by Rosa Prince and Gary Jones The Mirror (UK) –
In a story filed on March 12th, The New York Times described allegations of mistreatment and humiliation perpetrated against prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay by United States military personnel. The original article from the Daily Mirror of London(below) is much more detailed and graphic than the version that appeared in the New York Times.
My Hell in Camp X-Ray
Rosa Prince and Gary Jones The Mirror (UK)
LONDON (March 12, 2004) — A British captive freed from Guantanamo Bay today tells the world of its full horror — and reveals how prostitutes were taken into the camp to degrade Muslim inmates. Jamal al-Harith, 37, who arrived home three days ago after two years of confinement, is the first detainee to lift the lid on the US regime in Cuba’s Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta.
The father-of-three, from Manchester, told how he was assaulted with fists, feet and batons after refusing a mystery injection. He said detainees were shackled for up to 15 hours at a time in hand and leg cuffs with metal links which cut into the skin.
Their “cells” were wire cages with concrete floors and open to the elements – giving no privacy or protection from the rats, snakes and scorpions loose around the American base. He claims punishment beatings were handed out by guards known as the Extreme Reaction Force. They waded into inmates in full riot-gear, raining blows on them.
Psychological Torture and Mind Games
Prisoners faced psychological torture and mind-games in attempts to make them confess to acts they had never committed. Even petty breaches of rules brought severe punishment.
Medical treatment was sparse and brutal and amputations of limbs were more drastic than required, claimed Jamal. A diet of foul water and food up to 10 years out-of-date left inmates malnourished.
But Jamal’s most shocking disclosure centred on the use of vice girls to torment the most religiously devout detainees. Prisoners who had never seen an “unveiled” woman before would be forced to watch as the hookers touched their own naked bodies.
The men would return distraught. One said an American girl had smeared menstrual blood across his face in an act of humiliation. Jamal said: “I knew of this happening about 10 times. It always seemed to be those who were very young or known to be particularly religious who would be taken away.
“I would joke with the other British lads, ‘Bring them to us — we’ll have them’. It made us laugh. But the Americans obviously knew we wouldn’t be shocked by seeing Western women, so they didn’t bother.
“It was a profoundly disturbing experience for these men. They would refuse to speak about what had happened. It would take perhaps four weeks for them to tell a friend — and we would shout it out around the whole block.” Jamal added: “The whole point of Guantanamo was to get to you psychologically. The beatings were not as nearly as bad as the psychological torture — bruises heal after a week — but the other stuff stays with you.”
From Web Designer to Prisoner
He was talking from a secret location after being reunited with his family. The website designer, a convert to Islam, had gone to Pakistan in October 2001, a few weeks after September 11, to study Muslim culture.
He accidentally strayed into Afghanistan — believing he was being driven to Turkey — and was arrested as a spy, perhaps because of his British passport. He was held in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and fell into US hands. Now Jamal bears the scars of Guantanamo. He stoops into a hunch as he walks because the shackles that bound him were too short.
As a punishment, inmates would be confined so tightly they would be forced to lie in a ball for hours. During lengthy interrogation, they would be tethered to a metal ring on the floor. Jamal said: “Sometimes you would be chained up on the floor with your hands and feet actually bound together. One of my friends told me he was kept like that for 15 hours once. “Recreation meant your legs were untied and you walked up and down a strip of gravel. In Camp X-Ray you only got five minutes but in Delta you walked for around 15 minutes.”
Beatings Inflicted by the Extreme Reaction Force
Jamal said victims of the Extreme Reaction Force were paraded in front of cells. “It was a horrible sight and it was a frequent sight.” He said one unit used force-feeding to end a hunger strike by 70 percent of the 600 inmates. The strike started after a guard deliberately kicked a copy of the Koran.
Rice and beans was the usual diet and the water was “filthy”. Jamal added: “In Camp X-Ray it was yellow and in Delta it was black — the colour of Coca-Cola. “We had it piped through with a tap in each ‘cage’ but they would often turn the water off as punishment. They would shut off the water before prayers so we couldn’t wash ourselves according to our religion.
