May Issue 2005
Back from Camp
Detainees at the American naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, at Bagram airbase, and in Kandahar, endure immense psychological and physical torture at the hands of US marines, says Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, the latest prisoner to be released from Camp Delta. An Afghan national with Pakistani citizenship, Abdul Rahim was let go after a US military tribunal cleared him of suspected terrorist links. He landed at Bagram Airport in Kabul along with 16 other detainees on April 18, where he was handed over to Afghan authorities. He finally reached his home in Peshawar on April 21.
Visitors pour into Dost’s residence at Spena Ware in Peshawar, anxious to greet their kinsman who has been away for more than three-and-a half years. But all those eager to focus on the salacious details of Abdul Rahim’s incarceration are in for a surprise. Choosing not to dwell too much on the torture he suffered at the the hands of his detainers, he talks about the literary work he produced during his confinement at the camp. The author of 19 books, Abdul Rahim laments the fact that his work was seized by prison authorities and has not been returned as promised. “My literary work is my intellectual property and nobody has the right to refuse me my property,” he says. “I don’t expect justice from both Pakistan and the America. But I want the US to return my poetry and prose.”
A graduate of Hadiqatul Uloom, Peshawar, Islami Markaz and Jamiaa-al Asar, the slim and long-bearded Abdul Rahim said prisoners in Cuba were not allowed to write for the first 14 months of their incarceration. After this period was over, they were provided stationery to pursue literary activities. “I wrote a Pashto translation and explanation (tafseer) of the Quran, Pashto poems containing about 25,000 verses, a book on Pashto grammar, fundamentals of hadith, fiqah in poetic form, literary essays on the life of Kochis (Afghan nomads) and on belief. But the US authorities took my papers away, telling me they would be returned upon my arrival at Bagram Airport,” Abdul Rahim said. “They lied.”
Rahim, along with his younger brother Badr Zaman, was arrested by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on November 17, 2001, from his home in Peshawar. “The ISI handed us over to the US on February 9, after two-and-a half months of interrogation at Peshawar, where we were kept in solitary confinement,” he says. “The marines transported us by ship to Bagram first and then to Kandahar, before sending us on to Guantanamo. Our family members remained in the dark about our whereabouts after our arrest. It took them seven months to find out where we were.”
Badr was subsequently cleared at a hearing at Camp Delta military tribunal and was sent home six months before Rahim. “I kept silent about my ordeal on my return because I thought the US would cause trouble for my brother,” Badr said.
Now free to talk about their ordeal, both brothers do not mince words about their experiences. “Prisoners at Camp Delta endure extreme psychological stress,” says Abdul Rahim. “The interrogators are ill-mannered. They insult the inmates and threaten them with death. They make the prisoners sit in rooms decorated with nude pictures. And sometimes inmates are exposed to freezing temperatures.”
Adds Badr Zaman, “About 40 to 50 inmates lost their sanity due to immense psychological stress. These prisoners are kept in the Delta block of the camp, and are mostly Arabs, Chechens and mujahids from other central Asian republics.”
Say the two brothers, “The most terrifying place is Bagram airbase and Kandahar.” Both claim to have undergone extreme torture at these locations for two-and-a half months, before being transported to Cuba. “At Bagram Airbase, there was no water available for ablution purposes. We were not allowed to sleep and dogs were constantly on guard, barking at us. We were hooded during interrogation and were not allowed to straighten up whenever they took us somewhere. We had to keep our heads low, with the marines locking our chained hands behind us. Sometimes, the marines would conduct a random search of our cells, and throw the Quran around, like an ordinary notebook, after rifling through its pages. They also used to throw the Quran down from upper stories to their colleagues. We were also not allowed to offer our prayers in congregation or to talk to each other. Even during interrogation, we were only allowed to answer in the affirmative or negative. Though we were allowed joint prayers in Kandahar, the marines started insulting us by storming the congregation, pushing us to the ground amidst our prayers, and frisking us. Our beards were also shaved in Kandahar, a practice repeated five times in Guantanamo as well.”
According to the former prisoners, food was a always insufficient at Bagram, with only MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) meals available. The meat was not halal and we could only eat the biscuits,” says Badr. Many stopped eating due to depression. At Kandahar, inmates were only fed on a diet of dried, half-wheat bread.
According to Badr and Rahim, the condition of prison cages in Guantanamo was better than those in Kandahar and Bagram. “The three by 2.5 metre cage contained a steel toilet, a steel block serving as a bed, and water was provided for ablution purposes,” says Badr. “However, the toilets were uncovered. Later, inmates were provided with a hardboard sheet, which afforded them a modicum of privacy. Prisoners had to say their prayers, relieve themselves, sleep and eat in the same cell. As in Bagram, the food at Guantanamo was insufficient.”
According to Abdul Rahim, incompetence and the ethnic and religious biases of the appointed translators during interrogation, seriously compromised the prisoners’ chance of a fair trial. But despite these circumstances, the morale of prisoners was high. Inmates used to chant ‘the lion is coming’ in Arabic and Pashto when they were handcuffed or shackled for interrogation. Lions are kept in chains — we are lions,” they would chant. Inmates also found the naivety of the US marines laughable. Says Badr, “They would ask silly questions, like: ‘Were you recorded on any computerised systems when you travelled from Peshawar to Islamabad?’”
Only three Pakistanis and 105 Afghans now remain at Camp Delta. These include former Taliban leaders: the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdussalam Zaeef, the governor of Herat, Mulla Kherullah Kherkhwa, the deputy minister of defence, Mulla Fazil, and the former ruler of northern Afghanistan, Mulla Noorullah Noori.
Says Rahim, “Abdussalam Zaeef has been cleared by the military tribunal and is awaiting transportation to Afghanistan. He is being urged to support the Hamid Karzai government, but might choose to seek political asylum in a third country.” According to Badr, charges against the Taliban deputy minister of defence, Mulla Fazil, have been proved. He has been sent to Camp-5, reserved for those found guilty by the military tribunal. Badr, Mulla Zaeef and Mulla Kherullah Kherkhwa were transported to the US naval base on the same aircraft on May 1, 2002. Badr claims Zaeef would often discuss the circumstances in which he was arrested in Pakistan. “Mulla Zaeef was extremely resentful of Pakistan’s role in his arrest, and intends to file a writ against the Pakistan government for violating diplomatic norms and handing him over to the US, despite the fact that he had been granted political asylum,” he says. “The US interrogators went on to continuously grill us about Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Mulla Omar, but we denied having any knowledge about, or any links with all three.”
Before their arrest, Badr and Rahim co-owned a gemstone and laundry soap business. Both businesses went under during their confinement. Rahim now urges the Pakistani government to return the precious stones they seized from his home when he was arrested. An MA in English from the University of Peshawar, Badr was also a lecturer at a local college. Abdul Rahim was the editor of three Pashto and Dari language magazines, Zerai, al-Ihsan and Daawat during the ’80s, besides being a regular contributer to local Pashto dailies. Badr also reported for these magazines. How the brother’s will now earn a living is a big question mark.