The First Ramadan | Prisoner 345 | My Six Years in Guantánamo

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In Guantánamo, we didn’t hear boats, only saw dead bodies leaving, and lifeless bodies entering. The persecution continued as we fasted during Ramadan. It wasn’t the hunger of fasting, but the humiliation, neglect and other things we were exposed to. Add to that the psychological pressure, sessions of temptation and seduction, and endless interrogations.

I felt as if the skies had fallen down on the earth, and I was between the two, breathing through the eye of a needle. In our world, Guantánamo, the sadists didn’t feel alive unless creatures were falling to the ground under their feet, and they could urge on their screams until they died.

We prepared for the first Ramadan, and the guards were told that we would not be eating anything until sunset. Seemingly deliberately, they were always late delivering our meals, coming four hours after the azan had sounded. The Ramadan meals weren’t canned, although they remained painfully small.

The first and last days of Ramadan were difficult, we needed to see the crescent moon to determine the beginning and end of the holy month, but not all of us could. In the first, second and third camps, some of the cells could to see the sun and the moon, but not where I was. In this doubt, we did our best and counted out 30 days.

It was around that first Ramadan that the administration instituted the levels of punishment, as I explained earlier. The point was to punish any prisoner who objected to poor treatment, asked for basic rights or didn’t cooperate with the interrogators. They wanted us to compete over the levels, so we would be distracted from demanding decent treatment.

The result was that they reshuffled people often. They mixed nationalities, moving people around on the basis of these levels. The first camp was allocated for those on level 1, they put me and others in Camp Two, separating me from Hammad, Mohammad and Rashid.

I stayed in Kilo block of Camp Two for just two days. On the third day, as I was being transported, I heard someone call out my name, it was Jamal Abu Wafa, a Yemeni man who had worked as the director of the Haramein Foundation in Azerbaijan. I didn’t recognise him right away, but did a doubletake and realised who he was. I greeted him, asking: “Why did they bring you here?”

I didn’t hear his answer because the soldiers hurried me out, and I soon realised it was towards Tango block, which was allocated for level 4.

I asked: “Why are you taking me from level 2 to 4?”

They said they didn’t know, that they had been given orders to follow, not think about their implications. I stayed in Tango for a day and then I was moved to Sierra. As always, the prisoners there were from all over: My neighbour was Abdul Rahman al-Omari from Saudi Arabia, there was an Algerian man known as Sheikh al-Mati’ – a religious scholar who had studied in Syria – and so many others.

I soon understood why I was at level 4, it was because I had clashed with the interrogator who offered me a “job”, so they punished me. But they still hadn’t given up. One day they brought me to interrogation with an Arab man who spoke with a Kuwaiti accent and introduced himself as Adil. “I’m from Iraq,” he said, “but I lived in Kuwait.”

We spoke, and he told me he had a problem with the Americans. He’d spent seventeen months as a detainee but then started working for them as an Arabic translator.

There was a female interrogator in the room; her face seemed like it had been eaten up by flames of fear, cruelty and revenge. She said: “You’re prisoner number 345. I’ve read through your file, and we don’t have any problems with you. You came here by mistake, and we intend to correct that, so you can leave.”

I listened quietly. She continued: “We need to do a few things, we’ll do that after I’ve handled your file.”

“What do you mean by a few things’?” I asked.

“Didn’t you agree to work with us?” she said.

“What work are you talking about?” I said.

“To work with us like you are working with us now,” she said.

“No,” I said. “I didn’t say I would work with you; I’m not working with you right now. What made you assume that?”

“Didn’t you say that you would cooperate with us?” she said.

“Cooperation is different,” I said. “I’ll cooperate by answering your questions, but I won’t work with you in any other shape or form.”

“Are you sure?” she said.

“Yes,” I answered.

“That’s strange,” she said. “They told me you would and that I had to begin the programme to get you ready to leave!”

“No,” I said. “I’m only ready for questions that relate to me and my file.”

“Ok then,” she said. “Perhaps there’s been a mistake. I was entrusted with getting you ready so when you left, you would have the knowledge to do the work required of you.”

“I think you got something wrong,” I said, “or maybe you have the wrong file.”

“No,” she said. “They told me prisoner 345 was ready to cooperate.”

“Check with your superiors,” I said. “I am not ready to work with you.”

They returned me to my cell. Later, they brought me back to interrogation, a different woman was there.

“I’m here to ask you one thing,” she said. “Do you have a problem? I want to help you.”

“My only problem is that I am here, in Guantánamo.”

“Yes,” she said. “I know that’s a problem, and we’re trying to solve it. You’ll return to your family soon. We’ll meet with you next week. Is there a specific kind of food you’d like?”

Ah, this was another pressure point they used in interrogations. In the camp, our food was bad, insufficient, and we didn’t always know what was in it. The interrogators offered us good food to attract and influence the poor, hungry prisoners.

“No,” I said. “I don’t need anything.”

“We insist,” she said.

“By all means,” I said, “give me what you have.”

“Would you like to eat?” she said.

I didn’t ask for meat because none of us ever knew if the meat was halal, if it had been slaughtered according to sharia.

“I would like some fish and vegetables,” I said.

“We’ll treat you to delicious fish,” she said.

Two weeks later, they took me to interrogation again, saying they had some fish for me. I walked in and they put the food in front of me.

“What are you doing?” I said to them.

“We are leaving you the food so you can eat it,” they said.

“I am fasting,” I said.

“No matter,” they said. “We’ll keep the food. When do you break your fast?”

“I break my fast at sunset,” I said, “but I don’t need this then. The food we get is enough.”

“No,” the interrogator said. “We’re treating you; we’ll prepare food for you then.”

Half an hour before sunset, they took me again. I had told the story to Sheikh Mati’, who said: “Sami, this is a blessing from Allah. Call on God Almighty and eat. Let Him deal with whoever has wronged you.”

I went, and there was quite the feast prepared for me; besides the fish and vegetables I had asked for were sweets, chocolate, juice and fruit. It was the first time I had eaten real food since my arrest, I couldn’t resist. The famished human within me took control, and I ate. I ate and implored God’s assistance with those who had wronged me, who I had not forgiven.

When I went back to my cell, the other prisoners were just being served their iftar food. The soldiers knew that I had already eaten, they had talked about what they had seen me eat as they brought me back. As we entered the cell, they asked me in a whisper if I wanted to be served iftar with the others so they wouldn’t know that I had already eaten, which could damage their opinion of me.

“Yes,” I said. “I will eat again.”

 

About the Author: Sami Alhaj

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