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Surviving after Guantanamo Bay


Written by Adel Kamel Abdulla
December 29, 2006

Captivity means isolation. We were in a military base, on an isolated island in Cuba. It was as if we did not exist on Earth! We never used to see anyone or anything nor receive any news. We could barely see sunlight. Almost none of the letters that we wrote to our families were sent. After a year at the Bay we knew something was wrong when we received letters from our family saying they had not heard from us.

At night the lights were so strong that it was difficult to know whether it was night or day. We couldn’t sleep because it was constantly noisy. There were lots of scorpions, insects, lizards and rats. We were allowed a 3 minute shower per week. There were no clean clothes and those we had were made of polyester, which was horrible in the hot and humid weather.

The prison is under the control of psychiatrists whose goal is to turn us crazy by the time we left, but I think it’s they who are crazy now.

It was very difficult. I lost hope in my ever being released. In those first few weeks at Guantanamo prison our spirits were so low; we were depressed and entirely miserable. We turned to God for help, spending as much time as we could in prayer and reading the Holy Qur’an and as the days went on we began to feel we were in God’s hands and that gave us all the strength and patience we needed to survive Guantanamo.

Without God’s help no one can tolerate that place for even one minute. Thanks to God, our stay in the prison became almost easy, as if we were on a picnic. We used to talk to each other, and joke around and make fun of the soldiers. Although life there wasn’t easy, it became bearable.

I wasn’t told that we were to be released until the day before. We had noticed the guards had suddenly begun treating us differently. They were nicer and became insistent upon certain things, like visiting the hospital for a check-up which previously had been somewhat optional - if you did not want to go they didn’t take you. They needed a medical report to make sure I didn’t have any signs of torture on my body and when I refused, a doctor and an officer came to persuade me. When I asked if the medical report was for my release they said they did not know. A day before leaving an officer came to me and said I was going to be released but I did not believe him. I had heard that many times by then and yet we had remained imprisoned. I told him, “I don’t believe you, and you are a liar and this is a prank.

In February 2004 we were promised that three out of the six of us Bahraini detainees were to be released in less than three months. I remember being very happy but not because I had a chance of leaving, they did not actually inform us who would be released, but because I had hoped that they would release the others. There were those who deserved to leave more than me, like Juma Al Dossari. I saw the suffering and pain of some of the inmates and I felt that I had the strength to stay longer. When I refused to sign a document before my release the officer threatened to keep me back and I answered that I don’t mind staying another four years!

It was only the night that we left that I believed that we were truly being released.

In truth I felt nothing upon my release. The release was meaningless because my four years of imprisonment were wrongful. I felt that I was wrongly targeted because I was a Muslim Arab. We the detainees, Arabs and non-Arabs, had become one big family. We were very caring and supportive to each other and after four years, I had adapted to life in Guantanamo Bay. In leaving I felt I was leaving behind my family because the inmates were genuinely my brothers.

The first thing I wanted to do when reaching home again was to meet my family, to see my mother, wife, daughter, brothers and sisters. Bahrain is the most welcoming and friendly country in the Gulf. That is what I missed the most in four years of captivity, my family and Bahrain - and all Bahrainis!

I had imagined a totally different picture of my arrival. I expected that the minute I reached Bahrain I would be interrogated and arrested. I think we all feared an imprisonment that would possibly be worse than Guantanamo. Our release was secured diplomatically, through international pressure on the USA in which the Bahrain government played its part. But Bahrain is just a small country on the global stage and had furthermore pledged its support to America in its ‘War on Terror’ and so we felt that our release was really just a transfer.

Stepping off the plane I was welcomed very warmly by a member of the Ministry of Interior. Hugs and kisses were exchanged and they said, “Welcome to Bahrain”. We were then taken to the public prosecution office, where we were informed of the government’s regards, even from His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and other members of the government.

There were no documents to sign. We were told we were all innocent and that nothing exists, at all, against any of us.

If a Bahraini travels for a few years and then comes back to Bahrain he won’t find it difficult, but in my situation it’s harder, I did not get my job back despite being promised. Bahrain’s cost of living has also increased. Our financial status was hard hit during my detainment and my side business is gone, which has caused difficulties in adjusting back to normal life here. My situation is changed now. I get through with the advice from my friends and people I know and that helps but I received no professional help.

My main goal now is to make my daily bread. If I was not detained I would be amongst those who have sympathy for the detainees, and of course my social status would be better but Guantanamo gave me the time to think about the way I lived and the things I did. That’s the positive aspect of such an experience; it improves one’s outlook on life. I identified how to improve myself and live a better life. I think all of us who were there consider our actions more and are more aware of our reality.

I still joke around with my friends and family just like I used to before. My friends were surprised I was so normal; they expected me to talk and act differently. I said, “Why are you shocked, do you expect a guy who has been arrested for four years to change so much? The Adel who left four years ago is the same Adel who is back now.

What has changed in me is the way I think, calculate and act. I am calmer and settled now and I would tell people to be wiser, more aware of the life that surrounds you and really think before acting.

I have become famous now! I feel very touched when people who don’t know me personally come up and say hello. There is real honesty and genuine care and love and support in their approach. This is all the support that they can give me. I feel embarrassed because I don’t know how to thank them, and this has made me love Bahrainis even more and I can only thank God that he has made me more loved by the people.

The media is now placing more attention on us and I feel many journalists have become personally involved in the case. I have been interviewed by an American television reporter who came to Bahrain wanting to know the truth about my four years in Guantanamo. Also an American movie studio called ‘Shadow Box’ approached me. I agreed to share my story with the media because I want to show people the hidden truth that is Guantanamo Bay. But documentaries such as ‘The Road to Guantanamo’ can only show a small portion, I’d say 10-15 per cent of what really occurs in a place like that.

For me these films are an expression of frustration with American policies by those who are interested in justice.

People in Bahrain are not all that aware of international news, they are more concerned with Arabic news. But what surprised me was how little people around the world know about Guantanamo. News agencies are fed only very little news from the US and it consists mostly of lies. For example, when it was announced that six detainees at the Bay were injured in clashes with the guards, I believe that this came about because the injuries sustained were so serious that they actually had to announce it. I‘m talking about possible broken bones. When we were there we also suffered serious injuries due to clashes and torture but it was never announced. The world does not know anything about Guantanamo.

Adel Kamel Abdulla spent nearly four years imprisoned at United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO) as one of six Bahraini detainees labelled ‘enemy combatants’ before being released on 4 November 2005 without charge. The former Ministry of Defence civilian employee was arrested upon presenting himself to the Pakistan police after crossing over the Afghanistan border in late 2001, where he says he had travelled alone to join the Red Cross and provide humanitarian aid. Adel had previously worked with local charity Al Aslah in Bahrain. This item was also published in Bahrain Confidential.

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