Former Guantanamo prisoner tells of abuse
PARIS – A Briton released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay told Europe’s top human rights body Friday he was beaten, shackled, kept in a cramped cage and fed rotten food as part of “systematic abuse” in American custody.
Jamal al-Harith’s testimony before a Council of Europe panel came as part of an inquiry by the body into human rights abuses at the U.S. detention facility to be made public in a report due out early next year.
Reading from a 10-page statement, al-Harith described his two-year detention at Guantanamo Bay as a period of continual mistreatment that ranged from humiliation and 15-hour interrogations to physical abuse that he says left scars.
At one point, al-Harith said he refused to take an unidentified injection and was chained up and attacked by five men wearing helmets, body armor and shields.
“They jumped on my legs and back and they kicked and punched me,” said the 37-year-old Web site designer and father of three from Manchester, England. “Then I was put in isolation for a month.”
Al-Harith said he was kept mostly in a wire cage and given food marked “10 to 12 years beyond their usable date” as well as “black and rotten” fruit. Sometimes, unmuzzled dogs were brought to the cage and encouraged to bark, he said.
Detained in Afghanistan in October 2001, al-Harith maintains he had traveled to the region to attend a religious retreat in Pakistan.
He and three other Britons were released in March and have filed a lawsuit in a U.S. court seeking $10 million each in damages. Never charged, they maintain they were innocents caught up in the American war on terrorism. They were denied access to lawyers, as are most prisoners in Guantanamo.
When al-Harith and the others filed their lawsuits in October, the Pentagon denied the abuse allegations and said the men were properly held in Guantanamo after being captured in Afghanistan and having fought for al-Qaida.
“The U.S. policy is to treat all detainees and to conduct interrogations, wherever they may occur, is in a manner consistent with all U.S. legal obligations,” Maj. Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman, said at the time.
Robert Lizar, al-Harith’s lawyer, urged the panel to use strong language in its report and to condemn U.S. behavior at Guantanamo that he called “totally shocking and unacceptable from international norms.”
“The actions are closer to those of kidnappers and bandits than to those of a state with a strong tradition of liberty and due process,” Lizar said.
Al-Harith said that during long interrogations, he was given no choice but to urinate on the floor and repeatedly threatened or asked to confess to crimes he had not committed in exchange for a payoff.
Interrogators threatened to seize his family’s home unless he admitted to having gone to Pakistan to buy drugs or to become involved with terrorism, al-Harith said.
“On another occasion, the interrogators promised me money, a car, a house, a job if I admitted those things,” he said. “I refused.”
During questioning, al-Harith said he was placed in shackles that prevented him from standing upright and that cut into his flesh, leaving scars on his wrists and ankles.
Similar abuses are detailed in a memo obtained exclusively by The Associated Press this month that suggests the Defense Department has done nothing about FBI complaints of “highly aggressive” interrogations reported as early as 2002. The memo quotes a Marine telling an FBI observer that some interrogations led to prisoners “curling into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain,” according to the letter dated July 14, 2004.
Kevin McNamara, who presided over Friday’s hearing for the council, said the global fight against terrorism should not be used as an excuse to violate basic human rights, the right to a fair trial and the rule of law.
“Hundreds of what must be presumed to be innocent people remain in indeterminate detention in Guantanamo Bay,” he said. “By all accounts, the abuse continues.”
McNamara said the council plans to publish its report on the subject in the early months of 2005.