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Selections from Hier spricht Guantánamo, by Roger Willemsen

These are selections from the interview of Ravil Gumarov 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 when Mr. Gumarov was 43 years old. The interviewer was Roger Willemsen. Mr. Gumarov's internment serial number was 203. This interview of Mr. Gumarov was translated into English on behalf of CHSRA by Harriet Jernigan.

So at this point you’re in the hospital in the little town [in Afghanistan] and the Red Cross representative is there… Yes, but in this fortress Qala Jangi, which I’ve talked about, the Red Cross was there, too. The battles lasted long, and word went around that something was going on. If we had not put up a fight, we would have simply been shot and no one would have learned about it. But since the battles lasted such a long time, people found out about it and went there, without knowing who was fighting who. People were suddenly interested in what was happening there. That’s why the Red Cross was already there when we came out of the basement. I was then operated on for the first time in this little town. They drained the pus. Then a long time passed. New Year’s Eve came. It was now 2002. And at some point Americans appeared, I was laid on a stretcher, my hands and legs were tied. The blanket over me was also tied down with tape. And then they put a sack over my head.

Your legs were not healed at this time? Obviously not. I was put in a truck and taken to the airport.

Were you the only one in the hospital who was dealt with in this way? No. There were many of us. I know other cases. There were 14 wounded from Uzbekistan. They were completely missing. As far as I know, they were delivered to Uzbekistan.

Did the Americans pay any money for individual prisoners, for example? Yes, that’s highly likely. I even heard comments like, “Don’t look for any more Pakistanis. We already have enough of them.” Foreigners like Russians and Arabs on the contrary still brought a high price. Dostum had his own camp, and many people were chosen from there.

So did Dostum possibly sell prisoners to the Americans? Yes. The Americans did not wage any ground war and didn’t take any prisoners themselves. I was not there the entire time, but people told me in Cuba that the Americans paid the Northern Alliance to go on the battlefield. The fighters of the Northern Alliance got prisoners, then sorted them out and then sold them to the Americans. I was taken from the small town where I was given medical treatment to the south.

In an airplane? Yes. There was a large camp there. Truly unbelievable things happened there. There are people with very different characteristics. It depends on the individual. There are normal Americans and there are abnormal Americans, as with every people. For example they unloaded us into a large hangar. We were blindfolded. They lifted up the stretcher I was on and then let it fall. They placed me in the camp at Kandahar, tied up my legs, but the bones poked out at that time. And when the bandages were changed, a soldier with a pistol stood in front of me and observed. I got blood poisoning, the bones in my legs started to decay, I was flown to Guantanamo. I belonged to the deferred deliveries, so to speak.

You were severely ill and had no medical attention? Yes. There were simply no means. I needed an operation. But when you’re tied up all the time, that naturally doesn’t work.

Did people in the camp at Kandahar know about Guantánamo? They knew they were being taken to American territory if they got orange-colored clothing. They changed us, tied our hands, put opaque glasses on us, covered our ears with a kind of headphones and then layed us on the ground at the airport. The plane came at night. There were special stretchers for transport with the plane. They placed us on those, with our legs strapped. Then we went to the plane—and off. We flew a pretty long time. There was a landing in between. It was pretty cold. Although I had a fever, I was freezing the entire time.

What was the first thing you saw when the blindfold was removed? When they took the blindfolds off, they told us, “You are in the territory of the United States.”

Did your leg recover during this time? The bandage [the Guantánamo medics applied] grew into the muscle, and now all the toes are bent. The right leg healed first two years later in Russia. Only then did the wound close. Once it got to blood poisoning, the cells were pretty damaged.

Did you ever see any of the patients become aggressive? There was something like that. People who refused to eat were then force-fed through a tube in their nose. A neighbor of mine refused to get some shots. The people who rebelled were separated from the others. They ended up in another area, were tied to beds with plastic bands, and then they administered the shots. First a doctor would try to convince the patient, if that didn’t work, the guards were called, in order to force them. If people refused, they would just be forced to do what was demanded of them.

