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Selections from Hier spricht Guantánamo, by Roger Willemsen

These are selections from the interview of Mr. Khalid Mahmoud al-Asmr that appeared in Hier spricht Guantánamo: Interviews mit Ex-Häftlingen (a collection of five interviews with former Guantánamo prisoners published in 2006 by Zweitausendeins Verlag, Frankfurt am Main). The present interview was carried out a few months after Mr. al-Asmr's release from Guantánamo. The interviewer was Roger Willemsen. Mr. al-Asmr's internment serial number was 589. This interview of Mr. al-Asmr was translated into English on behalf of CHSRA by Harriet Jernigan.

Were you allowed to inform your family about what had happened? No. My family first heard something about me nine months after my arrest. After seven days, the Pakistani police came and told the Libyan that was still arrested, that his arrest was ended and he should return to Libya. They lied to him and delivered him to the Americans. I later saw him at the camp in Kandahar. Two days later, they did the same to me. They came and said they were taking me to the airport so that I could fly to Jordan. They said I was clean and they had nothing on me. Afterwards they took me to another jail, where six other detainees were waiting. Then we were all bound and blindfolded and transported to a military airport. There we sat on stools and waited for a while. When we wanted to pray, they took the ties and blindfolds off us, and we could see that it was a military airport. After prayer we were bound and blindfolded again. Shortly thereafter other people came, and they spoke English with American accents. They talked for about half an hour with the Pakistanis. They laughed the entire time and were in a good mood. I heard it myself. There was a Moroccan with us, and he spoke English very well because he’d been living in great Britain for the last 17 years. They said: “You have seven people. We pay $5,000 for each person. here’s $35,000. We could hear the bills being counted.

That means, you were sold to the American agents by the Pakistani authorities. How did they receive you there?

We were transferred directly to the Americans in a brutal manner, a lot like the Wild West. They threw us on the floor and traded the Pakistani handcuffs for plastic ones that they tied very tightly. I still suffer today, even at this moment, from it. Because of these handcuffs I often have no feeling in my fingers until the afternoon. My arms were very swollen until we arrived in Bagram. Later they traded the masks. Two soldiers had to carry us to the airplane, because we couldn’t walk in the cuffs. After that they threw us on the very cold floor of the airplane. My mask was very thick, and I asked them repeatedly to take the mask off, because I wasn’t getting enough air. They always said I didn’t need to worry. We had to sit in a circle on the airplane, and they bound us together with metal chains.

Did anyone tell you where you were being taken? No, not at any time. They told us we needed to bow our heads down—for the entire flight of two and a half hours. If one of us raised our heads, he got a punch in the back. A man from Turkmenistan was with us. [1]  We saw later that one of his eyes was swollen; they hit him in that eye. One man was sitting next to me, and I found out later that he was a 17-year-old from Saudi Arabia. He said he was in pain, shivered and cried. [2]

Did the detainees talk with each other? Never. If someone simply moved his head, he got hit. The whole thing lasted two and a half hours, until we landed in Bagram. When we got to the airport, a group of soldiers took us. They had knives and scissors with them and they had dogs with them. They took off the chains they used to lock us together, but not our cuffs. They carried us like this one by one from the airplane and threw us down on the ground. The dogs stood over our heads with large, wide-open jaws. Then the soldiers came and cut our clothes off our bodies, until we were completely naked. That was February 22 in Bagram. It was icy, it was 1:00 a.m. or midnight, I’m not exactly sure. They tied us up naked with a rope and took us to a place that was two kilometers away from the airport. There, everyone had to sit on the floor and wait. They then always took just one person away at a time. I was the last. It took about three and a half hours until it was my turn.

Were you questioned during this time? Yes […] After 19 or 20 days, they brought us to Kandahar. They did that in the same brutal style, not only in the plane but also on the ground. They cut off our clothes and we were naked for hours. They examined us, took saliva samples, took pictures of us and took our fingerprints. There they shaved our heads and shaved off our beards. They took pictures of us before and after the shave. This measuring lasted the entire night. We shivered in the cold. It got light and we were still naked. They tried to use this stress situation to their advantages and questioned us again. They asked us questions, for example, like, “What relationship do you have to Mullah Omar?” What relationship do you have to Osama Bin Laden? Are you Al Qaeda? Have you seen Osama? And so on. They wanted to catch us off guard with these questions.

