The Reality of Being In Guantánamo | Prisoner 345 | My Six Years in Guantánamo

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At approximately 9.00 PM, I stepped off the plane where I had been tormented for four or five hours. During that first flight, we were forbidden from eating, relieving ourselves or sleeping by the soldiers who watched, cursing and beating whenever one of us leaned on the other.

The only thing they allowed us was a mouthful of water, which the soldier poured into our mouth after removing the muzzle, reminding me of being in the cradle and the life of infants. You could refuse it with a gesture of your covered head, which I did, just as my companions refused when we learned that using the toilets wasn’t permitted. It wasn’t the toilet I needed, but to move my leg to relieve the ache in my knee and the pain of the restraints.

We landed at an airport and were moved onto another plane. It was cold as we were loaded onto the plane the same way. We sat on a wooden seat, and our legs were connected to the floor with a heavy chain for the second journey, which took twelve or thirteen hours.

It was an exhausting journey that froze our limbs and distressed us since we were prevented from sleeping or moving an inch. Life is strange, while thumbing through our prayer beads there are no limits to our wishes or dreams, but in a situation like this, my greatest wish was to move my leg, turn my hands or open my eyes.

The flight ended finally, and we were taken off the plane to the sound of shouts and screams: “You are in the hold of the US Marines. Don’t speak. Don’t move.”

I was feeling very weak and distressed, but I wasn’t able to put words to it.

They took us off the plane and told us to walk, something our legs couldn’t bear to do. They tried to stop one of us from falling, and the others would fall because our legs had lost all sensation and weren’t used to movement.

They beat us all over, no matter how we moved, kicking and punching us until they had dragged us onto a bus waiting on the airport tarmac. There were no seats on the bus, so they sat us down on the floor in rows. I was uncomfortable and tried to straighten my legs, but a soldier beat me whenever I moved throughout the journey to the military-base-turned-into-a-prison unlike any other. No, it was more than that, it was a clear affront to humanity. Guantánamo… a place filled with injustice and hatred. It saw the crushing of every single principle and belief to which believers are called. An ugly face that sent humanity down a slippery path worse than life in the jungle, and worse than what history says about the Middle Ages. Guantánamo was the embodiment of the beating heart of force’s dominion, a nightmare.

The island we landed on was not our destination, so they took us on a ferry to another island that lasted roughly ten minutes. Then, we were put on another bus where we remained stationary for an hour, during which we heard the sounds of planes, helicopters and cars. Then, the bus finally moved, and we drove for a while then taken somewhere where the restraints around our legs were loosened, and they allowed us to stretch our legs after the anguished and distressing journey from Kandahar. We remained handcuffed, but the situation was more merciful than it had been on the plane.

Sometime around noon, I felt a sharp pain in my chest and asked for help, telling them about the pain. They initially beat me and then told me: “You’re strong. You don’t feel a thing.”

When I insisted and repeated my complaints, one of the soldiers came over and placed his hand where my heart was and felt my weak heartbeat. He and another soldier took me straight into the building and asked me, “What hurts?”

I explained to him that I was feeling pain in my heart and weakness in my heartbeat. The two soldiers cut off all the clothes I was wearing. They brought me into a room with a door-less toilet and told me I needed to take a shower quickly under the watch of a guard. They turned on the water and aimed it at my body. After some minutes I told them, “I’ve finished washing now. I would like to go to the toilet.”

“There is no toilet,” they said.

They took me to another soldier who did the routine tests in an insulting manner I’ve never been exposed to before. After that, they gave me some other orange clothes and put on hand and leg restraints once again.

Then they took me to an office with interrogators who asked me my name, age, country of origin and date I remember that I added my greetings to my son Mohammad and stressed how important they were. They took me to a clinic next, still restrained. The doctor asked me what I was complaining of so I explained the weakness in my pulse and the pains in my chest.

He ran some quick general tests and asked if I was suffering from any specific illnesses. I explained that I had some problems with my glands and had regular medication on the advice of my doctors. I told them I suffered from a rupture in the neck and some symptoms of chronic rheumatism. He wasn’t interested in those ailments, saying, “We’re not asking you about any of those illnesses. We’re asking if you suffer from any contagious diseases.”

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Do you have AIDS?” he said.

“God forbid!” I said. “I don’t have any illness like that.”

“Do you suffer from malaria?” he said.

“That’s becoming increasingly rare for me,” I said.

“We’ll give you some pills to take care of that,” he said.

He asked the soldiers to take me away, and they brought me directly to the investigation room. My life in Guantanamo had begun.

We live in a world that has cracked apart because what has been done to elevate its values caused its collapse.

The prevailing belief towards the end of the last century was that the civilized world was moving towards the ideal in its respect for human rights, but this belief was the beginning of a terrifying regression recently, especially in the
shadow of the so-called “war on terror”. This has resulted in a retreat of respect for the recognized values of human rights, and flagrant violations of these values.

This wasn’t only done by totalitarian dictatorships, but by the governments and nations that had consistently called for the protection of human rights, freedoms and liberalism.

The “war on terror” produced new forms of rights abuses, contrary to all international treaties and conventions: Torture, detention in secret facilities, handing over suspects to countries practicing torture, and extended detention without trial. All based on mere suspicion.

The prisoners of the “war on terror” were deprived of the right to litigation and the right to silence, to retain a lawyer or legal representation. One could never have imagined that it would be the United States (democratic protector and leader of the free world) that would resort to authoritative practices, would run secret prisons, carry out cross-border prosecutions and kidnappings on the slightest suspicions, and use physical and mental torture as a matter of course.

But President Bush led the United States down that path, the path to war. In victory, he said, “It is fundamentally necessary to obtain information from known terrorists and those suspected of terrorism.”

Four days before that statement, his deputy Dick Cheney explained in an interview for Meet the Press on NBC that in order to prevail over America’s new enemy it was necessary “to work, through, sort of the dark side, if you will.

We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.”

About the Author: Sami Alhaj

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