“The food was terrible as well, up to 10 years out-of-date. They would open a hatch and shove it through a section at a time. We had porridge and something they called ‘like-milk’, which was disgusting and ‘like-tea’ and a piece of fruit. The fruit had been frozen and pounded with chemicals. An apple might look red but there was waxy white stuff all over it and inside it would be black and brown.
“They would play tricks on people by denying them things — you might be the only person on your block who didn’t get any bread. I prided myself on never asking them for anything. I would not beg.”
‘You Have No Rights’
Jamal said they were told they had no rights. “They actually said that — ‘You have no rights here’. After a while, we stopped asking for human rights – we wanted animal rights. In Camp X-Ray my cage was right next to a kennel housing an Alsatian dog. He had a wooden house with air conditioning and green grass to exercise on. I said to the guards, ‘I want his rights’ and they replied, ‘That dog is member of the US army’.
“You would be punished for anything — for having six packets of salt in your cell rather than five, for hanging your towel through the cage if it wasn’t wet, even for having your spoon and things lined up in the wrong order.”
Being forced to use a bucket as a toilet in view of other inmates and guards was particularly embarrassing. Jamal said: “I never got used to it — we would all put our towels and clothes around us. “But the Military Police up in the tower would see us and would shout to each other.
“We were only allowed a shower once a week at the beginning and none at all in solitary confinement. This was very tough because you are supposed to be clean when you pray. Gradually the number of showers rose to three a week. They were always cold.
“You would be chained by two MPs while you were still in the cage before being taken off for what they called ‘rec and shower’. You could sometimes see the guards tampering with the shower heads to make water squirt all over the inmate’s clothes if he had put them up to protect his privacy.”
Inmates were issued with “comfort items” — known as CIs — like shampoo, towels, a washcloth and boxer shorts. CIs would be removed as a punishment. Jamal defiantly refused “treats”, such as watching a James Bond film in a room dubbed The Love Shack by inmates. He added: “Some people were given pizzas, ice-cream and McDonald’s, but they didn’t offer them to me. I guess they knew bribery would work with some and not with others.”
To pass the time, inmates would chat to each other, pray, read the Koran and sing Islamic songs. In Camp X-Ray, they were given Mills and Boon-style romance novels in Arabic, which they refused to read.
Describing medical treatment, Jamal said he knew of 11 men who had legs amputated and two who lost toes and fingers. He was told that the Americans had removed far more tissue than was necessary. He added: “The man in the cell next to me had frostbite in two fingers and two toes. He also had it in his big toe, but they didn’t treat that for a year by which time they had to cut off much more than was needed.
“All the men who had lost limbs complained they would chop them off high up and not bother to try to save as much as possible.”
Jamal added that he didn’t have close friends in Guantanamo, saying: “When I did meet the other Brits, we would reminisce about home — particularly the food. We were all obsessed with Scottish Highland Shortbread — we wanted some so much. One of the Brits told me he was asked why he was a Muslim, because he ought to be praying to the Queen.”
Jamal, who is divorced with daughters aged three and eight and a son of five, is convinced his refusal to succumb to mind-games gave him the will to come through. He said: “It was very, very hard at times, but I tried to think about nothing but survival. I kept my thoughts from home as much as possible because it would drive me crazy.
“About a year into my time, I had a dream. A voice said, ‘You will here for two years’. In my dream I said, ‘Two years! You’re joking’. But when I woke up, I was calmer because at least that meant I would be getting out one day.
“I was sent to Guantanamo on February 11, 2002 and left on March 9, 2004, so I was there for just over two years, just like the voice in the dream said.”
Terror of Torture in US Prison Camp
‘I was beaten by special squad in show of force. Guards chant while kicking and punching”
Jamal al-Harith told last night how he suffered a brutal attack by US military police because he refused to have a mystery injection. A squad of five men used batons, fists, feet and knees in an assault that left him with severe bruising. During the beating the officers barked in automated unison: “Comply, comply, comply. Do not resist. Do not resist.”
Jamal told how the men swung into action after he politely refused a jab an orderly was trying to give him because he didn’t know what it was and he was fit and healthy.