With violence? One does what one must.

Where did they take you once you said that you were leaving the infirmary because you couldn’t lay there anymore? To Camp B, if I’m not mistaken. That’s the camp that opened in May.

For convalescents? No, it was a normal camp. Only the doctor who changed my bandages came to see me there. I had to stick my leg through the bars for that. I started doing it myself, because it was pretty uncomfortable to stick one leg through the bars while balancing on the other.

Why didn’t the doctor go into the cell to rebandage your leg? Was he afraid? We’re terrorists. (Laughs) We could have stabbed out his eyes. They didn’t give us any ball point pens, though. They only gave us the filler, and they were soft, not dangerous. And once you were done writing, you gave it back.

Paranoia? Yes, paranoia. But they were set up that way. The guards were changed constantly, and a few came in here with their hands shaking. They had convinced them that we are really terrorists. What’s also important is: I said that we were sold. I found out that there was a 10-month-old child in the camp, and a 110-year-old grandfather, an Afghani. I said then, perhaps he’s a prisoner left over from the old war against England (Laughs). To set the people free, we went on a hunger strike, before Ramadan. It lasted two weeks. We wanted them sent back immediately. Then we would end the hunger strike. We didn’t have other possibilities for enforcing our demands. We had absolutely no status. We were neither prisoners of war nor criminals who were being interrogated. We were there in an incomprehensible situation. No one knew how long we would stay there, there was no information for us at all. The only source of information we had was the American flag. When the flag was at half-mast, we knew something had happened in America. But when it flew at full-mast, everything was okay.

For Muslims, dogs are impure/unclean. Did you come into contact with dogs? […] dogs were there for the searches. One time we didn’t want to come out. We were supposed to be checked at night, and we were chased into the showers by dogs. The dogs rode around in the cars and lived in good conditions with rooms with air-conditioning.

Did the female guards touch the prisoners? Yes, there was some of that. We didn’t go to the showers under their watch or on the walks, and not because of protest, in fact.

But not everyone survived mentally. There are prisoners who were broken mentally… Yes, I saw how people had fits of rage. They were then taken away and got the appropriate shot. Afterwards you could tell that they had been given a sedative.

Did you see people who mentally were no longer present? Not me. Well maybe one in the sick bay, who was transported in a wheelchair, but there were certainly people who’d given up on themselves. I knew through rumors—you call it prison telephone or prison radio--that there were people who got sedative shots, or others who had glass panes installed in their cells, so they wouldn’t spray the guards with water. That’s why they had these different imprisonment conditions, that they instituted these different levels or grades. If you tried to fight for your rights, you were degraded, so to speak.

Which forms of punishment did you experience? Heads were shaved bald, beards were shaved off. One time when I was being taken to interrogation, I saw a man standing there only in underwear or shorts. There was also a closed cell with air conditioning and you’d be punished with cold in there.

Also with sleep deprivation? There was that as well, but not for me. (Laughs) As I said, I am a grown man. I didn’t provoke the guards.

How old are you today? Forty-three

Were you homesick? Yes, of course. In addition it took a letter one month to get to its destination in the beginning, then six months, and recently my mother received a letter from me that I wrote two years ago. I’d been in Russian prison in the meantime. That was a month ago, and all of a sudden a letter comes from Cuba. My mother thought I’d been sent back to Cuba. (Laughs) Then she saw the date and realized that the letter was two years old. A lot of letters never reached the addressees.

How did you find out that you were allowed to leave Guantánamo? They took me to an interrogation and told me, “You’re going to be placed in another camp.” Then they took me to another room that was separated in the middle by a pane of glass. On the other side, behind the pane, sat a military guard. You were being watched constantly. And then the examinations administrator came and said, “We’re sending you to Russia.” I had personal items, letters and such, but they all stayed in the cell. I couldn’t say goodbye to anyone, either. Two days later I was tied up and taken to Russia.