not move your back, so you couldn't bend or straighten out. If you moved they'd hit you or they'd push you. After that, they took us to the plane. They tied us up in the plane, cuffed us up and everything in the plane."

The trip to Cuba would last more than 15 hours. By the time the aircraft landed, Abdurahman says he was a broken man.

"There was points, you know, in my heart, I just wished to God that one of these MPs would go crazy and then shoot me. Just get up and shoot me. I was so depressed. I was so sick of anything. It was the only time in my life that I really wished for a bullet."

Like all other prisoners Abdurahman spent his first month in Guantanamo in complete isolation. He was occasionally told by his jailers that they knew he was on a mission, that they had spoken to his CIA contact in Kabul. It was barely enough to restore his hope.

"For three months I was in general population," Abduraham [sic] said. "Their hope was when they take me to Cuba they could put me next to anyone that was stubborn and that wouldn't talk and I would talk him into it. Well, it's not that easy - lots of people won't talk to anyone because everybody in Cuba is scared of the person next to him. I couldn't do a lot for them."

By late 2002, Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo had been replaced by the newly constructed Camp Delta, which was designed to be more comfortable and secure. No cameras could see the prisoners inside. The U.S. Army conducted public relations tours to exhibit the cells. Each prisoner was provided with a Koran and a Turkish toilet.

The commandant of the Guantanamo prison was Major General Geoffrey Miller of the U.S. Southern Command. According to Abdurahman, the prisoners didn't like him.

"The general once came by in the block and everybody started spitting at him and mixing one and two in a cup and throwing it at him. Then he left and came back and started shouting and saying 'I'm going to put you all in isolation.' They put three, four people in isolation and then he left and never came back to that block again."

Suicide attempts by the prisoners have become a common occurrence in Guantanamo. Abdurahman says that he once came close to that himself. Eventually he demanded to be removed from the prison population.

"After three months of being in general population, I just couldn't take it any more. I said 'you have to move me out of here now.'"

Abdurahman says in early 2003, the CIA realized its plan for him in Guantanamo was not working out very well. They agreed to remove him from the prison population and transfer him to more luxurious quarters.

"Normal rooms split to half. Half of it is a bedroom and a bathroom and then in the other half is a living room and a kitchen and TV," he recalled. "I was kept in this room for five months. During the period they had people [like] psychiatrists come to see me, doctors, others, a lot of people from the CIA."

Abdurahman says once he was released from the detention area, the CIA and military people he dealt with in Guantanamo were very nice to him. He says they even took him down to the beach one day, where no other inmate was ever allowed, for a swim and a barbecue.

He told them the vast majority of the inmates in Guantanamo didn't belong there, that it was a huge mistake for the U.S. military to offer large cash rewards for the capture of al-Qaeda suspects when they first arrived in Afghanistan.

"There's 10 per cent of them that should be kept there and 10 per cent of them who might go back to being al-Qaeda [if they had the chance]. But only 10 per cent of the people there are really dangerous. The rest are people that don't have anything to do with it, don't even understand what they're doing here.

"I remember, two actually. One was brought by his own son who took $5,000 for him. The second was a drug user, a person not worried about being in jail, not worried about what's going to happen to his family, not worried about what he's going to get. All he's worried about every time the MPs come around is asking them for some hashish, for marijuana. He doesn't even know what he's doing here. Truly a drug addict, not al-Qaeda at all."

Abdurahman says he spent five months in his Guantanamo guest quarters near the prison. He says the CIA considered several international destinations to gather information about Islamic radicals. Then the focus moved to al-Qaeda activity in Iraq and Bosnia. Last September, he says the CIA provided him with a training course in undercover work, a course given by one of the most experienced trainers in the CIA.

"His name was [Agent D]. He was a very senior trainer. He lived in Morocco and Algeria, so he spoke Arabic. He liked Arab culture. We started training with the normal things, mostly how to do a dead drop or how to check out a restaurant or a location to meet someone."

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