A Detainee's Story
TalkLeft recently introduced you to Majid Khan, one of the detainees held in a (formerly) secret prison before being transferred to Guantanamo. Now meet Muhibullo Abdulkarim Umarov, formerly held as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo.
It was early in the morning of May 19 when Pakistani secret service agents came. The agents woke them up, took the T-shirts down, and used them to tie the men's hands and cover their eyes. When his blindfold was removed, Umarov was in a jail cell, his friends at his side. "I was not afraid," he says. "I knew I'd done nothing wrong."
Umarov was questioned about a suicide bombing in Pakistan that he knew nothing about. After ten days, he was handed over to two Americans wearing civilian garb.
The Americans interrogated him about Al Qaeda. "They asked me what I knew about the terrorists," he says. "Did I know where they were?" They asked if his passport was fake, and if he'd seen or met Osama bin Laden. "Of course, I'd heard about him on the radio and TV," Umarov says. "But how would I, a student, know much about him if people who came from a powerful country like America did not know anything about him?"...
When the questions were over, they locked him in a concrete room for 10 days. The room was three feet long and one and a half feet wide and insufferably hot. He wore iron handcuffs. It was impossible to stand up or move about. "All my thoughts were about how my life was going to end," he says.
Umarov was returned to a Pakistani jail, but his ordeal didn't end there.
At 2 a.m. the next day, the Pakistanis handcuffed Umarov, Abdughaffor, and Mazharuddin and put black bags over their heads. There was a bus, where American soldiers took their photographs, and then an airplane, where they were tied together on the floor. They wore metal belts around their waists and chains over their shoulders. They could not move, Umarov tells us. They did not know where they were going.
When the plane landed, two soldiers lifted them and counted, in English, "One, two, three," and threw them into a truck. "As a sack of potatoes," Umarov says. He landed on the metal truck bed. His friends landed on top of him. "When we cried out," he says, "we were kicked."
Umarov was taken to a prison in Bagram.
Powerful lights flooded the cages 24 hours a day, and the guards made loud noises to keep the prisoners awake. They hit their billy clubs against the metal fences. They pounded on barrels. They threw cans and empty water bottles. "We lost count of days, let alone dawn and dusk," he says. "We never saw daylight. We were never outside." ...
If the prisoners talked to each other, the soldiers forced them to stand and hold their shackles above their heads until the pain made them not want to talk again. If they talked again, Umarov says, the soldiers would take them upstairs and beat them.
During the next two months, he was questioned only once, by an interrogator who seemed puzzled by Umarov's detention. Umarov was nonetheless flown to Guantanamo.
"They handcuffed our hands with metal," he says, "and covered our eyes with something like sunglasses, only it was impossible to see through them. They covered our ears with something like headphones, only it was impossible to hear anything." His mouth and nose were covered with tape, then with what seemed like a surgical mask. They placed a dark hood over his head, and it became difficult to breathe. They tied his legs and feet with a chain and attached this chain to another chain around his waist. Finally they marched him onto an airplane and chained him to the floor.
Umarov was interrogated frequenty at first, then interrogators seemed to lose interest in him. His living conditions improved, but he was still left to wonder why he was in Cuba, a country he didn't know existed before his capture.
"We did not know why we were there or when we would leave," he says. ... He lost hope. "I started to believe that America was against Islam," he says.
After two years, Umarov was given an apology and a pep talk about the war against terror. He was released, but his passport was never returned. Instead, he was given a stack of papers.
"This individual has been determined to pose no threat to the United States Armed Forces or its interests in Afghanistan," one reads. "There are no charges from the United States pending [sic] this individual at this time." It goes on: "The United States government intends that this person be fully rejoined with his family."
The American government put on a nice show for the media on the day of his release, marching him past the cameras, free from chains. Until he boarded the plane.
Inside its belly, away from the journalists, they then handcuffed him and chained him down, and they covered his eyes with the same plastic glasses. They covered his ears with the headphones. They covered his mouth with tape. "But this time we were not chained to the floor," he says. "We were chained to the benches."
That Umarov doesn't hate the United States is a tribute to him. That he was so mistreated is an indictment of the Bush administration. Abusing innocent people makes terrorism more likely; it doesn't keep anyone safe.
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