Sami Muhydin al-Hajj – 2006-01-29 09:33:15
Four letters from the Al Jazeera cameraman prisoner in Guantanamo,
to his British lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith
By Sami Muhydin al-Hajj, Guantanamo Bay
Health is a great concern to us in the new gulag
(July 15, 2005) — I hope that you are well.
Allow me to say to you that my health worries me, since it is going from bad to worse. As you know, the Guantanamo prisoners, in the new and now sadly, infamous gulag, suffer much from lack of medical care: you can hear cries of pain and laments coming from the inmates in all the cages of this prison; for example, Nayib, the Moroccan, suffers permanent pain in one of his hands after it was fractured during the well known events at the Yankee compound in 2001.
I am sure that you will be amazed to know that the doctors and nurses, of the new gulag, have discovered that water is the best remedy for all known medical conditions. Water will cure any illness and if a prisoner complains about a cold, a backache or an allergy, the nurse has a stock answer: “Drink water!” If you have tonsillitis: “Drink water!”
No matter what the complaint is: “Drink water!” Even the guards have the magic prescription when they collect a sick prisoner to take him to the emergency block: “Drink water!”
All the prisoners have toothache because during the long and frequent punishment periods the guards take their toothbrush away from them. The prisoners ask for medical attention for one or two weeks and they are ignored so eventually they go on hunger strike. However, if you protest you become invisible and it is as if you did not exist.
In the end the prisoner volunteers to be interrogated, the officer in charge aced to the request and the inmate has to commit himself to cooperate during the interrogation. He swears that he will answer all the questions put to him; the ones that concern him directly as well as the ones that will implicate others.
After that the dentist will see the prisoner. He will be very friendly and nice to him, however, he will make sure that he extracts a good tooth and ignores the decayed one. This way they try to ensure that he keeps cooperating during interrogation.
Habin al-Taadiya has beaten the record of cooperation during interrogation so farÖ they have extracted four perfectly good teeth and ignored the decayed ones.
Those who have sight problems are no better. If you collaborate during interrogation you can obtain a pair of plastic glasses with spare lenses just in case. The problem is that the lenses are the wrong prescription and unless you are very lucky to find someone in a similar situation, who has collaborated during interrogation, perhaps you will be able to use both pairs of glasses together to read the Holy Koran. In any case, Shaij Allah, the Egyptian, has a very weak sight and needs more than one pair of glasses to see anything at all.
The Libyan Adu Ahmad has hepatitis and after many requests for medical attention, finally they gave him some medicines, but his condition has been deteriorating every day. When Abu Ahmed asked them to provide the treatment he was having before he was captured, he was told with extreme rudeness by the doctor: that ìThe treatment he was asking for, was very expensive and as he was a prisoner he had no right to it or anything else.’
Abd al-Hadi from Syria suffers from heart disease and has problems having an operation in Guant·namo, especially after finding out that his “uncle” Salih Muhammad, from Yemen, had a heart operation two and a half years ago but kept having the same pain afterwards and eventually they told him that the operation had not been successful.
The Egyptian Abd al-Aziz was beaten up in his cage by the anti-riot squad and they damaged two vertebrae; now, it is impossible for him to move. He has refused an operation, especially after seeing the condition Mashal al-Harbi, of Medina, was left in, after surgery. He could move even less than before; as for Umran al Tayfi, his case is hard to believe. He has endured sixteen operations in his foot, but it is as painful and as damaged as ever.
Muhammad, from Afghanistan who is my cage mate, discovered after three years of suffering that he had cancer and that the illness was in its terminal stages; the medics did not hide from him the results of the tests, which indicate that his illness started after he was made a prisoner by the Americans.
Nevertheless the new doctors were more open than their predecessors, since they told him that Washington had refused to treat his cancer or to allow him to return to his country to spend his last days with his wife and children, or to be buried in his native land.
The situation of his countryman Muhammad Alam is not a lot better, since they have informed him that he has throat cancer, although he can return to Afghanistan.
Not long ago, a rumor circulated that all the vaccine jabs given to the prisoners by force during the last three years was a way to infect them with the illnesses, which after a time came apparent. Deceases, like AIDS, cancer, sterility and others.
