Statement of Jamal al-Harith, former detainee at Guantanamo Bay

Delivered during the hearing on "The lawfulness of detentions by the United States in Guantanamo Bay", held by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (Paris, 17 December 2004)

 

 

"My name is Jamal Al Harith.  I was born and brought up in Manchester, England.  I have lived in the UK all my life.

 

I travelled to Pakistan intending to attend a religious retreat and arrived there on 2 October 2001.  When I arrived in Pakistan I was given advice by friendly people that it would be better for me to leave the country because of animosity towards British citizens.  This seemed to be sensible advice so I made plans to return to Europe by travelling overland through Iran to Turkey by truck.

 

Whilst the truck was still travelling in Pakistan it was stopped by people who I believe were Afghans.  They were armed and took over the truck at gunpoint.

 

I was taken in another vehicle by force by these men into Afghanistan.  I was then handed over to the Taliban.  I was beaten by Taliban guards and taken for interrogation.  I was accused of being a British Special Forces spy.  I was held in isolation for some time.

 

Some time after the United States invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban moved me from my detention into the general prison population.

 

When the Taliban government fell and the new government came to power, I, along with other prisoners, was told we were free to leave.  I was offered help to get transportation to take me to Pakistan.  I refused this offer because I thought it would be quicker and easier to contact the British Embassy in Kabul.

 

Officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (“ICRC”) instructed me to remain at the compound and they offered to contact the British Embassy so they could arrange to get me home.

 

On many occasions I got access to a telephone and spoke direct to the British Embassy officials who said they were making arrangements to fly me to Kabul and then out of the country.

 

After I had been in contact with the British Embassy in Kabul for about one month discussing the practical arrangements to get me out of the country, the American Special Forces arrived and questioned me.  The ICRC then told me that they would fly me to Kabul.  However, two days before I was due to fly to Kabul, American soldiers told me “You’re not going anywhere.  We are taking you to Kandahar Airbase.” 

 

The Americans later took me to Kandahar Airbase.  On arrival there I was beaten, stripped naked and interrogated.  I was then given clothes and detained.

 

After a period of detention in US custody in Afghanistan I was later transported to the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba (“Guantanamo”).  I was moved there on or about 11 February 2002.  Before take-off I was hooded and shackled.  Mittens were placed on my hands and earphones over my ears.  Chains were placed around my legs and my waist.  Goggles were placed on my eyes and the straps on the goggles were so tight they cut into my ears.  A medical patch was placed on my forehead which I believe contained a muscle relaxant.

 

On arrival at Guantanamo I was placed on a barge to get me to the main camp.  Whilst on the barge, US military forces kicked, slapped, elbowed and punched me in the body and head and they said repeatedly “You are now property of the United States Marine Corps.”

 

I was taken to Camp X-Ray, the prison camp for detainees. My goggles and hood were removed but I was told I must keep my eyes closed and I was not allowed to speak or move.  My clothes were stripped off.  I was placed in a shower.  My chains were released so I could wash.

 

I was later placed in a wire cage of about 2 metres by about 11/2 metres to 2 metres. 

 

During my imprisonment by the United States Forces, I was deprived of access to my friends and family.  I was never allowed any legal advice and never informed of any specific allegations or charges against me.  I was repeatedly questioned to try to make me confess to something I had not done.  My impression was that my interrogators were not interested in whether they obtained the truth from me but were simply intent on trying to make me confess. I refused to do so as I maintained my belief in myself and my innocence throughout this very difficult period.

 

During the time I was detained by United States Forces I was subjected to systematic abuse which I have been informed amounts to torture under international law.  I was assaulted on a number of occasions.  This included being punched, kicked and slapped.  In addition, I was subjected to a procedure called “short shackling” in painful “stress positions” for many hours at a time.  This caused deep flesh wounds which have left me with permanent scarring on my wrists and ankles. 

 

On occasions, unmuzzled dogs would be brought to my wire cage and encouraged to bark in a ferocious and threatening way. I was intentionally subjected to extremes of heat and cold for most of my stay whilst in Guantanamo. For long periods of my detention in Guantanamo I was kept in a filthy cage for 24 hours per day with no proper sanitation and no regular access to cleaning material.  I was denied access to necessary medical care.

 

I was harassed in practising my religion.  I was deprived of adequate food.  I was deprived of adequate drinkable water. I was also deprived of communication with my family and friends. Very powerful spotlights were kept on during the night-time period which made it hard to sleep properly.

 

Once a week for three minutes I was removed from my cell and showered and then returned to the cell.  Also once a week I was permitted five minutes recreation but my hands remained chained throughout recreation.

 

During the day I was exposed to extreme heat as my cell was in direct sunlight.