How was your medical situation, like the hygienic one? Our skin color had changed and we got skin diseases. We were only allowed to wash ourselves twice. They took us in groups of ten to a place outside of the camp, about a five-minute foot-march away. We were supposed to wash ourselves, two at a time. It went that each person got a bucket that had about three ladlefuls of water. We had five minutes to undress, wash and get dressed again. It was so little water, that you didn’t know what you should wash, head, body, or face. Only three ladles of water! We were supposed to undress completely. We asked why we had to get undressed, and they said that that was the directive. We then said we didn’t want to wash. But they insisted. They undressed all ten of us. That was a religious insult to us.

Were the guards only Americans and Britons? The guards were Americans, but English, French, German and Belgian Soldiers from the allied countries were always coming. The flags of the different allied countries were hung up in the airport. They came and saw us and our situation. During this time we were often insulted and humiliated, they verbally abused us and brutally frisked. They disgraced the Qur’an, they threw it on the floor so that the pages blew all over the floor of the camp. We could do nothing. They threw the Qur’an in the bucket used for excrement. I saw all of that with my own eyes.

The Americans claim in all their interviews that they never did any such thing. But I saw it with my own eyes; I don’t need anyone to tell me about such a thing. I saw how they threw the Qur’an in the bucket for excrement and how they trod on it until the pages were all over the place. I saw that myself.

Were you treated better by medical personnel? The behavior of the doctor towards us was very bad. If you complained about headaches, stomach aches or skin diseases, he would say, “Drink water.” I never got medicine the entire time I was in Kandahar. My body was covered in a rash and the doctor said, “Drink water.” He himself was a butcher. He was supposed to treat us humanely, even though he belonged to the military, but he treated us brutally. Among us detainees there was one whose finger fell off because of frostbite. The doctor said he should put on socks. He didn’t give him any medication. The detainee refused and said that if he put on socks, his organs would decay and stink. Upon that, the doctor, accompanied by two soldiers, came to see him. The soldiers lifted him up, threw him outside on the ground, and put socks on him with violence. That’s what the doctor was like. Later, when the detainee was let out of Guantanamo, his hands and feet were amputated. He suffered a great deal. Rats actually came at night and ate his fingers. Many bad things happened in Kandahar. The Taliban ambassador in Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, was our imam during prayer. They often came and wanted to search us during prayer. We told them that we were praying, but they screamed at us, “Stand up! Stand up!" There were many harsh punishments, for example, leaving the prisoners sitting in the sun for half an hour. Many passed out. Then they were doused with water and had to sit in the sun all over again, because the guards thought that the prisoners only wanted to pretend that they’d passed out. Many in Kandahar were beaten on their entire bodies. The punishments were imposed because there it was forbidden for more than three people to talk to each other. If someone talked to more than that and they saw it, they would be punished. Because of the hot sun, some would use the water that had been provided for drinking to wash their faces. If anyone saw it, you’d be punished. If I gave some of my food to someone who might have been sick, I would have been punished.

Did you hear the bombardment of the mountain region of Afghanistan? Yes, in Bagram as well as in Kandahar […] When an official wanted to take someone to an interrogation, four soldiers came and ordered the prisoner to move to the other end of the cage and turn around, where other soldiers stood behind the barbed wire, aiming their machine guns at the prisoner. The prisoner who was picked had to go to the other end close to the entrance and lay on the stony floor, and two soldiers jumped up high and landed on his back. They then bound his hands behind his back, lifted him up and put a sack over his head. The two soldiers then tucked their arms into the prisoner’s arms, which were bent backwards and crooked, and forced him to bend over. They carried him up and went with him almost 200 meters to the interrogation. If he moaned, he would get hit.

Can you tell how you were brought from Kandahar to Guantánamo? On June 13 at approximately 10:30 a.m., they selected me and a few others, led me out of the cell, tied me and put a mask on me. We had to kneel on the rocky floor dressed in only shorts and a T-shirt. Then they tied together the group they wanted to take with them with a rope and marched us to the airport. Our group was about 15 people. They brought us into a tent. There we had to put on the orange jumpsuits and then we were tied up again. They covered our eyes with scuba masks that had black glasses, our mouth with masks and our ears with headphones.