Anyhow, we have to admit that the surgeons are honest and totally dedicated to their profession, since they never hesitate to amputate hands or feet, both healthy and sick, to the prisoners. The nurses are not any less dedicated, as they administer with generosity expensive unknown drugs whether the patients are aware of what they (the nurses) are doing or not!
Your sincere friend
Sami Muhyi al-Din al-Hajj
August 9, 2005
Congressmen visit Guantanamo to see the caged terrorists
These are some of my notes on the hunger strike:
(August 9, 2005) — The strike began on July 12 in block 4, that is, the Whisky barracks, where all the prisoners have joined and the number is now up to 190 strikers. We were asking for two things:
— That they stop treating all prisoners so harshly, but especially the prisoners of block 5.
— A vast improvement in the quality of medical attention and the cessation of all forced practices against prisoners, like forced sedation and “inoculations” as well as the end of any practices that make fun of the prisonerís mental condition.
A very large group of visitors came to Delta barracks on July 15. I believe that they were Congressmen of the United States. For some reasons only known to the people in charge, the delegates were not allowed to visit block 4. Perhaps it was because of the tension that had been created there. Anyway they visited the hospital that is next to Whisky barracks.
Frustrated and desperate, the prisoners started shouting and screaming so that the visitors could hear, trying to make them aware of their plight. Some were shouting: ìfreedom!î others: ìBush is just like Hitler!î and others complained by shouting: ìthis is a gulag!î, that is to say, a place of forced work and slavery.
At this point some visitors tried to come closer to Whisky barracks trying to hear better what the prisoners were shouting, without paying attention to the warnings of the guards. At the same time others were looking at us contemptuously and the rest seemed indignant at what was happening.
On July 17 at five o’clock in the afternoon the soldiers started moving by force all the prisoners in barrack Whisky (we think that they did this as a punishment for what happened during the visit of the Congress people, two days earlier).
They moved 18 prisoners to blocks 2 and 3, where conditions are more punitive; one of them is your client, Jamil al-Banna. As the commanding officer seemed to detect a slight sign of resistance, he sent for the brutal anti-riot unit.
At the end of the operation the authorities had moved 18 prisoners from two cage blocks, while the rest of the prisoners in Whisky barracks were demanding to be transferred with their friends to blocks 2 and 3.
Meanwhile in block 4 the conditions deteriorated. Those who were still there, also asked to be transferred to blocks 2 and 3. In the end approximately 40 prisoners asked for the transfer, and decided to leave all their possessions behind and congregate at the entrance of the block, trying to show their captors that they were determined to be taken seriously.
At three o’clock in the afternoon of July 18 the transfer of prisoners to blocks 2 and 3 began.
Meanwhile, as the strike continued, the prisoners started shouting together: “Why are we the enemy?” The camp Commandant said that he had no authority to change our juridical status. They said to us that Donald Rumsfeld — the Minister of Defence — had written from Washington to him asking to apply the Geneva Convention in Guant·namo.
For us the most important aim to achieve was the closure of block 5, because there, the conditions were the most awful of all. Some officials came and promised that they would open a shop where we could buy supplies. They said that our families could send us money, and that they would give 3 dollars a week to the prisoners who had no money.
Prisoners would be allowed to meet in assembly to debate our problems, to define our positions and to negotiate with the authorities. But there would be no confidential or private communication among the prisoners, however, we managed to pass written messages between each other, which were swallowed as soon as they were read. When the authorities found out about it, they got into a rage.
On August 5 the case of Hisham al-Sulayti provoked serious problems. This prisoner had resisted in an interrogation session, so the soldiers desecrated the Koran yet again.
There were many times when the sacred Book was desecrated. For example, a military policeman had ordered the Yemeni al-Shamrani to do something while he was praying. He answered that he would do it as soon as he finished praying. Immediately all the military policemen rushed forward and hit him in the face until it was covered with blood and then they started stamping and kicking the Koran.
That was not the first time it happened. Another Yemeni, Hakim, was told that he represented a serious danger to his prison guards because he had learned the Koran by heart. That was a real insult to the Moslem faith.
There was also the case of Saad from Kuwait, dragged to an interrogation session where he was forced to spend five hours with a woman who was sexually explicit in front of him. And the case of the young Canadian Omar Jadr, also forced into isolation to be questioned.
