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The Terrible Account of a Testimony

Le Parisien
November 4, 2005
Translated for

Arrested on 2001 in Pakistan then handed over to the American Forces, Khaled bin Mustafa spent three years in Guantanamo. Repatriated in France on March 7, since imprisoned in Nanterre, he tells what he endured “on another planet”.

FROM THE DEPTHS OF HIS CELL, in the Nanterre’s prison (Haut-de-Seine), Khaled Bin Mustafa, 33 years old, delivers an account of exceptional accuracy after more than three years spent in confinement on Guantanamo Bay (Cuba). He doesn’t hide his bitterness about being once again imprisoned in France after being formally charged for “criminal association with a terrorist enterprise”. The Justice suspects him to have used the “international Jihad networks” to go to Afghanistan. At the time of writing, six Frenchmen captured by Americans and repatriated to France are still jailed. Khaled bin Mustafa’s attorneys, Me Jean-Marc Florand and Philippe Meilhac, pleaded, in vain, for his release.

Under what circumstances were you captured by the Pakistani police?

In December 2001, trying to run away from the war in Afghanistan, I was arrested in a Pakistani village. I was with some others French nationals. I produced my French passport and my driving licence to the Pakistani police officers but it wasn’t enough. They made me get into a bus. I ended up downtown in a police station. I stayed for two days in cell before being interrogated. From there, I was tranferred to a military jail, always under the control of the Pakistani forces. The services of the French Embassy in Islamabad would have been contacted. After some days, Americans came to interrogate us. They wore civilian clothes. FBI or CIA, I’ve no idea... They wished to know our run, which I answered without anything to hide. Some days later, in early January 2002, we had been handed over to the American Forces, probably for money. From there, the Americans transferred us to Kandahar (Afghanistan). We ended up in a military base, in the open desert.

Have you been mistreated?

We were sleeping on the ground, on a wood floor. Hygiene there was pitiful. I stayed at this base for about a month and a half and I was forced to endure lots of interrogations there from the American Forces. They took place in small rooms, about two metres by two metres, hands behind the back, ankles handcuffed, tied up on the ground. The aim was to make us “confess” that we were members or associates of al-Qaeda. It wasn’t true in my case and I refused to falsely confess. I got many beatings as a result of that. I was hit with wet towels, double-folded like a bag and containing small contusive objects such as toilet-soaps. I As a result of that I suffered dizziness and aches behind the ear. After a month and a half of “detention” in Kandahar, I was transferred again, wrists and ankles handcuffed, hooded, by military airplane.

The twenty hour journey, with an intermediate landing in a “hot country” which I am unware of, being remained hooded the entire time, was very painful. We were unware of where we being transferred to. I thus arrived on the Guantanamo military base on February 13, 2002. There, we were subjected to a very thorough search, including a full body search, and likewise a summary medical examination.

Before being even sent to Guantanamo, we were forced to put on an orange suit which we kept on after our arrival.

How did you react on your arrival in Guantanamo?

Given how the conditions of detention were in Kandahar, I thought it couldn’t be worse there. However, the first months, from February to May 2002, were very difficult. I was detained in a cell measuring two metres by two metres. These cells were either separated by a barbed wire. They looked more like cages than anything else. In the way of a pack, I received a blanket, a bucket to relieve myself from the call of nature, another from which to drink and a insulation mat to sleep on. Food, in a bag, was thrown to us by a suitable trap door. Facing these conditions of detention unworthy of human beings, protests rose, until it involved a hunger strike.

Did these conditions improve?

The Americans transferred us to an other building, more “comfortable”. In early May, I was moved to a new unit, on the other side of the island. This time, they were containers both welded which were used as cells for us. Our jailers wanted to be able to supervise us from a single glance. They took care to move us to another cell frequently, fearing “conspiracy”. Instead of buckets, we disposed of two bidets, and the pack they gave to us included one blanket, one sheet, one towel and one soap. Aside from isolation, there were several modes of incarceration, in particular that of the “orange suit” – to which I was always subjected – and that, a little more soft, of “white suit”, which was rewarded to the most “co-operative” detainees. The hot climate was difficult to endure, and there were a lot of insects and rodents.

How would one spend their ordinary day in Guantanamo?

Our days were organised by our prayers. We received two complete meals per day, in the morning and at the beginning of the afternoon, and nothing the evening, only one piece of bread. We had only three sessions of exercise - walking - per week, for twenty minutes at a time. Generally, as soon as we had to accomplish a displacement in the camp, whether it was for the walking, to go to the hospital or to interrogation, we were put in chains by our guards from the outside, even carried on stretchers.

During the three years, it was only in my cage that I was not shackled. On their arrival, the French nationals had been dispersed in the camp. It was only in January 2003, and on our initiative, that we were gathered. I remained almost ten months in the cage next to that of Ichab Kanouni’s (note: one of other prisoners returned to France last year), before he was “promoted” to the white suit level because he “collaborated” to the maximum degree. Then for two months I was adjacent to Redouane Khalid, and then for two months also beside Nissar Sassi.

Was there a real solidarity between the detainees?

