Low-risk prisoners freed from high-security hell

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 1 Nov 2002 09:51:10 -0000

Returning Guantanamo Bay inmates talk of stifling cells, little exercise
and no contact with families 

Three of the first four prisoners to be freed from indefinite, secret
detention at the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba complained yesterday that
inmates were locked for days at a time in sweltering, tiny cells and
were denied contact with relatives. 

They also said that dozens of Afghan and Taliban foot soldiers were
jailed on the island. 

Two of the three Afghans turned over to officials in Kabul appeared to
be in their 70s. A Pakistani man handed over to officials back home
yesterday was said to be in his 50s. 

The Afghans said they were not tortured or abused by their American
interrogators, but that the prospect of being trapped in endless
isolation wore away at them. One of the Afghan prisoners, Jan Muhammed,
said he was completely cut off from the outside world for 11 months and
did not get a letter from his family until three days before his

"I wrote a letter to my family that said, 'I'm half an animal now'," he
said. "'After a month I'll be a full animal and then I'll come back.'" 

Mr Muhammad and the others criticised the methods used to determine who
would be sent to Guantanamo Bay, known as Camp X-Ray, accusing US
officials of relying too much on information from Afghan warlords. Over
the past year, some warlords have been accused of giving misleading
information, prompting American bombing raids that killed dozens of

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, declined to identify the
detainees by name or nationality, even after Afghanistan and Pakistan
said they were receiving repatriated prisoners. 

"We've said all along, we have no desire to hold large numbers of these
people for a long period of time," she said. 

"If we can go through all those factors, determine someone doesn't have
intelligence value, is not a real threat to the United States or our
friends or allies, and we think there will be a proper handling on the
other end, then we'd like to get rid of some of these people. So we're
working a lot of those issues with countries, but it takes time." 

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the issue is fuelling accusations of
American heavy-handedness. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, is under
pressure to speed the release of dozens of prisoners whom Afghans claim
have been wrongly imprisoned. 

A team of Pakistani interrogators who visited Guantanamo this summer
declared that nearly all of the 53 Pakistanis held were low-level foot
soldiers who should be freed. 

Mr Muhammad said he was still mystified about how he ended up at
Guantanamo. He conceded that he fought with the Taliban at Kunduz, but
said he had no choice - Taliban troops conscripted him. 

Mr Muhammed, who said he was about 35, said that after he surrendered,
soldiers loyal to the Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum told US
soldiers that he and nine others were senior Taliban officials. 

"They came and took 10 strong-looking people," said Mr Muhammad, a
stocky, barrel-chested man. "Only one of those 10 was a Talib." 

The arrests of Mr Muhammed's compatriots, a senior Afghan official said,
were laughable. One of them, Faiz Muhammed, said he was 105. Babbling at
times like a child, the partially deaf old man was unable to answer
simple questions. He struggled to complete sentences and strained to
hear words that were shouted at him. 

First he claimed that US soldiers took him away 12 months ago. Then he
said he was five years old during Afghan King Amanullah's reign - which
would make him at least 78 - and that he had spent eight months in an
American jail. 

He was asked if he was angry at the US soldiers who arrested him. "I
don't mind," he said, his face brightening. "They took my old clothes
and gave me new clothes." 

The second Afghan man freed yesterday said he was 90 years old and gave
his name as Muhammed Siddiq. A wizened old man with a cane, he said that
US soldiers had arrested him in a raid on his village in Paktia

He then said "enough questions", declined to speak further and stared
impassively out of the window. 

Afghan officials confirmed that the three, who were still under guard
last night, were the newly released prisoners. The younger Mr Muhammed
still wore a bracelet that identified him as a Guantanamo Bay prisoner,
and all three wore thick new American-made cotton sweatsuits and socks.
They showed off bottles of medication, copies of the Koran and small US
flag arm-patches given by their captors. 

Mr Muhammed complained of being locked in the small cells 24 hours a
day, with only two 15-minute breaks each week for exercise. He described
temperatures in the containers, which had fans but no air-conditioning,
as stifling. 

He said photographs showing blindfolded and chained prisoners depicted
the screening process that prisoners went through when they first

He did not complain about the food or medical care, and he praised his
guards for respecting his religion. "When we were standing for praying
they were walking very slowly to not disturb us," he said. 

The only confrontation he heard of was when an Arab prisoner threw water
at a visiting general. He said the general did not retaliate. But he
maintained that he received his first and only Red Cross message from
his family three days before he was flown out of Cuba. The message was
stamped "June 28 2002". 

Pentagon officials said that as the four detainees left Guantanamo,
about 30 new detainees were flown in, bringing the total number of
inmates to about 625. It was the first new batch of prisoners since
August. "We think it's likely there will be more detainees," Ms Clarke

Although Jan Muhammed conceded that everyone in Guantanamo claimed they
were innocent, he insisted that some of the claims were real. 

As he sat between the two elderly men, he said: "Tell the Americans
there are three kinds of people in Guantanamo. One is the real fighters,
the others were forced to fight and the third group is like these guys."

Source: The Guardian 

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