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Selections from Hier spricht Guantánamo, by Roger Willemsen

These are selections from the interview of Abdul Qadir Yousef Hussein 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 year and a half after Mr. Hussein's release--when he was 52 years old. The interviewer was Roger Willemsen. Mr. Hussein's internment serial number was 715. This interview of Mr. Hussein was translated into English on behalf of CHSRA by Verena Hutter.

Please describe the circumstances of your arrest. One evening, I returned home around ten and was in the middle of eating dinner with my family, when the doorbell rang. My young son went there, and came back screaming, “Police, Police!” The police came in right behind him, with their guns ready to fire and screamed, “Where is Hussein? Where is Hussein?” I said: “Here I am.” They attacked me; they handcuffed me, and said I must come with them. I told them that I was here legally and that I had not committed any crime. But they brought me, together with my two older sons, to a prison in Peshawar. My sons were released the same night.

Were the police forces that arrested you only Pakistani? Did you not know until then that your arrest happened in connection with the Americans? Actually, I suspected so. When the Pakistani security forces brought me out, I saw a man and a woman who seemed to be American waiting in a car. Later, after my release, I was asking my wife and she confirmed that the two walked into our house together with the Pakistani police and that they participated in the house search.

Were you interrogated by the Pakistani? I was interrogated twice by the Americans, once for a very short time and the second time for about an hour and a half. The Pakistani never interrogated us.

So the American investigators came into the Pakistani prison and interrogated the prisoners? No. We were blindfolded and brought somewhere else, where we were interrogated by the Americans.

Was physical force used during these interrogations? Yes, they tormented me. They forced me to squat down on my knees with my hands tied. Sometimes I had to stand on one leg, sometimes I was tied to an iron door with my hands. Sometimes I was locked into a room with my hands and feet tied for 24 hours. We were allowed to sleep only two hours a night, and if somebody fell asleep sitting he was woken up, and forced to stand. If somebody wanted to lean on the bars because they were so tired, they were forced away from the bars.

Did you hope for a court trial? No. They did not even have an accusation against me. I told the interrogator to ask me whatever he wanted, since I had nothing to hide. In Guantánamo, they did not interrogate me once in ten months. I was first in Bagram for two months, and then in Guantánamo for twenty months, and then for another four months in Bagram. There they told us that there was nothing held against us. We could return to our home countries, but would have to wait for coordination with the respective governments.

Did the prisoners know what Guantánamo is? It was not possible to get together with other prisoners, because we were isolated from each other. It was forbidden to talk to them.

It was known that you were a religion teacher. Was this fact used as leverage against you, for example, by hindering you from practicing your religious rituals? No. In Guantánamo I was in a cell by myself, where I could pray, fast and recite from the Qur’an. They tried to disturb us by playing the American national anthem.

Did you witness how other prisoners were tortured? I, personally, did not see anything. But when somebody was tortured, the story spread fast.

Did you experience female soldiers behaving indecently? Yes, the female soldiers often were only wearing a T-shirt. For Muslims this is not okay. A woman should be dressed decently. The way they were dressed bothered us. I once asked the person in charge of our wing why women brought us to the showers. He said that they were soldiers and not women. Sometimes, we abstained from showering only because we were accompanied by women, even though we were always yearning for the showers, and for going outside into the sun.

How was your psychological situation during that time? I felt quite miserable and every time I asked the interrogator why I was actually there and for how long. He always answered that I would be released later, when the investigations were over.

For how many hours a day were you allowed contact with others? That depended on how each camp wing was classified. Prisoner classes three and four were allowed to go out twice a week for twenty-five minutes, twenty minutes for a walk and five minutes for showering. In the first class they went for a twenty minute walk every day, and were allowed to shower every other day.

Your case, however, still teaches that an innocent man may fear for his life even in a so-called constitutional state. The statement that I was innocent and that I would be released was not very useful to me. It is as if somebody breaks into one’s house, steals everything, destroys the house and then apologizes. What are the denizens of a house to do with such an apology? When I lived in Pakistan, I never was in debt. Through the UN and my work at school I had a regular income. Life in Pakistan is cheap. One daughter and one son were already studying at the university and the second son wanted to start with his studies. Going to university is very cheap in Pakistan as well. The older son had a heart disease, but in Pakistan it was possible to treat him, because treatment is affordable there too. When my family returned to Jordan while I was in prison, he was forced to take on responsibility for the entire family. But because of his disease, he was unable to do so. He died after six months. I have been back in Jordan for one and a half years. Since my return I have not found a job. My children are not allowed to attend public schools or public universities. My son studies at a private university and my daughter at a private academy, and the other children are in public schools. The annual fees for the private schools add up to 500 Dinar. With respect to universities, one pays per hour. The private universities take 40-50 Dinars per hour, the public universities merely 15-20 Dinar.

How often do you think of Guantánamo? The time spent in this camp I will never forget. I would pray to God to send them a hurricane or a tsunami, if there weren’t any prisoners on the island.

What physical and psychological consequences remain with you? I have become impatient and I am always irritated. I have been married for 30 years and in this year I have had as many marital problems as in all the other 30 years together. I, too, have heart problems now. For example, if I ask my son to go and buy sugar, and he does not go, I become angry and have heart pains, so that I can neither eat nor drink. I have the feeling that I contracted a heart disease. Furthermore, my sight has become worse. Before the camp, I wore glasses. In the camp the Americans gave me different glasses with the wrong diopter values. I also find that my energy, my drive, even my thinking has diminished.

After you were not interrogated for ten months, you were dragged from Guantánamo to Bagram again. What reasons were given for the fact that you were brought back?

After all these months, in which I wasn’t interrogated, they all of a sudden started to interrogate me again. It was a repeat of the earlier interrogations. They used a lie detector and took my finger prints again. I did not know that they would bring me to Bagram. We were moved into a part of the camp, of which it was known that only prisoners up for release soon would be brought there. One day, before our release, an American who spoke a very bad Arabic told us that we would be released the next day. We wanted to know where they would bring us. He did not know. After that, a Red Cross representative came to us, and told me that I would return to my home. When we were released, the Americans brought some Jordanians and Sudanese directly to their home countries, but they brought us to Bagram. Even though I had told them that I possess a Jordanian Passport, they brought me to Bagram for four months. Maybe they had the suspicion that Jordan would refuse to let me enter the country.

How old are you? 52 years old.