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For Guantanamo survivor, the worst is not over

The Express Tribune
by Taha Siddiqui
September 11, 2011

LAHORE: “The cell I was in had metal hooks on the ceiling. I took my bed sheet and pulled it through one of them, and tried to commit suicide, but failed,” says Saad Iqbal, a former detainee of Guantanamo Bay, numbered 743, who was released in 2008 after all charges against him were dropped.

“The prison staff tortured me day and night, not just physically but also mentally. They would ridicule Islam all the time. I could not tolerate it any longer so I decided to end my life,” he says he drags his feet to sit down, pain manifested on his face.

Six feet deep, alive

Hafiz Qari Saad Iqbal Madni is an Islamic scholar and taught at a university in Lahore. He was on an academic trip to Indonesia, in January 2002, when his troubles began.

Iqbal was arrested by the local police who did not speak to him and just said that the Americans wanted him. “When I asked for a lawyer or access to the Pakistan embassy, they refused.”

He claims that the Indonesian authorities did not show his arrest on paper there, and instead, stamped his passport as a regular passenger while he was put on a special plane to Egypt.

His passport, returned to him by the US Embassy in Islamabad, proves that he exited Indonesia as a passenger. Once in Egypt, he was interrogated by American and Egyptian officials.

“They kept me in an underground cell, smaller than a grave. I could not sit or lie down properly in it. During my interrogations, they gave me electric shocks and kept asking if I knew anything about Osama Bin Laden and 9/11,” says Iqbal.

He says he insisted he knew nothing beyond what he learnt from the media but they kept torturing him.

After almost three months in Egypt, he was transferred to Afghanistan and spent almost a year at the Bagram Airbase in solitary confinement.

In March 2003, he was shifted to Guantanamo Bay where he would spend the next five years.

Doctors that didn’t care

“During my first six months, they did not let me sleep. I was on the ‘frequent flyer’ status and they kept shifting me from one cell to the next,” he said.

“The only medical treatment I received was constant painkillers which I was addicted to until quite recently,” says Iqbal, who now sees a psychologist because of his addiction and depression.

The doctors who came to see him at Guantanamo insisted that he was a terrorist, he says.

“How can a savior say this? They said to me that they do not care if I die.”

He adds that he was not only one that tried to commit suicide; there were several others, four of whom succeeded.

“The white guards were the worst. There were blacks and Hispanics too but they did not treat us with as much contempt as the white guards did,” he added.

Worst isn’t over yet

Despite seven years of his life behind bars in a foreign jail, Iqbal says the worst is not over.

“After the Americans exonerated me, the Pakistani authorities do not let me live in peace.” Official documents confirm that he is still on the watch list of Punjab Police.

“They have told me that if I talk to the press, I can get into trouble. But I want the truth out.”

He added that the police routinely pick him up and harass him and he cannot find a job nor do business because of being on the list.

According to a recent report by Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research (SHLCPR), the current population of Guantanamo Bay is 172 detainees. SHLCPR also states that by November 2006, 45% of all detainees ever held at Guantanamo Bay were released from the prison.

According to them, classified evidence revealed by US government states that more than 55% of those ever detained at Guantanamo were never alleged to have committed hostile acts against the US or coalition forces; 60% of all detainees were merely associated with the al Qaeda or the Taliban and no more than 8% of those were accused of being fighters.

For Iqbal, the war on terror is an unjust war.

“The Americans, who talk about justice and peace, have brought so much misery to this region,” he says.

“But our government is to be equally blamed for following the American policy,” he adds.

“All I ask is for an apology that whatever happened with me was wrong. But no one wants to say it. Even after 10 years, they think they are right.”

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