We, as prisoners, or detainees, we weren’t just the victims at Guantánamo. There are also guards and camp staff, were also victims of Guantánamo itself. You know, that war situation or condition brought us together and proved that we’re all human and we share the same humanity, first.
This is the verdict of Mansoor Adayfi, who had been abducted as a teenager, imprisoned, interrogated and tortured, kept in solitary confinement, force-fed, and finally released without charge from the CIA gulag of so-called ‘black sites’. Speaking to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, he continues:
Also, Amy, a simple question: What makes a human as a human, make Amy as Amy, make Mansoor as Mansoor, makes the guys in there as individual and person, you know? What makes you as a human, and uniquely, is your name, your language, your faith, your morals, your ethics, your memories, your relationships, your knowledge, your experience, basically, your family, also what makes a person as a person.
At Guantánamo, when you arrive there, imagine, the system was designed to strip us of who we are. You know, even our names was taken. We became numbers. You’re not allowed to practice religion. You are not allowed to talk. You’re not allowed to have relationships. So, to the extent we thought, if they were able to control our thought, they would have done it.
So, we arrived at Guantánamo. One of the things people still don’t know about Guantánamo, we had no shared life before Guantánamo. Everything was different, was new and unknown and scary unknown, you know? So, we started developing some kind of relationship with each other at Guantánamo between — among us, like prisoners or brothers, and with the guards, too, because when guards came to work at Guantánamo, they became part of our life, part of our memories. That will never go away. The same thing, we become part of their life, become memories.
Before the guards arrived at Guantánamo, they were told — some of them were taken to the 9/11 site, ground zero, and they were told the one who has done this are in Guantánamo. Imagine, when they arrive at Guantánamo, they came with a lot of hate and courage and revenge.
But when they live with us and watch us every day eat, drink, sleep, get beaten, get sick, screaming, yelling, interrogated, torture, you know, also they are humans. You know, the camp administration, they cannot lie to them forever. So the guards also, when they lived with us, they found out that they are not the men we were told they’re about. Some of them, you know, were apologizing to us. Some of them, we formed strong friendships with them. Some of them converted to Islam.
The military rules is cruel. And they treat those guards as a product, not humans, you know? Even those guards, when they — some of them went to tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. When they came back, we saw how they changed. When I grew up and became my thirties, when they used to bring younger guards, I looked at them as like younger brothers and sisters, and always told them, like, “Please, get out of the military, because it’s going to devastate you. I have seen many people change.”
Adayfi, the author of the new memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo, says Guantánamo was not only constructed as a prison and torture site but reminds us how under the direction of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, it was used as a US research lab for ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (EIT) and other forms of unusual punishment of detainees. Moreover, when army captain James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, had courageously spoken out against these crimes, he was in turn falsely accused of stealing classified documents, denounced and punished as a collaborator:
I remember, the first time I talked to James Yee, I was taken to the interrogation room, stripped naked, and they put me in a — we call it the satanic room, where they have like stars, signs, candles, a crazy guy come in like white crazy clothes reciting something. So, they also used to throw the Holy Qur’an on the ground, and, you know, they tried to pressure us to — you know, like, they were experimenting, basically. When I met James Yee, I told him, “Look, that won’t happen with us that way.”
James Yee tried to — he was protesting against the torture at Guantánamo. General Miller, the one who was actually developing enhanced interrogation technique, enhanced torture technique, saw that James Yee, as a chaplain, is going to be a problem. So he was accused as sympathizer with terrorists. He was arrested, detained and interrogated. This is American Army captain, a graduate of West Point University, came to serve at Guantánamo to serve his own country, was — because of Muslim background, he was accused of terrorism and was detained and imprisoned. This is this American guy. Imagine what would happen to us at that place.
So, when they took James Yee, we protested. We asked to bring him back, because the lawyers told us what happened for him after like one year. We wrote letters to the camp administration, to the White House, to the Security Council, to the United Nations — to everyone, basically.
