by Patrick E. Tyler / The New York Times –
LONDON, (March 11, 2004) — One of the British detainees released from Guantánamo Bay has charged that he was brutally beaten by the American military police, and that he and his fellow captives were subjected to mistreatment and humiliation.
In an interview published Thursday in The Daily Mirror, Jamal al-Harith, 37, who goes by the name Jamal Udeen, also said that American military officials had brought prostitutes to the detention facility “about 10 times” and had paraded them before the younger and more devout Muslim prisoners as a form of “psychological torture.”
Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a Pentagon spokeswoman, dismissed Mr. Udeen’s assertions as completely false.
“All detainees are treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in accordance with the principles of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949,” she said. “As the president has said before, US policy condemns and prohibits torture. When questioning enemy combatants, US personnel are required to follow this policy and applicable law.”
Mr. Udeen’s account is the first to emerge from the five British prisoners who flew home from Guantánamo Bay on Tuesday and were released after a brief period of questioning by the antiterrorism police. The government of Prime Minister Tony Blair has been bracing for a still uncertain public reaction to the detainees’ personal accounts of life at Camp Delta. More of the accounts are expected to emerge in the next few days.
Graphic portrayals of alleged deprivations and abuse at Guantánamo Bay could further inflame antiwar sentiment in Britain and complicate Mr. Blair’s relations with the Bush administration, which was slow to respond to British requests for the release of Britons detained there.
Separately on Thursday, a reporter for The Times of London, Tim Reid, wrote that he had met Mr. Udeen in a jail in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where fleeing Taliban forces had left him in early January 2002. Mr. Reid wrote that Mr. Udeen said he had been arrested by the Taliban, during a journey across Afghanistan to Iran, because he carried a British passport.
“We were praying for the Americans to come,” he reportedly said. Instead, according to Mr. Reid, Mr. Udeen was arrested when Central Intelligence Agency officers arrived in Kandahar and took charge of the prisoners the Taliban left behind.
“If I came here to fight, I wouldn’t have been thrown in prison,” Mr. Udeen reportedly said in 2002.
He and the other four British detainees remained in seclusion on Thursday as their lawyers expressed satisfaction that they are finally free while also calling for the release of the four British detainees still being held at the American facility.
Mr. Udeen, from Manchester, was the first to be released Tuesday night. Tarek Dergoul of London was released Wednesday, and the three others — Shafiq Rasul, Ruhal Ahmed and Asif Iqbal, all from Tipton — were freed Wednesday night.
In the Daily Mirror account on Thursday, Mr. Udeen said he was beaten after he refused to be injected with an unknown substance. He said an “extreme reaction force” of police officers carrying batons and shields had burst into his cell shouting: “Comply, comply, comply! Do not resist! Do not resist.”
He said he was left bruised and battered after the alleged beating. He also asserted that detainees had been chained and shackled for up to 15 hours at a time, that they had been fed rations that were 10 years out of date and had been given “foul” water to drink.
Mr. Udeen claimed that the prostitutes had been used to “embarrass and degrade” the young Muslims, “including some who had never seen an unveiled woman before.” He did not explain how he knew that the women were prostitutes.
Some family members of the detainees were reported to have left their homes to rendezvous with the detainees at “safe houses” away from the glare of reporters and television crews. At the same time, lawyers and agents for the released men were said to be negotiating publication rights for the first-person accounts of their long detention and interrogation at the facility in Cuba.
Family members were concerned about the physical and mental health of the detainees after long detention, forced isolation and interrogation. Each detainee must face reintegration into a society that will be of two minds about the young men. While many people will feel sympathy for those who claim to have been innocent bystanders in the Afghan war, others will harbor suspicions about those who went to Afghanistan at a time when it was a base for terrorism against the West.
The four Britons still incarcerated at Guantánamo are Feroz Abbasi, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanga, all from London, and Moazzam Begg of Birmingham.
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