Kuwaiti Gitmo Detainees Speak Out About Abuse
By Rania El Gamal
December 1, 2006
KUWAIT: Suspected of ties with Al-Qaeda, Adil Al-Zamil and Saad Al-Anzi spent almost four years in the US detention facilities from Bagram in Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay without a trial. Only in November 2005, they were finally returned to Kuwait after being declared non-enemy combatants by the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs). Now although they have been hailed as local heroes in their community ever since their return, Al-Zamil and Al-Anzi’s terrifying ordeals through the years, shed light on the conditions of the remaining four Kuwaitis still detained in Guantanamo in an almost limbo-like status.
Talking exclusively to Kuwait Times, Al-Zamil and Al-Anzi relate their tormented ordeals in the maximum-security US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, which is no different than the narrated stories of the other 385 released detainees who were held in Guantanamo on suspicion of having ties to the Islamist terror organisations. Soon after being branded as suspects of fighting with Osama bin Laden, and handed over to the American authorities for bounty money in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, claims of mental and physical torture, not being represented by a lawyer or receiving a fair trial for years, not to mention restrictions enforced on them by their own government even now that they are released, are just a few of the so many tribulations that Al-Zamil and Al-Anzi have in common when narrating their stories.
THE JOURNEY TO GITMO
Al-Zamil begins his story when he was in Pakistan while working for the Kuwait Public Authority for Housing Care. He was arrested on February 2002 by the Pakistani authorities, and then handed over US custody.
“During that time, Arabs were being picked up from the streets and sold to Americans. There was bounty money for anyone handing over Arabs to the US authorities ranging from US$5000 to $10,000,” he said. He added he stayed in Pakistan for 20 days where he was interrogated by the Pakistani intelligence. After that he was handed over to American interrogators for another 20 days. He was then taken to a detention facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan for 3 days, after which he was transferred to Bagram in Afghanistan for a month and a half, before being returned to Kandahar and eventually sent to Guantanamo.
Like other released detainees, Al-Zamil claims American interrogators frequently tortured him. “While walking to the place of interrogation, the guards would continuously hit me on my head with sticks, and every time I their accusations during interrogations (of being tied to Al-Qaeda) the guards would hit me even more, hold me high up and then fling me to the floor,”
Other ways of punishment that Al-Zamil claimed that he was subjected to during his detention included; being intimidated during interrogations by placing a gun on the table, staying for two months without a shower, suspending him with one hand tied to the ceiling during interrogations making it almost impossible to either sit or stand straight, as well as being head-covered (hooded), stripped naked in front of women officers while they clicked photos, laughing all the time.
According to Al-Zamil whenever detainees were taken out of their cells, they had to be handcuffed and in leg iron, which were made in such a way that it made it almost impossible for the prisoner to stand upright. After being back to Kandahar where Al-Zamil stayed for another month, he was told by some American guards that he would be transferred to Guantanamo. “We used to hear news about Guantanamo and that there were other Kuwaiti detainees there before us,” he said.
Talking about his journey to the place where he would be staying in for many years to come, Al-
Zamil recalls: “I call the journey to Guantanamo ‘the journey of death.’ I discreetly wished that
the plane would fall to end the pain I felt.” As other prisoners transferred with him on the plane, he too was handcuffed behind his back, had his head covered, wore earplugs, and was tightly restrained by ropes over his chest, stomach and legs.
“They (the accompanied guards) used to give me pills which I didn’t know what they
were, I think they were drugs because I was sleeping almost all the time,” he said. Once Cuba, and still head-covered, Al- Zamil said the guards started to hit them again and push them around. “They (the guards) used to come into my cell and force me to walk out by beating me. They used to hit me with their fists and put their feet on my head ordering me not to move, though I never moved or refused to walk,” he said. Al- Zamil claims the guards slammed him on the head with iron handcuffs and though was bleeding, stayed for weeks without medical attention until infection set in. “The guard used to hit me and then apologise laugh with each other all the time,” he said.
Al-Zamil also related a story about a Moroccan detainee called Hamza, who had been hit by his interrogator with a fridge in Guantanamo in 2005. When asked if he knew what happened with Hamza, he said, “No body knows, they took him (Hamza) to the hospital.”