Did you have any idea where you were, based on the climate and environment? Yes. Before we left Kandahar, the soldiers took pictures of us as trophies, laughed at us, and sang to us, that we would be going to Guantánamo.

Did you know where Guantánamo was? No. I only learned when I got there that Guantánamo is in Cuba. When we arrived, we were received in the same way we were at Kandahar. We were hit, cursed at, and then after taken to the prisoner camp next to the hospital by a minibus. They threw us on the ground. Then they took us, one by one, to the hospital. The last one to go was next around the time of the evening prayer, around 9:00 p.m. In the hospital they examined us and gave each of us 6 tablets that we had to swallow. Then we were taken to questioning. During this time we got an apple and two pieces of bread with peanut butter. Many did not want to eat anything because of the exhaustion and the flights.

Did everyone get tablets? Yes, right after the examination we had to go to questioning. We weren’t allowed to relax or sleep. I myself was questioned for 3 ½ hours.

Did the questioning have a different quality in comparison with the ones before? Of course. When we arrived, we were examined, got other clothes and had to take all 6 tablets. All the prisoners have corroborated this. After that we had something like a hallucination, dizziness and a feeling of being disoriented. These tablets weren’t medicine. They were something else.

How did the guards react to your requests and demands? If a prisoner made demands, a fight with the soldiers would break out. They then brought their dogs with them. They would first spray tear gas or pepper spray and then let a dog into the cell. The prisoner tried to get on the bed for safety, but the dog would get a hold of him, bite him and then drag him to the ground. Only then did the soldiers come in and brutally attack the prisoner. Although he’d already given up, they didn’t leave him alone until they broke one of his bones. They would grab his arm with brutal force. The prisoner would scream, “Ok, I won’t do anything else.” They answered, “No, we’re still going to do something to you.” There was one man from Bosnia; they broke his right hand one time and his left hand another time. There was a man named Sadeeq, from Turkmenistan [1]. They bound his legs and then turned them in the direction of his back. Many of the prisoners had torn muscles. I myself have no feeling in this finger and can’t use it like my other fingers. There was a man from north Africa, I can’t remember which country; they hit him in the eye and he lost that eye.

Were there different levels of "comfort" in the camp, if one can talk at all about comfort? Yes. There was Camp 5, that was the worst. The Americans claimed that the inmates of this camp were either Taliban, members of Al-Qaeda, or prisoners who faced a serious charge. Camp 5 is a closed building; you can’t see the prisoners in their cells. The cells are air conditioned and very cold. If they wanted to punish a prisoner, they took all the furniture out and put you in there with only a pair of shorts for one or two months of strict isolation. There was one prisoner they kept locked up like this for over a year. He saw no one during this time. After six months they took him out to wash him. He didn’t see anyone during this time either. After another six months they took him out to wash him again. Then, he finally met other prisoners and told them about his situation. He’s still there.

Could you see a difference between the agents or even the guards? Were some people more humane than others? When it comes to the agents or the guards, it wasn’t about whether one was more humane than another. No. I had the impression that the whole thing was a planned American policy. For example, the soldiers in the 6 p.m. to midnight shift received orders to be strict with the prisoners and provoke them. In comparison, the treatment from the morning shift was completely different. They were very helpful, nice, warm-hearted, and said that they would see to our requests. That was all planned […] Some prisoners had to perform sexual intercourse with women that had been brought to the camp. Some prisoners were stripped and were bound to the ceiling of their cells by one hand. After one year, one of these prisoners was brought back to us. That was Mohammad al-Kahtani. They told him he was the 20th attacker of September 11. He is an American. They brought him from the U.S.

Did you perceive that there were many prisoners with psychological problems, that some of them didn’t even know where they were anymore? Next to us there was a cell block named Camp Delta. This cell block was only for the prisoners who had psychological problems because of torture and imprisonment or because they were innocent and simply taken off the street or kidnapped from their homes or businesses. We heard their screams and learned about how they were threatened with shots. Some threatened suicide and banged their heads against the iron bars. There were many Afghanis, Pakistanis, Arabs and Europeans.