Today Mansoor Adayfi works as the Guantánamo Project coordinator at CAGE, an organization that advocates on behalf of victims of the ‘war on terror’. Wearing an orange scarf during the interview, he says he likes to wear orange – inside the camp he had been told by a psychologist then whenever he saw the colour, it would traumatise him again, to which his response was, “No, this is part of my life, and I will never let Guantánamo change me.” Adayfi and his fellow inmates also found solace in music and painting:
People who were at Guantánamo, they were artists, singers, doctors, nurses, divers, mafia, drug addicts, teachers, scholars, poets. That diversity of culture interacted with each other, melted and formed what we call Guantánamo culture, what I call “the beautiful Guantánamo.”
Imagine, I’m going to sing now two songs, please. Imagine we used to have celebrate once a week, night, to escape away pain of being in jail, try to have some kind of like — to take our minds from being in cages, torture, abuses. So, we had one night a week, in a week, to us, like in the block. So, we just started singing in Arabic, English, Pashto, Urdu, Farsi, French, all kind of languages, poets in different languages, stories. People danced, from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, to rap, to all kind. It’s like, imagine you hear in one block 48 detainees. You heard those beautiful songs in different languages. It just — it was captivating.
However, the interrogators took it as a challenge. We weren’t challenging them. We were just trying to survive. This was a way of surviving, because we had only each other. The things we brought with us at Guantánamo, whether our faith, whether our knowledge, our memories, our emotions, our relationships, who we are, helped us to survive. We had only each other.
Also, the guard was part of survival, because they play a role in that by helping someone held sometimes and singing with us sometimes. We also had the art classes. I think you heard about the — especially in that time when we get access to classes, we paint. So, those things helped us to survive at that place.
Hope also. Hope, it was a matter of life or death. You know, you have to keep hoping. You know that place was designed just to take your hope away, so you can see the only hope is through the interrogators, through Americans. We said, “No, it’s not going to happen that way.” So we had to support each other, try to stay alive.
Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.
Additional: the case of Abu Zubaydah, the first post-9/11 CIA torture victim
On Wednesday [Oct 6th] The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case brought by Abu Zubaydah, the Guantánamo prisoner who was the first subject of the CIA’s torture programme. Zubaydah’s legal team has spent years trying to obtain testimony from two psychologists, Drs James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who helped the CIA design and implement his torture, and the Biden administration is continuing the Trump’s administration strategy to keep key information about Zubaydah’s torture in Poland classified despite the fact that the two psychologists are willing to testify:
On Thursday, Democracy Now! spoke with Abu Zubaydah’s attorney, Joe Margulies, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Raymond Bonner, who has long followed the case – the segment is embedded above.
Raymond Bonner, who assisted Alex Gibney in making a new documentary, The Forever Prisoner, about the case, provides the background story on how Abu Zubaydah – the first terrorist suspect captured after the 9/11 attacks – was quickly rendered to a secret site in Thailand, where he was then subjected to relentless bouts of torture:
Soon after he got there is when James Mitchell and then Bruce Jessen showed up and began the interrogation. And as Joe just pointed out, it was very interesting yesterday in the argument to hear, and Justice Barrett included, talking straight about torture. What happened to Zubaydah was torture. There was none of this euphemisms like EITs, you know, enhanced interrogation techniques. And he was the guinea pig, in a way. This is where Mitchell designed the program and tested the program of torture.
You know, Amy [Goodman], it’s always struck me that a lot is made of the 83 times he was waterboarded. If you read what was done to him, read in the government cables that were sent at the time, I mean, to me, the waterboarding was almost benign. I mean, they kept him sleepless. They put him in a small coffin-sized box for hours, overnight. He couldn’t move. They hung him by the cell bars with his feet dangling off the ground. I mean, it got to the point it was so bad, that Mitchell would just snap his fingers, and Zubaydah would act, would get onto the waterboard. I mean, what they did to him was far worse, in my view, than waterboarding.
And then, when journalists started to get onto the story about a secret prison — and you’ve got to remember, this was back in 2002, and we didn’t know about secret prisons and black sites. And when they found out about it and started to ask questions, then the CIA moved him to Poland, and quietly, of course, secretly, which leads to the case, as Joe has described, that’s in the Supreme Court, that was heard in the Supreme Court yesterday.