Other abuses claimed by Al- Anzi, varied from being by guards leading to breaking one of his legs during interrogations, or being bitten by dogs while being hooded, sprayed by a mysterious “red solution” causing a burning sensation to his skin, to being stripped naked and staying without clothes for two months. As many other detainees interviewed by their lawyers, there have been claims that female interrogators sexually provocative in treatment of detainees as a way to break down devout Muslims. Al-Anzi confirmed that those incidents occurred to him too during his interrogations at Guantanamo.
Al-Anzi was detained while he was in Pakistan for a business trip before Sept 11th by the Pakistani authorities. Although he initially thought the reason for his detention was for overstaying his visa limit - as happened in earlier cases where he usually ends up paying a penalty - he found himself even tually transferred to t he American authorities after the Sept 11th attacks. His experience in the US detention facilities was similar to that of Al-Zamil before he ended up in Guantanamo.
On Monday Nov 20, 2006, John Bellinger, the US State Department’s chief legal adviser while speaking to journalists in Kuwait through a DVC from Washington, denied that there had been human rights abuses in Guantanamo.
“The individuals who have been held in Guantanamo have been questioned certainly, but they have not been abused or subjected to any of these very rigorous interrogations, allegations of which you read about in the newspapers,” he said.
BUILDING NEW LIVES
Losing four years of one’s life for no apparent reason can definitely have a destructive effect on one’s future. After returning to Kuwait, and though they have been tried in front of the Kuwaiti courts for conspiring against a friendly country, both Al-Zamil and Al-Anzi were released with no charges. However, there are certain restrictions placed upon them by the Kuwaiti authorities, where they are not allowed to leave the country ‘until further notice.’ Other restrictions imposed such as the ability to work, confine the ex-detainees’ integration into the society. After all, it is no secret that being held in Guantanamo would definitely not be a plus point in anyone’s curriculum . Still, both Al-Zamil and Al-Anzi are happy to be back with their families. They said that people hail them as heroes now and never looked down on them for being imprisoned.
But are they the same persons as before their arrest? “I became a very suspicious person. If anybody asks me about anything, I think he/she is working for the American intelligence. I don’t trust anyone,” he said. “Sometimes when someone in the street asks me about an address, I think he is a spy. Even though you [this reporter] told me you are a journalist, I am thinking maybe you would report back with what I said to the American interrogators in Guantanamo,” he said with a chuckle.
“Every Kuwaiti who has returned from Guantanamo wants to settle down here in his own country. The bachelor got married and the married person is reunited with his family. The people of Kuwait embraced them, and I hope the Kuwaiti government would do that too,” said Khalid Al-Odah, head of the Kuwaiti Family Committee and father of detainee Fawzi Al-Odah. “I am calling upon the American government to give our detainees a fair trial, give them a chance to defend themselves, or release them,” he added. “Who is held responsible in detaining these prisoners for years with no humane treatment or a fair trial?” he questions.
CAUGHT ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE LAW
Since 2002, the US has held as many as 800 individuals from more than 40 different countries in military custody at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The facility is believed to detain what is known as “enemy combatants” in the so-called global war on terror. For almost five years now, detainees are being held with no fair hearing or a chance to study the evidence held against them by the US government.
According to testimonies of detainees held at Guantanamo, many alleged that they were beaten, forced to remain in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time, left in solitary confinement for months, and even shocked with electricity.
In 2004, in a leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), US interrogators at Guantanamo were accused of causing psychological and physical agony to prisoners, “tantamount to torture.” The ICRC refused “to publicly confirm or deny” the allegation.
In November 2001, President Bush authorized the creation of military commissions to try non-US citizens suspected of terrorism. On June 29, 2006, the US Supreme Court’s decision held that the military commissions violated US military law and the Geneva Conventions. On October 17, 2006, President Bush enacted the Military Commissions Act 2006 (MCA), which, among other things, establishes a system of military commissions for trials of non-US citizens who have been classified as “unlawful enemy combatants.”
Important concerns have been raised by different human rights organizations and legal scholars such as denying the detainees the right to challenge one’s imprisonment (known as habeas corpus appeals); permitting the use of evidence extracted through abusive interrogation techniques that were used prior to passing the Detainee Treatment Act in December 2005. Constitutionality of the MCA is still under a heated debate and only a decision by the Supreme Court could end it.