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No law followed at Guantanamo Bay prison: Abdul Salam Zaeef

By Hasan Haqyar
Pajhwok Afghan News
September 14, 2006

KABUL, September 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Former Taliban ambassador to Islamabad Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef has alleged no law is followed at the US naval detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, where has spent four years in captivity.

Palpably bitter over his arrest and subsequent handover to the US by Pakistan, the former diplomat told Pajhwok Afghan News of frequent and prolonged hunger strikes by inmates at the notorious prison and his travails in detention.

Before taking up his ambassadorial assignment in Islamabad, Mullah Zaeef had held senior positions in the ministries of defence and mines and industries and transport during the Taliban regime, ousted from power in 2001 by the US and the Northern Alliance.

He recalled after Pakistan derecognized the Taliban regime in 2001, he wrote an official letter to the foreign ministry in Islamabad regarding his stay in the host country. The ministry responded he could live there. With his diplomatic visa still valid, he says he was detained and yielded up to Americans.

"One night unidentified men - introducing themselves as Pakistani intelligence operatives - came to my house and told me US officials wanted to interrogate me. They took me to Peshawar, where they handed me over to Americans - blindfolded and hands tied behind my back - at the airport," Zaeef claimed.

About the recent hunger strike of almost all the Guantanamo Bay inmates, the diplomat revealed the protest started on August 7 and continued till his release. The protested pressed for two things.

"One, they wanted to be treated under the Geneva Convention - especially stressing implementation of the articles which say as long as detainees are innocent till convicted," he explained.

"Two, they demanded an improvement in the situation at the Fifth Camp, where detainees were kept locked in closed cells for 17 months at a stretch. All inmates are suffering from psychological disorders," Zaeef added.

He described the Fifth Camp's cells as suffocating, with no proper ventilation. The prisoners were denied access to books, pens and notebooks, Zaeef said, adding the oppression enraged the inmates.

"Another article of the Geneva Convention says nobody should be held for more than a month in detention without charges. This period is allowed only for investigations. But the Fifth Camp's prisoners were kept for 17 months in hard conditions and that sparked the hunger strike."

Asked if detainees were tortured during questioning, Zaeef replied the attitude of the jailers was harsh at the beginning but improved gradually. However, he said he himself was never beaten up or tortured.

Regarding the interrogation process and the procedure for the release or trial of detainees, Zaeef said the Bush administration had set up two bodies for the purpose, but both operated illegally while seeking to work according to US military strategy.

"The US set up the Enemy Combatant Status Tribunal Review, which allows the detainees' description as enemy combatants and their indefinite detention without charge-framing. This body acquitted 10 prisoners.

"Later, they established the Administration Review Board to interrogate the detainees and decide on the release of those not threatening American interests. This commission has so far produced no practical result."

Answering another query, the 37-year-old said: "There was no law, US or international, but few inmates were freed by the board." Zaeef attributed his release to efforts from "some friends."

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