‘Guantanamo creates deep wounds’ – former detainees

Guantanamo Bay sends a disturbing signal to the world by regular use of torture, former detainees say. Speaking with RT, they shared painful memories and details of the day-to-day at the prison, which is famous for holding detainees without charge.

Former Guantanamo detainee Bisher Amin Khalil Al-Rawi, 52, is an Iraqi citizen who became a UK resident in 1980s. He was held in Guantanamo from 2002 to 2007. Al-Rawi told RT that he was arrested by the Gambian National Intelligence Agency while on a business trip. He was then turned over to American authorities and transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where he was held on suspicion of having links with Al-Qaeda.

Al-Rawi tells RT that he still feels guilt in front of the other prisoners who have been cleared of charges, but still remain in Guantanamo.

Bisher Amin Khalil Al-Rawi
Bisher Amin Khalil Al-Rawi

­“I do not know why I was released and others were not, especially when you know that people who have been cleared still remain in Guantanamo. At the time when I was released, I do not know whether I was cleared or not. And I think one cannot but feel uncomfortable and that guilt is lingering in you. Why am I out and they are still in there?”

“Dictators are pressing people, we all know that. But oppression from countries that have put themselves forward as the leaders of the free world, I think oppression from them should not be tolerated. The UK is my country, it is my home, but I think the government can do much more to help. The US needs to be reminded of the wrongs that it is committing.”

­Thirty-year old German-born Turkish national Murat Kurnaz was held in extrajudicial detention in Afghanistan, and then in Guantanamo for five years, after his 2001 arrest in Pakistan. He was nineteen at the time of his arrest. In 2008, he testified to the US Congress that in addition to other forms of torture, he had survived being chained by his arms to the ceiling of an airplane hangar for three days. While in detention, military officials found the allegations that had initially brought his arrest were groundless. Kurnaz told RT that he was "sold" by Pakistani authorities, who claimed he had links to Al-Qaeda, to American officials for $3,000. At Guantanamo, he says he saw many children, and was subjected to regular beatings – and worse.

Murat Kurnaz (AFP Photo/David Hecker)
Murat Kurnaz (AFP Photo/David Hecker)

"I can tell you that the reason they kept us in Guantanamo, and not a prison in the US, was that there’s no access there for human rights – meaning they could 'investigate' you any way they like. If you are not a terrorist, they would make you a terrorist," Kurnaz told RT.

Recounting his experience being subjected to waterboarding and electroshock torture, Kurnaz said, "they also made me sign papers that I was a member of Al-Qaeda, because they didn’t have anything against me. If you weren’t a terrorist, they would make you one." He added, "every time I refused to sign, they used another kind of torture."

As for the physical conditions, Kurnaz said, "They were beating us up almost every day."

"I have seen many things during those five years – many bad things," he told RT, including "nine- or twelve-year-old" children – and prisoners killed by torture.

­Former Guantanamo detainee Omar Deghayes, 43, is a Libyan citizen with residency status in the UK. He was held at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2007. Deghayes was arrested in Pakistan and then taken into US military custody and sent to Guantanamo.  After his release he was returned to Britain, but was arrested under a Spanish warrant. In 2008 the extradition attempts were dropped.

Omar Deghayes
Omar Deghayes

Deghayes believes that the message US is sending by institutionalizing torture is disturbing, and says it creates deep wounds that are not easily healed.

“I have been released now for four years, since December 2007. But the memories of Guantanamo are very clear because of what had happened. The mistreatment does not go away easily. It does create a deep wound that will last a long time. When we talk about Guantanamo, these things do come back.”

“The message that Guantanamo sends to the world is very disturbing and very serious, [and] has to be opposed and spoken against. In the US the people who committed the crimes which legalized and engineered torture in Guantanamo not only have not been prosecuted or accounted for what they had committed, but they are at large campaigning very powerfully with media – and now film – to justify and make torture acceptable to the American public at large. Such a message is very dangerous and has to be opposed.”

Cageprisoners, a London-based NGO, aims to be “giving a voice to the voiceless” and provides support for both current and former Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Its board member, human rights lawyer Saghir Hussain, talked about Gitmo prisoner Shaker Aamer, who is a Saudi Arabian citizen and the last British resident held there. Aamer was cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007 and the Obama administration in 2009, but remains in detention.

Saghir Hussain
Saghir Hussain

“The promise [to bring Shaker Aamer back home] has not been fulfilled, and that is very disappointing. We urge the British government to fulfill the promise made to the former detainees, who despite their own personal emotional sufferings are strongly concerned about Shaker Aamer and the fact that he is still not back.”

Hussain also spoke out against the ‘Secret Justice’ bill that would allow national security evidence to be heard behind closed court doors.

“[The] Secret Justice bill would allow a Secretary of State to tell the judge what is secret and what is not. So there is no judicial oversight as to what can be open in court.”