The squad was from the US military’s Extreme Reaction Force, a unit trained to hand out beatings and known to prisoners at Guantanamo as ERF. Jamal said: “I could hear their feet stomping on the ground as they got closer and closer to my cell. They were given a briefing about me refusing the injection, then I heard them readying themselves outside.
“I was terrified of what they were going to do. I had seen victims of ERF being paraded in front of my cell. They had been battered and bruised into submission. It was a horrible sight and a frequent sight.”
Jamal, who had been warned by interrogators they would inject him with drugs if he did not answer their questions, cowered in his cell awaiting the inevitable. When it came the full force of heavily protected men in riot gear, with batons and shields, was used against him.
He said: “They were really gung-ho, hyped up and aggressive. One of them attacked me really hard and left me with a deep red mark from my backbone down to my knee. I thought I was bleeding, but it was just really bad bruising. I said to myself, ‘You shouldn’t have put yourself through that’, but said nothing to the ERFs. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
“There is principle and I wasn’t going to take the injection so if they wanted to beat me up that was down to them. This huge black bruise was there for days after that.”
But Jamal’s ordeal didn’t end there. Half an hour later as he was recovering, a second ERF squad arrived to dish out more punishment. He said: “They accused me of biting a military policeman. I said nothing. I knew it wouldn’t help whatever I said.
“They laid into me again. When they were finished I sat down, picked up the Koran and started reading. Then two guards put me in more chains and said: ‘Will you comply?'”
Jamal was taken to the feared isolation units, nicknamed ISOs, where those accused of misbehaving are kept in solitary confinement with just a mat and towel. A toothbrush, toothpaste and soap, considered “comfort items”, were denied. Jamal admits this was the first time he cried, although he did not let the guards see he was upset. He added: “I sobbed a little, twice. Everything had been taken away from me. All I had was my dignity.”
Bright LIghts, Heat and Freezing Cells
Jamal told of the psychological torture used on those in the isolation unit by guards who were trying to break their resolve. Bright lights were left on in their cells overnight making it impossible to sleep properly. And the rooms were turned very hot in the day or freezing in the early morning by using fans in the ceiling.
Jamal said: “I’d wake up at 3am shivering like crazy. Just to keep a little bit warm I’d try to sleep under a metal bed to protect me from the cold air that was blowing in. I’d kept a towel which I hid from a guard to lie on. It wasn’t much, but it made things a bit better.”
He was put in the isolation unit twice more. Once when he kept ripping off wrist bands with his name and the number 490 written on and another time after guards set up a group of detainees by pretending some spoons had gone missing. Jamal said: “Non-compliance were the favourite words thrown at us.”
Jamal told how he was interrogated on a regular basis by FBI and CIA agents and later MI5. On 40 occasions he was quizzed in chains, which were bolted to the floor, for up to 12 hours at a time.
Jamal quickly became an expert in their interrogation techniques, often turning questions on his tormentors. He said: “They’d ask me the same thing over and over again. Sometimes I’d say nothing and they asked me why I wasn’t responding. I’d say: ‘You’re boring me, ask me something new and I will reply’.” After the Americans failed to glean any information, MI5 officers and British consular officials interviewed him. On eight or nine occasions they tried to make him admit he was involved in terrorism. Jamal said: “They would say: ‘Are you a terrorist?’ I’d say ‘no, get me out of here’.”
Speaking about his British interrogators, Jamal added: “They were a mixed bunch. There was one young nervous guy who looked about 21. I called him Youth Training Scheme MI5. He wasn’t very professional and hadn’t even checked out my background. One of them did say they had run my name and details through every Interpol check, but could find nothing. I told them that’s because I’m innocent. There’s nothing on me. I haven’t even got a parking ticket.
“The young guy got a bit frustrated with me and said: ‘Are you trying to tell me how to do my job?’ One MI5 guy I just didn’t want to talk to. He kept asking me questions and I’d say ‘it’s in my file’. In the end I said: ‘I’m not talking any more.’ He replied: ‘I’ve come all this way from England to see you.’ I only saw him for 10 minutes. He was very red faced and angry.”
Jamal said his US interrogators were much meaner in their approach to questioning. One told him after not getting the answers he wanted: “We are going to inject you with drugs.”