 

The food I was given to eat had date-markings on it which were 10 to 12 years beyond their usable date.  I was served out of date powdered eggs and milk and stale bread from which most of the mould seemed to have been picked out.  I was given fruit that was black and rotten.

 

Each time a guard entered the cage, I was forced to kneel down on the concrete floor of the cage.

 

On various occasions when I tried to pray I was interrupted by the guards who would be outside the cage talking or making a noise.  I was never given a prayer mat.  I did not receive a copy of the Koran until about one month after my detention at Guantanamo.  I heard other people making the call to prayer at times and they were interrupted by the guards and told to stop.

 

During my interrogation at Camp X-Ray, I would be usually placed in “long shackles”.  This involved chaining my legs using a large padlock to chain me to the floor.  The length of chains therefore meant that I was not able to stand up straight and either had to be squatting or kneeling if there was no chair. The shackles were tight and this caused scraping and bleeding of my skin on my ankles and wrists.  I still have scars in those areas.   On occasions my interrogation would last for up to 15 hours but the majority of times it would last 5 or 6 hours. 

 

During the 15-hour interrogation periods I had nowhere to urinate and had no alternative but to urinate on the floor.  I was interrogated approximately 10 times at Camp X-Ray and approximately seventy times at Camp Delta.  This was mainly by the American authorities but on about three occasions British officials questioned me in X-Ray and about 13 times in Camp Delta.  On one occasion an interrogator asked me to admit I had gone to Pakistan to buy drugs.  This was completely untrue and I refused.  On another occasion they told me there was a new terrorism law that would permit the authorities to put my family out on the street if I did not admit to being a drug dealer or a fighter.  On another occasion, the interrogators promised me money, a car, a house and a job if I admitted those things and agreed to work for the Americans.  I refused to admit these things as they were not true.

 

When I was moved to Camp Delta, I was placed in a mesh cage which was sub-divided as part of a larger metal container. There was little or no privacy.  The cages were very cold at night.  To make matters worse the system in the corridors adjoining the cells blew cold air at night and hot air during the day.  This meant that it was extremely cold at night and even hotter during the day than the outside temperature.

 

The cage I was in had a metal slab at waist height.  This meant that it was not possible to sit comfortably on the slabs with my legs dangling without them becoming numb.  In addition, there was not enough room in the cage to pray properly.

 

Because of the constant reconstruction work and there were large electric generators running 24 hours a day, it was extremely noisy all the time and very hard to sleep.  It was so noisy that the guards used earplugs daily.  In addition the lights were often left on 24 hours a day.

 

I recall an occasion when I was put into isolation for refusing to wear a wrist band.  On another occasion I was placed in isolation for writing the letter D on a styrofoam cup. I used the lettering to differentiate the cup for drinking out of from the cup I used for washing.  The isolation block was even colder than the ordinary cage at night.  It was freezing cold as cold air was blown through the block 24 hours a day.  The isolation cell was pitch black on my first period there as the guards claimed the cell lights were not working in my cell alone.

 

At around December 2002, I was placed in isolation a second time for refusing to take an injection.  I had refused because they would not tell me exactly what the injection was and what it was for.  When I refused, they brought in the “Extreme Reaction Force.”  They came in my cell in body armour, helmets and a shield.  There were five of them.  They beat me.  I was forcibly injected and chained with my legs and my arms behind me lying on my stomach. My wrists were chained to my ankles so that all my limbs were tied together over my back.  The ERF team jumped on my legs and back and they kicked and punched me.  I was then placed in isolation for about one month.  During that period I was deprived of soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush, blankets or even toilet paper.  I was also deprived of the Koran during this second period of isolation.

 

I recall on three or four occasions guards using an industrial strength hose to shoot strong jets of water at detainees.  This was done to me on one occasion.  A guard walked along the gangway by the cages sending the hose into each alternate cage. When it happened to me I was hosed down continuously for about one minute.  The pressure of the water was so strong it forced me to the back of the cage.  It soaked the cage including my bedding and my Koran.

 

I was eventually told that I was to be released and this happened on 9 March 2004.  I was never given any reason or explanation for my detention or any apology about any of the things that were done to me.  I have been left with intermittent significant pain in my knees which I believe arises from being repeatedly forced onto my knees and pressed downwards by guards during various other processes during my detention.  These events happened almost every day.  I am also suffering continuing pain in my right elbow.  I am also concerned about the long-term psychological effects.

 

I was imprisoned in Guantanamo for more than two years until my eventual release on 9 March 2004.

 

The irony is that when I was first told in Afghanistan that I would be in the custody of the Americans, I was relieved at that point as I thought that I would then be properly dealt with and returned home without much delay.  I knew that I had done nothing wrong.  I have never been in any kind of trouble with the law and have never engaged in any kind of fighting or planning or participating in any kind of violence or terrorist behaviour."

 

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