They sent prisoners to block 3, also known as Romeo, where they were humiliated, they were forced to wear short trousers and they were left without food or drink for 24 hours. On August 8 the camp Commandant stopped the prisoners’ assemblies because the day before blocks 2 and 3 went on hunger strike; block 1 joined the strike two days later.
As soon as the second strike began the colonel came with a megaphone. He asked the heads of the different blocks to go out to speak with them, but we did not pay any attention to his request. We thought we had to go on hunger strike again, but I am not convinced that it was the right thing to do; however, we had to show solidarity with our fellow prisoners in block 5. I hope to come out of this one alive and ask you to tell my wife and my son that I love them very much indeed. Your friend and client Sami Muhyi al-Din al-Hajj
I Want Back Home
(October 20, 2005) — I would like to say to you once again that if they free me, I have decided to return to Sudan, my beloved country. I would not want to go anywhere else.
I want to return to Sudan to resume a normal life with my dear family and to look after my brothers and young sisters, who after the death of my parents — God the compassionate, have mercy on them — are now my responsibility.
It is also my wish that my dear son Muhammad al-Habib enrolls in a Sudanese school as I am sure that, God willing, he will have a great future.
I am very grateful to you for everything that you have done for me.
Your sincere and faithful friend
Sami Muhyi al-Din Muhammad al-Hajj
Punished for three grains of rice and four ants
(November 6, 2005) — Let me make a confession: I cannot stop asking myself this question, why do they punish me? It is becoming an obsession, but I cannot get it out of my head. All these punishments began when they put me in prison in Bagram, Afghanistan.
They only allowed us to go to the athroom twice a day, the first time just after dawn and then just before dusk. We could only go when it was our turn. I remember that once I was very desperate and I whispered to the man in front of me in the queue, to let me get in front of him.
The soldier, guarding us, bellowed with fury, ‘Do not speak!’? and then ordered me to get out. He tied my hands to a wire and left me there all day on my feet and shivering with the cold weather. Eventually, I soiled my trousers, to the enjoyment of the soldiers and the whores present.
Then to Kandahar
In full summer, under the blazing sun and walking on the burning soil, one soldier shouts, â€œYou! Hold it there… the second one… the third one and also the fourth one! Why did you speak? Get on your knees with your hands on your head!
We were left like this, under the torrid sun and kneeling on the burning stones until one of us collapsed and the rest went to his aid.
One week, after arriving in Guantanamo, the soldiers got to the cages, very early in the morning and ordered all the prisoners to put their arms through the gap in the door that they used to get our food to us, because, they said, they were going to vaccinate us against tetanus.
When it was my turn, I said to them that I had been vaccinated before I left Doha, against tetanus, yellow fever, cholera and other illnesses and that according to the doctor there that these vaccines were active for five years. There was no point in having them again. The officer bellowed telling me not to argue, ” Get your arm out or we’ll get it out for you!â€? I refused.
They left me alone for the moment, and then, they returned after finishing with the rest. However, I kept refusing again and again. As a punishment they took all my things, from the mattress to the toothbrush, and I had to sleep on the floor for three days and three nights. I kept asking myself the same question that torments me: Why do they punish me?
Are we to take medicines by force? Have we suddenly turned into a flock of sheep? Do we have to accept everything without protest; without objecting to the excessesâ€”without finding out at least what all this is about?
Many things worse than what I have described happened to me. One night I went to bed quite early. I was exhausted after spending many hours under interrogation. I was awakened by the shouts and commands from the soldiers. ‘Get your head and your hands out of the blanket!’? I was startled so I complied. As a matter of fact, it was forbidden for us to sleep with our heads or hands covered by the blanket.
I went to slept again. Some time later a soldier started hitting the door of the cage as hard as he could and started bellowing, “Why did you put the toothpaste in the place of the toothbrush?â€? He accused me of refusing to obey military laws and regulations and ordered me to get all my things together. I was punished for a whole week.
And here I am again, asking the same question. Why do they punish me? How can they justify punishing me for a week, taking away all my things, leaving me with no mattress or blanket, obliging me to sleep on the floor?
Another time, I was having breakfast, which consisted of the cold contents of a can. When I finished a soldier collected the leftovers and the plastic bags. He stopped at the door of the cage and counted the pieces, trying to put them together again. Suddenly he shouted, “Where is it… the piece that is missing?” I started looking among my things but I did not find it.