‘We Will Kill Your Family’
Jamal said: “They were trying everything they could to frighten me. They even staged a mock beating up in the next room to me. They started shouting and pulling a chair around, but I knew there wasn’t anyone there because I couldn’t hear any chains clanking on the floor.”
Another officer threatened Jamal with torture to get a confession. He told him: “Then we will kill your family and you.” Jamal said: “Sometimes they’d joke about what they were going to do to me. But I was determined to show no weakness. I didn’t want to let them think they were getting to me. Other times they’d play a good cop, bad cop routine. I tried to remain calm, although I was fuming inside. It would been giving in to have lost my temper and I never did, not once.
“I don’t swear and I didn’t fight back. It was only on principles that I stood my ground. The mental torture was far tougher than any of the physical punishments. I knew I was being treated a lot worse than any of the other detainees. They tried everything to break me. Ridiculously, they even accused me of being an MI5 spy.
“I began to tease them a little because it was my way of coping. They could never work out when I was serious or not. I had three plaits in my beard. I suggested, although I didn’t say it, that it was for three people I had killed during drug deals in Moss Side, Manchester. I was making the whole thing up but they believed me. Next time I saw an officer he said MI5 had confirmed the story.
“They couldn’t get a handle on me and that frustrated them. In the end one said: ‘Who are you?’ And I said: ‘I’ve been here for over one a half years and you’re asking who I am?’
Defiance In the Face of Repression
“I took a stand against them because what they were doing to me was barbaric. I wouldn’t get down on my knees for the chains to be pulled around my body because it was demeaning.
“About 20 percent of us wouldn’t co-operate. Eventually they backed down and we would stand while the guards went on their knees to chain us up. That was a small victory. There weren’t many, but they were memorable. I will cherish them.”
Despite the horror, Jamal said there were lighter moments.
One particular interrogation technique amused him. He said: “They started playing different music to see how I would react. They started with country singer Kris Kristofferson which I said I quite liked. Then some Fleetwood Mac songs. They watched my reactions on camera. I just said the music’s great and even started singing along. They didn’t play it again.”
In the isolation unit, Jamal met for the first time fellow British detainee Tarek Dergoul. He said: “He was suave and had a pencil moustache. We had a good chat about life back in Britain.”
Jamal was released on Tuesday after being flown from Cuba to RAF Northolt, West London. He arrived back with four other former Guantanamo Bay Britons — Asif Iqbal and Ruhal Ahmed, both 22, and 26-year-olds Shafiq Rasul and Tarek. They were freed on Wednesday night after being quizzed by anti-terrorist police in London. Four other British suspects are still being held in Cuba.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw last night said the US was right to keep the men locked up and the release of the five did not necessarily prove their innocence. He added: “The Americans as far as they were concerned had good reason for detaining them.” Asked whether they were innocent, he replied: “I can’t answer that question, nobody can.”
In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
Jamal al-Harith’s incredible journey to Guantanamo Bay began in the tough streets of Manchester’s Moss Side. He was born Ronald Fiddler in a family of Jamaican origin and grew up with his father and two sisters after their mother walked out.
At 23, Ronnie began learning about Islam and converted soon afterwards, taking the name Jamal al-Harith “just because I liked it”. He took a computer course alongside his religious studies and became a web designer.
He visited several European countries before deciding to go further afield to learn more about Muslims and how they lived. He began studying the Koran and learned Arabic on a trip to Sudan.
The ill-fated trip to Pakistan in October 2001, just a few weeks after September 11, was his second and he planned to stay for three weeks, learning about Muslim culture and studying the holy book.
Divorced Jamal, who has three children aged three, five and eight, said: “Yes, I traveled to Pakistan in October 2001 but if that’s my crime then you would have to arrest whole planeloads of people.
“When I was interrogated, the Americans used to say ‘How come you’re so clean? We’ve put your name and face through Interpol and we can’t even find a speeding ticket’. I told them: ‘That’s because I’ve never done anything wrong in my life. You don’t have anything on me and you still won’t have anything on me when I walk out of here’ — and that’s exactly what happened. I think that’s why they were so hard on me. They couldn’t bear to admit they had made a mistake.”