Were the prisoner’s phobias used to torture them? Not with me, but maybe with other prisoners. I met a man from Uzbekistan. He told me he’d asked for a couple of things from the guards but they refused. He told them he was having a nervous breakdown and was going to land in Camp Delta. They answered: “Great. That’s what we want.” They told many prisoners that they wanted their psyches to turn into the ones like the detainees in Camp Delta. They wanted to make their lives a living hell.

Did prisoners die at Guantánamo? Not in Guantánamo, but in Bagram. Some prisoners in Bagram saw others beaten to death. But I would like to mention that 28 Afghanis tried to kill themselves when the Americans took the Qur’an and threw it next to the toilet. They then made us drink milk that had sedatives, so that we slept for two days. They wanted to stop us from taking any actions in solidarity with the Afghanis. They tried to hang themselves with bed sheets. One prisoner from Saudi Arabia named Mishal al-Madani tried to hang himself after the Qur’an was desecrated the first time. The guards came into his cell before he could do anything and hit him on the head, which paralyzed his entire body. He was sent off to Saudi Arabia.

What effect did the music have on your consciousness? Prisoners were often set in a chair and left in the interrogation room, tied up and alone. Then the air conditioning would be turned up and music played very loudly. They often had to stay there for seven, eight, ten hours. Sometimes women went in and sexually harassed them.

You mentioned strikes as a form of resistance. Were there other such forms? I would like to say one thing. The strikes and all the other forms of resistance that took place at Guantánamo came about because they desecrated our faith and religious rituals. The agents often wrapped the prisoners in Israeli or American flags during the interrogations, laid the Qur’an on the table, and then rested their feet on it. They asked, “Is that the book you fight for? That’s supposed to protect you? Let it protect you now.” The whole resistance, whether through strike or other methods, was due to this.

At the moment, there is a hunger strike at Guantánamo. Did hunger strikes have any positive effect at all? […] They did not give in. We often started strikes because of the desecration of the Qur’an. Then there were meetings and promises given, that the Qur’an would not be desecrated anymore. […] Two days after we’d ended a hunger strike, they desecrated the Qur’an again, with the Afghanis. When the Afghanis came back to their cells after a shower, they found the Qur’an on the ground next to the toilet. It wasn’t just one Qur’an. It was several. It was a targeted act. They didn’t want to give in. When we started a hunger-strike in all parts of the camp, a General came and said, “Before, this was a cemetery for the Spaniards. Now it will be your cemetery.” Instead of solving the problem, he had the prisoners punished. He had their beards and hair shaved off. Sometimes he had the right side of the beard and the left side of the mustache shaved or only part of the hair shaved off, or the eyebrows, or only one eyebrow. That was the American policy. Nothing helped, not hunger-strikes or other methods of resistance.

Did your wife find you very changed after your return? Yes […] As an innocent man, they could have possibly let me go [from Guantánamo] through the Red Cross, clean and in decent clothing. But they flew me back exactly the way I was brought to Guantánamo. I was tied up from head to toe on the floor of the airplane, my eyes and ears covered and so on. The flight lasted approximately 40 hours. From Guantánamo it went to Turkey, then to Bagram and to Amman from there. On the plane, I wanted to go to the bathroom. They let me and took me tied up to the toilet. I begged the guards to take off my ties, but they refused. That was the treatment that I experienced as an innocent man.



[1] According to information from the Department of Defense, there was only one citizen of Turkmenistan imprisoned in Guantanamo. He was Emdash Abdullah Turkash (ISN 500).

[2] According to American military and diplomatic sources, there were only three minors from Saudi Arabia that were arrested and imprisoned in Guantánamo. They are Yussef Mohammed Mubarak al-Shihri (ISN 114), Yasser Talal al-Zahrani (ISN 93), and Abdul Salam Ghetan (ISN 132). All three arrived in Guantánamo in January 2002--that is months before Mr. al-Asmr did (see our report Guantánamo's Children: Military and Diplomatic Testimonies).