Yes, there was. When one of us was taken to the interrogation room, we were all attentive of his return. And if his return was delayed excessively, we would make cries of protest, while communicating by the "Bush telegraph".

What role did the exchanges of mails with your family play?

I corresponded regularly with my wife and my children. Paradoxically that did not really help me to hold out, except in the beginning perhaps. Beyond the censors, times of transmission of several months made the exchanges complicated. We had little fresh news of our families, and we remained for long periods without having any news at all. At this level, I regret the lack of action taken by the Red Cross. In this matter, the ICRC was, or let itself, "muffle" and contented itself to play the role of postman, without protesting against the fact that we must have been treated as prisoners of war under Geneva Convention status.

How did interrogations take place?

All the interrogations in Guantanamo took place in specially arranged rooms, where we were tied up on the ground. One day when I was not without dout up to the waiting, I was left for nearly eight hours in the room with the air-conditioning switched on to the coldest temperature. I was literally refrigerated. I know that other detainees endured the same mistreatments. Some were so cold that they relieved themselves in their clothing. All these sessions were filmed by a small camera discreetly located in a corner of the room. In addition to the agents which conducted the interrogation, there was always a second team which listened behind a two-way mirror. Americans quickly understood that I was not a member of al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, I was questioned 100 or 150 times. The last interrogation took place two days before my release. As prisoners of war, we were subject to the Geneva Convention, it was juridically impossible for the Americans to interrogate us. They cleared this legal obstacle by referring to us as "enemy combatants", which does not mean anything, but allows them to do whatever they wish.

Did you see any French officials during your incarceration?

I saw a member of the Red Cross every three months. On several occasions, I received the visit of French nationals or at least French-speaking people. At the beginning of May 2002, four people claiming to represent the French government came to visit us. In fact, they were investigators belonging to the French special corps. They explained to me that it was in my interests to speak, otherwise...white torture is evoked (mental).

What about possible physical mistreatments?

I personally did not undergo any other form of physical torture other than "refrigeration", but I was informed that some forms of torture, "orthodox", were practised on the military base: use of electricity, beatings, hangings wrists up to the ceiling without reaching the ground, detainees undressed, and the use of military female officers going so far as to arousingly touch some detainees, with the objective of provoking them, due to their religious beliefs. It is necessary to add to that the sleep deprivation, with the changing of cells every two hours. Nevertheless, I was constrained, like all the other detainees, forced to take drugs, of which I am unaware of the effects, but I think that they were experiments...

Were you informed about what was going on in the world?

We did not have any book other than the Quran. Until our return, we were unaware that something as significant as the tsunami, in our times one of the biggest natural disasters that the world knew, had occurred in Asia at the end of 2004. Guantanamo, it was another planet, we were on the moon! For Americans, all came out right. They attacked Iraq. That, we knew it! They "busted" Saddam Hussein. They said to us: "What would the world do without America? There would be no peace in the world."

How did you react at the time the first French detainees were released from Guantanamo?

In the beginning, when I was with Redouane Khalid, we did not understand why we did not form part of the convoy. In fact, we did not prove to be rather co-operative during the interrogations. I had even refused to put on a "white suit", because I did not want to take part in this masquerade. In January 2005, at the time of the last British nationals release, we had hope again. At the end of February, a member of the Red Cross said to us that our return was very close. We left Guantanamo on Monday March 6. Four days before, an American military officer came into my "cage" to let me know. He wanted me to sign a printed document which said in substance: "I allow the United States of America to capture me in any country of the world where I could be if they have any doubt about my eventual adherence to a terrorist group or an ascendency, or my participation in a terrorist attack or threat." Some were swindled because Americans affirmed that they could not leave if they did not sign it. They tried to play the old trick on me, but I refused. I returned all the same... I remember that on the Sunday preceding my departure they took me for a polygraph test.

Then occured the D-day...

On the day of the departure, several soldiers came for me. They handcuffed my wrists and ankles, but all the same they removed my orange suit which I had worn since my arrival. They gave me more neutral clothes, jeans, etc, to dress me, and made me get into a bus which led me to the airport, where French police officers of the light unit of intervention (ULI) awaited us. The journey proceeded under normal conditions and we landed on the military base of Evreux.

What affected you the most and what did you miss the most?

I missed everything during these three years and a half, especially the presence of my wife and children. I’m anxious to see them at the prison, even if that is not the ideal setting, and that will be the case very soon.

How did your fellow prisoners and the penitentiary staff react on your arrival?

I was well accomodated. I am aware I am treated much more favourably, everyone knows where I've come from. Compared to Guantanamo, it is luxury, the prison.

Medico-psychological expertises conducted on former French detainees of Guantanamo revealed "traumatic traces". How do you feel on a psychological level?

Until now I did not have much occasions to reflect on my situation. I tried to hold out, from day to day, until my return. Paradoxically, I fear today to have to leave. Besides I called in psychiatrist’s services in the lap of the prison of Nanterre. My lawyers will ask for that a similar medico-psychological expertise will be conducted relating to me.

The French justice ordered your imprisonment. What does that inspire in you?

I was the victim of an immense injustice which continues still today in another form, but what disturbs me is that it is my country, France, which is performing this injustice.

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