Jamal was in Quetta, on the border with Afghanistan and just four days into his trip to Pakistan, when the Americans began bombing Taliban strongholds. He decided to leave for Turkey and paid a local truck driver 4,000 rupees — around £47 — to drive him.
He was told their route would take them through Iran, but he had no idea he would be passing through Afghanistan. A few days into the trip, the truck was stopped by an armed gang. They grew excited when they saw Jamal’s British passport and after looking at his other possessions, which included a clockwork radio, accused him of being a spy.
He was taken to a filthy jail, held in solitary confinement then transferred to another prison. He was again held in isolation and was beaten and interrogated, during which he denied he had been spying against the Taliban for the British.
Jamal later told the Americans how a man he presumed was a US agent had died after suffering a particularly brutal beating. He said: “They tried to say the man wasn’t an American, but I know he was. I am sure I would have got the same treatment but I made sure that every time my guards saw me I was praying.
“The Taliban liked me because I always had the Koran in my hands. I was beaten very badly, but not as badly as most of the other inmates. Afghanistan finally fell and I was visited in jail by the Red Cross. There were a couple of Pakistanis in the prison and they were allowed to go across the border.
“The Red Cross asked me if I wanted to go with them, but I had no money and no way of getting back to Britain so I asked them to put me in contact with the British Embassy in Kabul. That is incredible to me now — I could have gone home on my own.”
Jamal stayed with the Red Cross in Kandahar for a week and, in phone calls to the British Embassy was assured he would soon be put on a flight to Kabul and then back to Britain. But two days later, the Americans arrived. They drove him to a place described by Jamal as “a concentration camp”, complete with watchtowers and barbed wire.
He said: “I begged the Red Cross to get me out or at least contact the embassy for me. On January 24, I was taken to a US air base and held there for another three weeks. Then my interrogator told me I was being sent to Cuba, but it was just standard procedure. I was assured it would take about two months to process me and then I could go free. I believed him.”
For the next two years, Jamal continued to protest his innocence.
He said his interrogators would often taunt him by promising he was about to go home, only to pretend they had never said it. But two weeks ago, Jamal and the four other Britons were met by the Red Cross and told they were finally to be freed. Before they were released, the Americans asked the five men to sign a piece of paper confessing to links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Jamal said: “This was given to me first by the Americans and then by a British diplomat who asked if I agreed to sign it. I just said ‘No’. “I would rather have stayed in Guantanamo than sign that paper. That night, all the inmates sang Islamic songs for me, wishing me well. The next morning, as I walked past them in chains for the last time, they shouted out: ‘Don’t forget us, Jamal. Tell the world, tell the Press, about what is happening here’.”
Jamal was the only one of the five men not to be arrested when they landed at RAF Northolt in West London.
While Tarek Dergoul, 26, Ruhal Ahmed, 22, Asif Iqbal, 22, and Shafiq Rasul, 26, were taken to Paddington Green police station, Jamal was questioned with his solicitor. “Then suddenly it was all over and they told me I could go,” he said.
Jamal has vowed to sue America for compensation for his two lost years. He said: “They deprived me of my liberty, interrogated and tortured me and let me go without even a word of apology.”
He also plans to campaign for other detainees to be freed and given human rights. He said: “I can speak freely at long last and let the world know what’s happening there.
“To be honest, I’d rather go on a camping holiday with my family, but I know I have a grave responsibility to those still there. That’s why I want my story told in the Daily Mirror. ”
Jamal, who has yet to be reunited with his two girls and a boy, said: “I want so much to hug my children and tell them I love them. They think I have been on holiday. They don’t know the truth.
“I woke up last night when I heard the keys of someone returning to their hotel room. I woke up in a fright and thought one of the guards was coming to put on my chains. I then realized that the light in the room was on. When locked up in our cages, the lights were on as well, and I thought to myself: ‘You can sleep in the dark now’ — and I switched it off.”
Jamal added: “One thing good about being in Guantanamo, was that it made you think. Time actually went very quickly. There was always something or other on your mind. It didn’t pay to dwell on things. I tried not to think about my family for two years, because it hurt so much. I tried to contain everything.
“It was very difficult, but I survived — and I survived well.”
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