Detained in Guantanamo Bay

The Standard (Nairobi)
by Philip Mwakio
October 29, 2008

Reprieve is a British international not-for-profit organisation that champions human rights by providing legal support for those facing death sentences. One such detainee is Kenya’s Abdulmalik Mohamed who is in Guantanamo Bay. Reprieve’s Clara Gutteridge speaks to The Standard’s PHILIP MWAKIO.

QUESTION: What is rendition?

ANSWER: Rendition is a policy that has taken root in the US since September 11. The US Government begun targeting people it believed were terror suspects and with the help of other countries, thousands have been held in different locations. Rendition is illegal. In plain English, it is kidnap. It also means transfer to torture and can contribute to disappearance of some captives. Some have died in US custody.

QUESTION: Who is Abdulmalik Mohamed?

ANSWER: Abdulmalik is a Kenyan citizen being held in Guantanamo Bay. He is a client of Reprieve. He was apprehended on February 17, last year, by Kenyan Anti Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) in Mombasa. After a short stay in Kenyan police stations, he was bundled into the back of a car by two ATPU inspectors, who drove him to an airport outside Nairobi, where he was handed over to a group of men in US military uniform, standing near a plane with US flag emblazoned on its tail. I’m able to pick up that these were Americans considering that the procedures Abdulmalik underwent with his interrogators were similar to those narrated by other prisoners who had been taken in by Americans.

Abdulmalik’s clothes were ripped off. He was then put on a boiler suit, earmuffs, hands and feet shackled as he was taken onto the plane. The soldier’s spread-eagled him, (Completely chained him on the ground, as the plane had no seats.)The journey lasted three to four hours.

When the plane carrying Abdulmalik landed, he was brought out and put into a big shipping container (preferably in Djibouti), and held for almost four days. Interrogators here asked him questions based on information that could have been passed by Kenyan authorities. They told him they knew that while he was in Kenyan custody, he tried to call a contact in Somalia. He readily said yes, explaining that he tried to reach his wife over what was happening, but in vain.

His interrogators further told him they thought he was in Mombasa at the time of his arrest to bomb the 35th edition of the IAAF world cross country championships. He told them he did not have that idea.

His interrogators told him someone had a fake identity card with his picture. He said he did not know that. After four days, Abdulmalik was put on another flight, this time for a much longer journey and in similar conditions for about 16 hours.

When the plane landed, Abdulmalik said it was very cold. It was another military base with other prisoners and he was being held in a cage. This came out to be the Bagram US Airforce Base in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay’s lesser-known twin. It is three times the size of Guantanamo Bay and the world knows little about it.

Abdulmalik was briefly transferred to another secret prison in Kabul. His interrogators said that was Kabul.

QUESTION: How did your organisation come to be involved in his case?

ANSWER: We got authorisation from his immediate family in Kenya to represent him fully. In order to visit Guantanamo Bay, one has to be a US citizen and have passed through US clearance system. Luckily for Reprieve, three of our colleagues are US citizens. They applied to see Abdulmalik last year, but the US initially refused because when people get to Guantanamo Bay, they are supposed to be given a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CRTS), which states why the US could be holding a prisoner. All inmates in Guantanamo Bay are supposed to have the CRTS as soon they arrive.

The US told our colleagues we could not meet Abdulmalik because he had not been issued a CRTS. Colleagues litigated to gain access to him and eventually saw him in early 2008.

When we made a submission to have our contact notes de-classified, the same was rejected on the pretext that Abdulmalik did not have the mandatory CRTS.

All conversation with prisoners as per US regulations is deemed classified information and one is not allowed to talk about it until it is de-classified. The US refused to de-classify his story of abuse at the hands of Americans and Kenyans.

De-classification was granted only about three weeks ago, and here we are with the story of Abdulmalik. This whole procedure kept him in a completely legal limbo for more than a year. Now that we have got the notes, we can say that he has suffered terribly. Reasons as to why the Kenyan authorities handed him over to the Americans are still not clear. Most likely reason as to why Abdulmalik did not have a CRTS is that they (Americans) have no reason for holding him.

QUESTION: How do you ascertain that Americans have decided Abdulmalik should go home?

ANSWER: Abdulmalik says in conversation with our colleagues that after the first two months of intense interrogations he was moved to Camp 4 and FBI visited him after identifying themselves. They told him they did not think he should be at Guantanamo Bay and that there had been an order from Washington DC that he be released.

QUESTION: Following the US verdict that Abdulmalik be released, what should the Kenya Government do to have him back home?

ANSWER: Kenya should make an immediate and urgent representation to the US, asking to have him brought back home.

QUESTION: What makes you think that Kenya has a direct involvement in sending its own citizens out to jails like in Abdulmalik’s case?

ANSWER: At the same time Abdulmalik was handed over to the Americans, there were 20 other people from different nations who hand been rounded up in Nairobi jails and put on flights to places like Ethiopia. We have made contacts with them. A prisoner at the Bagram Airforce Base reports to have been sent from Nairobi.

QUESTION: How successful has your organisation been in helping such prisoners?

ANSWER: We have had lots of clients released from prison. There were about 700 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The number now stands slightly at over 250.

QUESTION: Are there any prisoners you have dealt with who have been released from Guantanamo Bay and from, which countries?

ANSWER: We are dealing with prisoners from all over the world .We have clients from Sudan, Europe, Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia and Kenya.

QUESTION: Once Abdulmalik is back home, do you intend to sue on his behalf the Kenya government?

That would be up to Abdulmalik’s to decide.

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This article abbreviates Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) as "CRTS".