Police state : Guantánamo : innocent detainees


Richard Moore


 An Innocent Man in the Hell of Guantánamo 
By Sara Daniel 
Le Nouvel Observateur 

Week of Thursday 24 November 2005 Edition 

He's forgotten nothing of the pain, the humiliation, the
solitude. American investigators took a year to clear him.
And another year to free him. Beyond the revolting
injustice to which he was victim, former journalist Bader
Zaman denounces the arbitrariness of American detention

He suffers from hypermnesia. It's twelve months since
Bader Zaman was released from Guantánamo prison, but he
remembers every detail of his detention. Not only the
pain, the humiliation, the solitude, but also little
things: dogs' breath, the scrape of the razor against his
eyebrows, the accent of the creep who cried out over the
megaphone to the other soldiers: "Don't show any sympathy
for the terrorists!" He can't forget anything. Today he is
free. The Americans have cleared him of all accusations
against him. Yet, in Peshawar, this former journalist's
liberty still remains under tight surveillance. A few
weeks ago, ISI (Pakistani Secret Service) agents came back
to see him again. He received them calmly: "What do I have
to fear from you now? Have you found a worse hell on the
earth than the one you've already thrown me into?"

To meet Bader Zaman, one must dive into the alleys of Old
Peshawar. The 35-year-old journalist, who looks ten years
older, has transformed himself into a trader in precious
stones since his liberation. In a dark little room in the
middle of the rubber tire souk, he holds his stock of
lapis-lazuli from Afghanistan. Meeting a foreign woman is
just not done in this city controlled by Islamists, but
Bader Zaman insists on bearing witness. He doesn't really
resent the Americans. According to him, the party
responsible for his Calvary is the Pakistani Secret
Service, which he intends to sue. "I spent two months and
twenty-two days in Peshawar prison, fourteen days at
Bagram, two months and eight days in Kandahar and two
years and four months in Guantánamo, solely because I
denounced their practices."

When he was a very young man, Bader and his brother
belonged to an Afghan religious organization close to Bin
Laden and al-Qaeda that fought the Soviet occupation in
Afghanistan. He resigned from it in 1987 to protest that
organization's links with the Pakistani Secret Services.
Later, he who had never touched a weapon denounced the
Taliban's obscurantism in his newspaper and described them
as puppets of the Pakistani Secret Services. "So they sold
me to the Americans. A current practice right after the
American offensive in Afghanistan," he explains. "For
them, it was just a question of keeping the Americans busy
with false suspects. They never stopped playing the
international community."

The journalist knows the stories of all the detainees who
occupied neighboring cells in Guantánamo. He mentions the
taxi driver sold for $5000: "The Pakistanis had just made
a raid to find Arabs close to al-Qaeda and hadn't found
anybody, so they arrested him. The officer who sold him to
the Americans told him: 'Look here, it's worth it to sell
people like you to keep the Americans from coming to make
war on Pakistan...'" He says the taxi driver is still at

According to Bader, less than 20% of the detainees
presently in the American prison in Cuba are real "bad
guys" or Taliban officials like Mullah Fazel. But it was
the Kandahar and Bagram detention centers in Afghanistan
that left him with the worst memories. For twenty-four
days, he was shut up in a container. Then he was forbidden
to wash for three months. With a light on at all times,
too tight ligatures that cut into his arms and legs,
tortures. At Bagram, he saw prisoners being kicked across
the ground, others hung by their hands. He also saw
offenses to the Koran, which he says was the normal
practice in the Kandahar detention center. It was there,
by the way, that he saw the guards throw the sacred book
into a bucket that was used to empty toilets.

When he arrived at Guantánamo in May 2002, Bader was
placed in solitary for over a year. In the prison in Cuba,
there were no physical tortures. "The prisoners frequently
attacked the guards. I saw them bite Americans!" But they
tried to crack the detainees morally. Like when one of the
female guards touched one of them on the face, her hand
smudged with what she claimed was menstrual blood -
testimony corroborated by one of the Guantánamo
investigators, Sergeant Erik Saar, who included that
episode in a book.

For Bader, after long months of despair in which he kept
repeating the same story about the Pakistani Secret
Services to people who didn't want to hear any of it, the
climax came. "At the end of the interrogations, Federal
agents finished by telling me they didn't have anything on
me. That I was cleared. But after that, I had to wait
another year before leaving Guantánamo. Such a long year!

After that, the conditions of Bader's detention loosened
up. He was transferred to Camp 4, a camp for prisoners who
"collaborate." He traded his orange overall for a white
tunic, and picnics were even organized so the prisoners
could see the sea. "We were transported in a closed
ambulance, chained to one another. Then we were placed
between rows of barbed wire near the water. I remember
seeing a ship on the sea."

Bader Zaman has only one good memory from Guantánamo:
that's the arrival of his mortal enemy, the one who acted
as intermediary for the Pakistani Secret Services to sell
him to the Americans - who was himself, in fact, close to
al-Qaeda - in the neighboring cell. All the prisoners who
knew the truth booed the man. He lowered his head. "That
day, I knew that I had been believed, that I could hope to
leave that hell. The one who handed me over, he's still
there, in the Guantánamo jail...

Who Are the Guantánamo Detainees?

The Guantánamo detention center numbers 500 detainees who,
for the most part, were captured in Afghanistan in the
autumn of 2001. Among the prisoners, one may find, for
example, Mullah Fazel, former Taliban Defense minister,
but also people who had the misfortune of finding
themselves in the wrong place, like Wazir Mohamed, a taxi
driver whose case Amnesty International is defending. The
seven French citizens detained in the American prison have
all been freed and five of them are now in prison in
France. Washington continues to liberate dozens of
detainees to - as Pierre Prosper, the diplomat in charge
of negotiating these transfers, puts it - "share the
burden" with their home countries.

The "gulag of our era," according to the shock formula
used by Amnesty in its report on Guantánamo, continues to
be the object of much indignation and controversy
embarrassing to the American government. Washington is
engaged in an arm-wrestling contest with the UN,
representatives of which want to meet with all the
detainees to investigate accusations of torture. The
Pentagon has been forced to adjourn the trial of
"Australian Taliban" David Hicks to conform to a judge's
decision that the Supreme Court pronounce beforehand on
the legality of exceptional military tribunals.

The CIA's Secret Prisons

Has the CIA established a network of clandestine detention
centers spread across more than ten countries so they may
interrogate supposed terrorists without legal or moral
constraints? The "Washington Post" revealed the existence
of several secret prisons in Eastern Europe. Since then,
the list of countries that supposedly collaborate with the
American authorities has continued to grow: Thailand,
Morocco, Norway, Sweden, Italy, and Spain have been
accused of harboring these centers or tolerating
prisoners' transit through their territory. But up until
now, only the Czech Republic has admitted rejecting an
American request to implant a prison for detainees coming
out of the Guantánamo base.

This network of detention centers would have been created
in the months following September 11, when the idea of
"prison ships" was abandoned by the CIA for "security and
logistical" reasons. Then a "black site" with the code
name "Salt Mine" was put in place in Afghanistan. And the
CIA supposedly also closed a secret dungeon at Guantánamo.

According to the "Washington Post," there are a hundred
ghost prisoners. The organization Human Rights Watch -
which called them the "desaparecidos" (the disappeared),
in reference to the victims of Latin American
dictatorships - mentions 40 people detained in secret in
its October 2004 report. For several months, voices have
been raised within the CIA itself to contest the legality,
and above all, the effectiveness of such prisons.



"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

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