Hot on the heels of a declassified report from Guantánamo detainee Isa al-Murbati’s lawyer Joshua Colangelo-Bryan about conditions in the prison comes the news that al-Murbati, the last of six Bahraini detainees in Guantánamo, has returned home.
In Gulf Daily News, Geoffrey Bew reports that al-Murbati, a former grocer, who is married with five children, arrived in Bahrain at 10 pm on August 8, and “was whisked straight to the Public Prosecution in Manama for a roughly three-hour debriefing, where he was greeted by family members, including his eldest and youngest sons, MPs, supporters and friends.” His youngest son, seven-year old Ebrahim, who was just a baby when he last saw his father, held a bouquet of flowers for his father, and said, “It is the first time I will to speak to my father. I am very happy.” Al-Murbati’s eldest son, 17-year old Ali, was “trembling with emotion as he declared the family’s delight,” and said, “I am so happy. I feel so good. I cannot believe it. We heard he was coming home, but could not believe it.” After the debriefing, al-Murbati returned to his home, where he was reunited with his wife and his two daughters.
Isa al-Murbati’s youngest son Ebrahim awaits his father’s return.
Bew also reports that MP Mohammed Khalid, who helped campaign for the release of all the Bahraini detainees, said that it was “a great day,” but added that “the next push would be for compensation.” “I am very happy with today’s event,” he said. “This is the last page in the Guantánamo Bay chapter. Now we want compensation for all the Bahrainis who have come home.”
Although al-Murbati’s release certainly does close a chapter of Guantánamo’s history, the story of the Bahrainis reflects, in a microcosm, almost every injustice that has been perpetrated by the US authorities in its pursuit of retaliation for the events of 9/11. All reported harrowing abuse in US detention, both in Afghanistan and Guantánamo, but while the story of joint Saudi-Bahraini national Juma al-Dossari (released last month) received extensive media coverage, rather less has been devoted to the stories told by the other five men. As Isa al-Murbati savors his reunion with his family, I thought that this might be an appropriate occasion to review some of the key events from the five years and eight months that he spent without charge or trial in US custody.
From the moment of his capture, al-Murbati –- along with all the other Bahrainis –- was treated with appalling brutality. In conversations in Guantánamo with his lawyers, which were later declassified by the US authorities, he explained that, at the US prison in Kandahar airbase, he was “shackled to a pole outside in very cold weather,” and that, “every hour, US military personnel threw cold water on [him] while he was shackled to the pole.” He added that this took place every night for a week, and also explained that on one occasion he was taken to an area away from the other prisoners, because Red Cross representatives were visiting the camp, and the authorities did not want them to see him.
In Guantánamo, he was subjected to random acts of brutality by various guards. On one occasion, his head was forced into a toilet while it was flushed, and on another occasion, after returning from an interrogation, when he put his shackled hands through the slot in the cell door so that the shackles could be removed as they were usually, “the sergeant grabbed the belt that is attached to the shackles and pulled it violently, even putting his foot against the cell door to create greater leverage. This caused his hands and forearms to be pulled through and against the small metal slot, causing significant injury.” When his lawyers met him shortly after this incident, “he was wearing a cast due to the injuries he suffered.”
Al-Murbati was also one of at least a hundred detainees who, during the period from November 2002 to March 2004, when Major General Geoffrey Miller was in charge of the prison, were “softened up” for interrogation by being held in isolation –- for days and sometimes for weeks –- in cells in which, while shackled in painful “stress positions,” and left alone until they were forced to soil themselves, they were also subjected to extreme temperature manipulation, and to loud music and noise.
Recounting his experiences of this period, al-Murbati reported that he was repeatedly held in a cell in which the air conditioning had been turned off, so that it was almost unbearably hot, and also explained that on several occasions the floor was “treated with a mixture of water and a powerful cleaning agent,” which was then thrown on his face and body, “causing great irritation” and making it difficult to breathe. On other occasions, he was played songs that “had Arabic language lyrics praising Jesus Christ,” and at other times “very loud music and white noise was played through six speakers arranged close to [his] head” for twelve hours, and “multiple flashing strobe lights were used as well,” which were so strong that he “had to keep his eyes closed.” He also reported that, on another occasion, he was “forced to sit shackled in the urine of another detainee,” and that he “had a mop soaked in the urine wiped all over his body and face.”
Even after Miller’s departure from Guantánamo –- when he took his Pentagon-sanctioned approach to “setting the conditions” for interrogation to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, with repulsive results that shocked the world when photos were released in April 2004 –- al-Murbati’s torment continued. In 2005, he took part in a widespread hunger strike. Force-fed on various occasions from September 2005 to January 2006, his weight (which had been 193 pounds when he arrived from Afghanistan in June 2002) at one point plummeted to just 119 pounds. After being forced off his hunger strike, he was held in Camp 1 –- reserved for detainees who were considered to be particularly dangerous, or to have significant intelligence value –- and, as Colangelo-Bryan reported, spent his last months in Guantánamo in the isolation of Camp 6, modeled on American Supermax prisons, but with all the frills –- such as mixing with other detainees, watching television, or receiving family visits –- removed.
As he resumes his life in Bahrain, and tries to put his years of torture and abuse behind him, I can only wish him peace.
As well as releasing Isa al-Murbati, the US authorities also released five Afghans. In common with the general fog that surrounds the release of Afghans from Guantánamo (at least since the early days of Guantánamo, when reporters filed regular reports on the released prisoners from Kabul), the identities of four of these men are unknown, although a reliable source informs me that one of them is Abdul Razak Iktiar Mohammed, a former Minister of Commerce in the Taliban government. According to his lawyers, Mohammed “had nothing to do with military affairs or fighting,” “did not oppose the United States or the Afghan forces, and insist[ed] that he would never do so,” and, after the fall of the Taliban, “supported himself by working as a farmer on his land, growing almonds and spices.” He said that he “believed that President Karzai had pardoned former Taliban civilian officials,” and that therefore he “had no reason to leave the country.”
It remains to be seen whether the other Afghans’ names will be revealed, and whether the men will be freed on arrival in Afghanistan, or transferred for continued detention to a newly-refurbished wing of the Pul-i-Charki prison in Kabul, where, apparently, several prisoners from the US authorities’ secretive prison at Bagram airbase have already been moved.
This article draws on passages from my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.
As published on American Torture.
The prisoners’ numbers (and variations on the spelling of their names) are as follows:
ISN 52: Isa al-Murbati (Bahrain)
ISN 1043: Abdul Razak Iktiar Mohammed (Abdul Razaq) (Afghan)
The four Afghans whose identities were unknown at the time of their release are as follows:
ISN 532: Mohammed Sharif (see Website Extras 8)
ISN 848: Amin Ullah (to be described in a forthcoming online chapter)
ISN 943: Abdul Ghani (to be described in a forthcoming online chapter)
ISN 1004: Mohammed Yacoub (see Website Extras 7)
See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the eleven prisoners released from February to June 2009, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the Internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here).
[...] Arabia) Website Extras 9 051 RELEASED SEP 07 Al Barayan, Majid (Saudi Arabia) Website Extras 3 052 RELEASED AUG 07 Al Murbati, Isa (Bahrain) Chapters 8, 12, 15, also see Isolation in Guantánamo 053 RELEASED JUL 07 [...]
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