He immediately went away to report the problem to his superiors and came back with his orders. I had to be made an example. Yet again, they took away all my possessions for three days and yet again the same old question came back… Why do they punish me? What on earth would I want with a small piece of a plastic bag?
Once more, providence reunited me in the same cage block with Yamel from Uganda, Mohamed from Chad and Yamel Blama from Britain. The colour of the skin and the hated orange of our boilersuits also united us. The black of our skins was enough to make the guards hate us and make our lives hell. Often they woke us up during the night under the pretext of searching the cage.
One night the soldiers woke me up for yet another search. They did not find anything suspicious, that is, except for three grains of rice on the floor that I had saved for the ants. This time they punished me for seven days and yet again, the same old question came back to haunt me? Why do they punish me?
I just couldn’t understand why three grains of rice and four ants were sufficient reason for them to punish me.
Another night two soldiers stood in front of my door. They were carrying chains and shackles. They banged on the door very hard and I felt afraid when I woke up. They chained me and took me to the Romeo Barracks. They pushed me into a cage. They took my boilersuit and I was left in my underwear. Nothing more, no soap or toothbrush or anything else.
No matter how many times I asked them why I was being punished I never got an answer. However, sometime later I was told that I was in solitary confinement for two weeks, because a soldier found a nail sticking out of the vent in my cage. I asked them from where they thought I got the nail or how did they think that I managed to stick it onto the outside of my cage. No answersâ€”they just turned on their heels and left.
I spent 14 days sitting there, able to say my prayers as I could not do it with respect and dignity in that state of undress. I had to sleep for 14 cold winter nights on the ground without a mattress or blanket.
The harassment and the provocations from the soldiers went from bad to worse. Once we found out that a soldier had trampled on the Holy Koran and left the mark of his boots on it. All prisoners rebelled and decided to return all the copies of the holy book to the administration office so that they were not desecrated in front of us.
The Camp Commandant promised that it would not happen again. But, of course, the promise was not fulfilled… The prisoners decided not to leave the cages, not even for walks or desperately needed showers, until they collected all the copies of the Holy Koran.
As always, the culprits came back barking orders and threats. The ruthless riot units arrived. They opened all the cages and beat up all the prisoners before putting shackles and chains on them. They all had their hair; moustaches and beards shaved by force and were thrown into isolation cages.
As it happened to all the others, when my turn came, I was sprayed with gas, beaten up and thrown onto the floor. Once there, a soldier got hold of my head and started banging it against the cement floor. Another one kicked me very hard in the face and immediately blood started pouring out of the injury. All this was happening as I was pinned down to the floor, chained and shackled. Like the others I lost all my hair and was thrown, drenched in blood into an isolation cage.
After an hour or so a soldier asked me through the vent if I wanted to see a doctor. I said no and prayed to Allah, putting before Him the injustices of those who had robbed us of our freedom and dignity. At one point, I felt very faint and I asked to see a doctor.
When the doctor got there he gave me three stitches, put a dressing on my head and gave me some sleeping tablets, saying they were antibiotics. All that, through a gap of a few centimetres wide. I fell asleep knocked down by the terrible injustice perpetrated by those men.
The following morning the same old question came back as a curse… Why do they punish us?
Perhaps to defend my faith and my religion is a crime punishable with prison. Is it also a crime to ask that all copies of the Holy Koran are collected and kept in a safe place so they are not desecrated in front of us?
Why am I here? Because I travelled to Afghanistan with my camera to film for four weeks the brutal war waged against the Afghan people, working on behalf of Al Jazeera. Is this also a crime, which has to be punished with (so far) more than four years in prison? Why did they accuse me of being a terrorist?
Far too many questions are swimming in my head and tormenting my spirit, together with all the slogans promoting deception and the justifying so many crimes committed by those who like to see themselves as promoters of freedom, defenders of democracy and protectors of peace on earth.
Translated from Arabic into French by Ahmed Manaï, , from French into Spanish by Juan Vivanco at
• French version : http://quibla.net/guantanamo2006/guantanamo1.htm
• Spanish version : http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=25069 .
• Italian version by Mirumir http://mirumir.blogspot.com/