The Sit-In | Prisoner 345 | My Six Years in Guantánamo

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Midnight arrives, and I feel sympathy for my wife. I take the pen and paper from her, bringing them into my study, saying: “If you want me to rest, please go to sleep.”

I close the door and return to my session, contemplating the Arabian night. The poor bird returns and perches on the windowsill, singing for me.

The barbaric cruelty of Guantánamo crowded my mind, where our gaolers thirsted for violence, where they beat and insulted us as if we threatened them. They liked to shackle us after stripping the clothes off our feeble bodies, leaving us naked in front of each other. Once, they stripped Jumah al-Dossari of his clothes for two months. I suppose they were trying that punishment out on a single prisoner to see if they wanted to apply it to the other prisoners. If they deemed it effective, they would apply it to everyone.

Romeo block was specially designed for that experimentation: forty-eight cells built to be completely isolated; we couldn’t see anything out of the one window that was covered with a dense grille. Light shone on us from every side, and we were kept naked except for our underwear. The toilet was a small hole with water flowing from one side. You may be shocked to read that that was the water we used for drinking and washing. Or perhaps, by now, it’s not so shocking to you. Food was distributed to us on toilet paper, a little bit of dough mixed with vegetables, no taste or smell.

After Romeo was built, prisoners from neighbouring blocks were transported to it. When the news reached other blocks, the prisoners began talking amongst themselves to decide on how to protest against being moved into that terrible block, naked and humiliated, all our sensibilities – including the religious – violated. After a day of discussion, the prisoners decided to refuse to leave their cells in protest.

Even though I thought a sit-in wouldn’t work – given the uneven distribution of power and the fact that it only made the guards hurt us more – it served our purposes best. Only a few people opposed the idea, so we went ahead; the lack of movement paralysed the camp. The administration, of course, decided to send in the riot squad, the experts in the ways of beating and abuse. My arms and legs were broken, and my face swelled to twice its size.

We kept it up and they continued the torture, for nearly a month. They came up with new ways to violently abuse our bodies every day. I was shot in both arms and all around me, night and day, I could hear groans and see blood.

The unjust were never far, and their hands knew no restraint. ICRC officials came to visit us, but their role didn’t really go beyond transmitting messages with sentences struck out by interrogators who wanted to restrict access to information about the prisoners. Our conversations with the ICRC were eavesdropped on.

A tiny ray of hope came in late 2003 when a delegation from Sudan came to the camp. The soldiers asked me if I wanted to meet them and brought me to the interrogation room. They removed my handcuffs, but left my leg restraints on.

There were two Sudanese men, Usman and Khaled. Before we began, I asked them to show me their identification papers. In Guantánamo, we had grown accustomed to meeting people of different nationalities (including from Sudan) working for the Americans. I rebuked them for taking so long to come visit. Delegations from other countries had been visiting the prison since 2002.

Usman went to get their passports while Khaled stayed and we began a general chat about Sudan. It was 2003, and I was hearing news of Sudan for the first time in a long while. Khaled assured me that everything in Sudan was
looking positive. Oil was being exported and was beginning to bring in good returns.

Half an hour later, Usman came with documents that confirmed they were from the Sudanese foreign ministry. That business taken care of, they said: “We came here to find out about your situation and form a true picture of why you’re here.”

I told them the story, from the moment I was detained to when I was brought to Guantánamo. I explained life in the prison, the interrogations and how the administration had been stringing me along by promising to release me.

They listened attentively then said: “We can see that there has been a misunderstanding. We’ll do our very best to get you back to Sudan as soon as possible.”

They couldn’t do anything on that trip; it was a scouting mission to understand the situation, and they would raise the matter and get it moving when they left. I told them about the other Sudanese in Guantánamo, about the insults, about being stripped down to our underwear, about defacing the Quran. I was honest, clear and precise.

I told them the Americans asked me to work with them and that I refused, that they were still trying to convince me, and I was still refusing. At the end of the interview, they asked me if I had any letters to send. When I met them the next day, I handed them a letter to President Omar al-Bashir asking him to intervene in my case.

In that letter, I told of the suffering of the other Sudanese prisoners, especially those of them who had heard nothing from their families for a long time, adding that I knew I was better off; I knew where my family was and that Al Jazeera was giving them my salary.

 

About the Author: Sami Alhaj

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