But if I could say one more thing about yesterday’s argument, in addition to the three points Joe raised, I was gobsmacked when they started asking the lawyers about Zubaydah’s habeas petition. Fourteen years ago — Justice Roberts asked about it, too: “Well, hasn’t he filed a habeas petition?” Yes, he has — 14 years ago. And Joe Margulies was his lawyer then. Fourteen years, and the court has yet to rule on his habeas petition. And it’s — “unprecedented” is always dangerous to say, because somebody will find a case that’s taken longer than 14 years. But it’s just staggering that for 14 years you have had two judges have now had the case in the D.C. District Court, the federal court in Washington, D.C., and they’ve yet to rule.
You know why? The cables are there. Because in 2002, Mitchell and the CIA interrogators in Thailand sent a cable to Washington saying, “We’re about to do these EITs,” the torture of this guy. “He might die,” they said. “He might die. And if he does, we’re going to cremate him. And if he doesn’t, we want assurances that he will never be in a position to tell his story.” And Langley cabled back: “You have the assurances of everyone here that he will be held incommunicado for the remainder of his life.” And that is exactly what is happening. We’re never going to hear from Abu Zubaydah. I would be stunned if he’s allowed to testify.
After this spell in Thailand, Zubaydah had then been transferred to a ‘black site’ located somewhere in Poland. His lawyer, Joe Margulies picks up the story:
What Ray describes is exactly right, but what he’s describing is the torture that took place in Thailand, which was the first black site. Abu Zubaydah was the first person thrown into a black site, the first person to have his interrogation, quote, “enhanced.” And we know a fair amount about what happened to him at Thailand.
But we don’t know what happened to him in Poland. We know that, in testimony, James Mitchell described it, just said that Abu Zubaydah was treated very shabbily. But he uses those kind of euphemisms for the most grotesque torture. And that’s all he says. But no one has ever questioned him about what went on in Poland. The Polish prosecutor knows where the site was. He knows when it operated. But inside the cell, he doesn’t know. There were only three people there. It was Abu Zubaydah, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. And they won’t let Abu Zubaydah testify. So if we’re going to get at what happened there, we have to get it from James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who, I should say, are perfectly willing to provide this testimony. When we sought their testimony in this case, they said, “We have no objection. We’re happy to tell you. We’re happy to sit down for a deposition.” It was the United States government that intervened and said, “No, their testimony is a state secret, and you can’t have any of it.”
The other thing I would want to observe — it’s important to remember this — even Mitchell and Jessen, when they were torturing him in Thailand, after six days of virtually 24-hour-a-day torture, they decided that they were done, that they had emptied the content of his head. And they had concluded that they had gotten all the information they needed from him, or all the information he had left — he had to give. And they cabled that to CIA headquarters in Langley. And Mitchell believes it was Jose Rodriguez who cabled back — someone in the Alec Station — who, in James Mitchell’s words, “You guys are a bunch of pussies. You’ve got to continue this. Blood is going to be on your hands if there’s another attack. Keep torturing him.” And so they did, for another two weeks. And what they eventually concluded is that Abu Zubaydah was telling the truth all along. Contrary to what they believed when they started torturing him, he was not a member of al-Qaeda. He had no involvement with the planning for 9/11. He’s never been a member of al-Qaeda. He is ideologically opposed to al-Qaeda, which is what he had been saying. And they eventually concluded that that was true.
The suppression of information relating to this case as well as the denial of justice continues under Biden, just as it did under Trump. As Margulies says:
Our litigation began during the Trump administration. And the Trump administration sought the review in the United States Supreme Court, and there was the passing of the baton between Trump and Biden, while the case was pending. And the Biden administration picked up the Trump administration’s argument and doubled down on it. So, there’s no — there’s no window. There’s no air between the two administrations.
Click here to read the full transcript or watch the same interview at the Democracy Now! website.
Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi was also tortured and detained for 13 years without charges
The United States repatriated Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi, to Tunisia on June 15, 2015, after 13 years in custody without charges or trial. El Gherissi, 52, here recounts being severely beaten with batons, threatened with an electric chair, subjected to various forms of water torture, and being chained by his arms to the ceiling of his cell for a long period. He has received no compensation or support for his wrongful detention or the torture he endured. At the time of filming in October 2016, he was destitute, unable to work, and experiencing the consequences of serious physical and emotional trauma that he says is a direct result of his treatment in US custody: