Guantánamo, Bagram and the “Dark Prison”: Binyam Mohamed talks to Moazzam Begg

28.3.09

The British human rights group Cageprisoners has just published a fascinating interview with Binyam Mohamed, the British resident, subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture, who was freed from Guantánamo on February 23. I have covered Binyam’s story in great depth over the last few years (see the list of articles at the end of this interview), including a detailed analysis of an interview he did with the journalist David Rose for the Mail on Sunday, following his release, but this interview, in which Moazzam Begg, former prisoner and spokesman for Cageprisoners, generally refrains from asking questions about Binyam’s torture, is particularly noteworthy for its insights into the psychological effects of incarceration in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan, life as a prisoner in Bagram and Guantánamo, tales of other prisoners, and reflections on the importance of the prisoners’ faith, and the authorities’ response to it.

Moazzam Begg: Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem (In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful). I’m sitting here with brother Binyam Mohamed.  Binyam, could you just introduce yourself a little bit and tell us who you are and where you’ve been for the past few years?

Binyam Mohamed: My name is Binyam Mohamed. I’m an Ethiopian citizen, born in Ethiopia. I came to the UK when I was 15 years old.

Moazzam Begg: You’re obviously well-known for having been held in Guantánamo Bay and the American secret prisons for the past few years. First of all, I’d like to say to you, brother, may Allah be praised for your return back to this country. I’d like to begin by asking you: you’ve been held in one of the world’s most notorious — if not the most notorious — prison, for all this time. Lots of people feel that the people there, despite all of the atrocities that they faced, are victims. Would you describe yourself as a victim or as a survivor?

Binyam Mohamed: First of all, I would praise Allah for the release, which happened after almost seven years of incarceration. I would say more like a survivor, because we had to survive so as not to lose our minds, and we came up with a lot of ways on how to survive in the situations that we found ourselves in.

Moazzam Begg: You were taken to custody in Pakistan and then moved over to Morocco, where you spent several months, or was it years?

Binyam Mohamed: I was held in Pakistan for almost three and a half months, and transported to Morocco, where I spent exactly 18 months.

Moazzam Begg: And then you were moved to Kabul in Afghanistan, to the “Dark Prison”?

Binyam Mohamed: And then I was moved to Kabul, where I spent almost five months.

Moazzam Begg: And then you were moved to the Bagram Detention Facility?

Binyam Mohamed: Yes, we were moved to Bagram around June 2004, where we spent three to four months.

Moazzam Begg: I realise you’ve already done interviews with other people. I’m not going to try to focus on the terrible torture that was meted out to you, but what I do want to focus on is people that you witnessed, and people that are still in the custody of the USA. When you were in the Bagram Detention Facility after being held in the “Dark Prison,” you came across a female prisoner. Can you describe a little bit about who you think she is and what you saw of her?

Binyam Mohamed: In Bagram, I did come across a female who wore a shirt with the number of “650,” and I saw her several times, and I heard a lot of stories about her from the guards and the other prisoners over there.

Moazzam Begg: And these stories said what about her, in terms of her description and her background?

Binyam Mohamed: What we were told first … we were frightened by the guards not to communicate with her, because they feared that we would talk to her and we would know who she was. So they told us that she was a spy from Pakistan, working with the government, and the Americans brought her to Bagram.

Moazzam Begg: So you think they spread the rumour that she was a spy … that would have kept you away from her and apprehensive towards her?

Binyam Mohamed: Basically, nobody talked to her in the facility, and she was held in isolation, where … she was only brought out to the main facility just to use the toilet. But all I knew about her was that she was from Pakistan, and that she had studied, or she had lived in America. And the guards would talk a lot about her, and I did actually see her picture when I was here a few weeks ago, and I would say she’s the very person I saw in Bagram.

Moazzam Begg: And that’s the very picture I showed you of Aafia Siddiqui?

Binyam Mohamed: That’s the very picture I saw.

Moazzam Begg: There have been all sorts of rumours about what happened to her — and may Allah free her soon — but part of those rumours include her being terribly abused. Do you have any knowledge of what abuse she might have faced?

Binyam Mohamed: Apart from her being in isolation — and the fact that I saw, when she was walking up and down, I could tell that she was severely disturbed — I don’t think she was in her right mind — literally, I don’t think she was sane — and I didn’t feel anything at that time, because, as far as I was concerned, she was a hypocrite working with the other governments. But had we known that she was a sister, I don’t think we would have been silent. I think there would have been a lot of maybe even riots in Bagram.

Moazzam Begg: Some of the brothers who later escaped from Bagram spoke about her and said that they learnt afterwards who she was and that they went on hunger strike. You might have left by this time, but were the other prisoners there upset by seeing a woman there, regardless, as a prisoner?

Binyam Mohamed: We were upset at witnessing just the weakened, the injured in front of us in Bagram, and had we known that there was a sister over there, I don’t think anyone would have been silent. But to keep Bagram as Bagram — quiet — the Americans put out the rumour that she was not a sister.

Moazzam Begg: That she was a spy.

Binyam Mohamed: That she was a spy and we had to stay away from her.

Moazzam Begg: Did you ever hear any rumours at that time of her having children, or anything like that?

Binyam Mohamed: I had heard — I’m not sure if from the guards or from the brothers — that she did have children, but the children were not in Bagram. They were somewhere else.

Moazzam Begg: And was there any rumour or discussion as to what happened to those children?

Binyam Mohamed: We had no idea what happened to the children.

Moazzam Begg: Eventually you moved to Guantánamo Bay, and one of the things that often comes out about the Bagram Detention Facility is that people were subjected to all sorts of different torture there, and then they compared that to Guantánamo. If you were able to compare the different prisons you were held in — from Morocco, from the “Dark Prison,” Bagram to Guantánamo — which would you say is the worst?

Binyam Mohamed: Personally, I take the “Dark Prison” as being the worst, and that’s because I was literally there not for gathering information. It wasn’t set up as a detention centre, it was literally there just to have somebody go insane.

Moazzam Begg: Can you describe a little the “Dark Prison” and what it’s like, because there are many reports we’ve had from those that were held there — and they seem to be consistent — but just to hear from you in terms of what effect it had on you: how was the “Dark Prison”?

Binyam Mohamed: Right from the beginning of where you can’t sleep unless you literally … you’re so tired you can’t stay awake, that just tells you that you’re in a place where your mind starts telling you that, to me, literally that I didn’t know I existed. In the other prisons I was in, it was, “When is this going to end?” In the “Dark Prison,” it wasn’t, “Is this going to end?” it was, “Is this real?”

Moazzam Begg: One of the hardest things I found, being held in Bagram myself,  was, I knew that I could deal with my own abuse, when they abused me in Bagram or Kandahar or Guantánamo, but the hardest thing was to watch it happen to someone else. Did you regularly see other people being abused by the American soldiers?

Binyam Mohamed: I used to literally see all kinds of abuses, and the humiliations, degrading treatment, but the Americans usually did it as a way of separating between those whom they liked and those who they didn’t like.

Moazzam Begg: Those who co-operated and those who didn’t?

Binyam Mohamed: Yeah … If you were safe from being abused, you literally didn’t want to be standing up for those who were being abused, because you would find yourself being in front of their abuse, and, for example, this happened in Bagram, where there was this Afghan who had been shot at least twenty times, and the guy had … he was just a skeleton, because he couldn’t eat. And they’d flown him from the hospital where he was staying to the Bagram Facility, just to instil fear into the population. Americans don’t care. They find you outside, shoot you twenty times, put you in a hospital. You start walking well, they put you in the system.

Literally, the guy couldn’t even … let alone walk, he couldn’t even sleep well. He was in the shower, where he was forced to go out back to his isolation, and the man couldn’t walk, so he asked to sit down. And these are the very guards who yesterday were smiling and laughing with us, they were telling this guy he had to talk. I tried to intervene. I couldn’t. The other brothers tried to intervene. They couldn’t. So we got into this confrontation where we tried telling them … they’re not going to have it. And this is in Bagram, so what happened was very simple. So we got into this confrontation where the guy at the … what they call “the Catwalk,” the bridge above us watching the showers, he was just about to shoot us, because we tried to tell the guards to let the guy to sit down and have a rest and then go back to his cell.

Moazzam Begg: The guard put a round in the chamber? He cocked the gun?

Binyam Mohamed: He was ready to shoot. He was ready to fire. And this was the kind of confrontation where when we tried to stand up against the oppression we saw inside the system. We can’t.

Moazzam Begg: One of the things that I remember from Bagram was that, even the issue of being able to pray together, to call the Adhan (call to prayer), to read the Qur’an, was regarded as a crime. Did you experience any of this?

Binyam Mohamed: In Bagram, we literally couldn’t pray, two people together, let alone a group. If they saw you praying just next to each other, they would force you to stop. And if you didn’t stop, you get put in isolation and suffer all the other abuses that they have — of tying you up for six hours or eight hours or whatever it is.

Moazzam Begg: Do you think that the American soldiers were doing this because they genuinely hated Islam — they were ignorant — or they were being told to do this?

Binyam Mohamed: I would say it’s a mix. I mean, most of them, they literally, I would say, were doing it because they hated Islam. And there were a few who were doing it because they were ordered. The ignorant I would say was one percent. There weren’t many ignorant people over there.

Moazzam Begg: I think ignorance breeds hatred, so my experience was that most of these guys, because they were ignorant, they had hatred. But if they had known properly, they would have had some respect for the religion of Islam. But even the idea of some of the basic normality that one would expect in that place — after all, they’re in a Muslim country administering Muslim prisoners — do you really think they had much knowledge of the culture, language and religion of the people they were guarding?

Binyam Mohamed: The problem with the Americans in Afghanistan — they hated the Arabs, and yet they hated the Afghans even more, and they tried to play the game of one above the other, and they tried the system of trying to get us to hate the Afghans, or getting the Afghans to hate the Arabs.

Moazzam Begg: So, divide and conquer?

Binyam Mohamed: Divide and conquer. I don’t think that the decision-makers were stupid enough to not know enough of Islam to be in Afghanistan. The ones at the bottom — the foot soldiers — they were just taking orders, and at the end of the day they’re still going to take orders whether they know Islam or not.

Moazzam Begg: Following on from that, did you come across any soldiers there who you think were good, ordinary, decent people who you could have a conversation with, and who were understanding?

Binyam Mohamed: I was actually in the position of talking to a lot of them because I knew English. Whenever they used to go on their files and check the profiles of people, they used to find out that I was in the US, so they had something to talk to me about. It was some kind of … something in common that they wanted to talk about. But with the rest of the people, it was basically that they didn’t want to know them.

Moazzam Begg: And did you find that being an English speaker was a blessing at the time, or was it a blessing and a curse, or was it just a curse?

Binyam Mohamed: Literally, it was a blessing at times and a curse at times.

Moazzam Begg: And that’s because everyone wants to interrogate you, that you understand what every order is?

Binyam Mohamed: Yeah, it works both ways. They find they can’t abuse me as much as they abuse a non-English speaker because they weren’t afraid of someone who couldn’t speak English reporting an incident that happened. A non-English speaker needs a translator, and the translation gets lost.

Moazzam Begg: One of the things that I came across in Bagram also was somebody who’d been terribly wounded. He’d been shot in his eye, and he had two huge exit wounds in his shoulder and chest. And that is the young boy Omar Khadr, who is the only Canadian — the only Westerner [Western citizen] — still in Guantánamo. I didn’t meet him in Guantánamo, I only met him in Bagram, and I was … my heart bled for him, because he was a very sweet young boy, and even to see him try to recite the Qur’an used to bring tears to my eyes. Did you have much interaction with Omar?

Binyam Mohamed: Omar Khadr was that sweet young boy, but I met him as a young man, and I met him while we were commissioned. We were put in the same block.

Moazzam Begg: You were both charged under the Military Commissions?

Binyam Mohamed: Both of us were charged almost the same time in 2005 — around November — so we met up in the beginning of 2006, back in Camp 5. And we started getting to know each other. I’d seen him before. I’d met with him before in the other block, but not like there, because we started going out to break together.

Moazzam Begg: That’s recreation, in the recreation yard?

Binyam Mohamed: What they call the recreation yard, where it is just a small cage — a four by four cell — over months and months, and we used to sit down together and we used to talk a lot.

Moazzam Begg: So they’d let you talk and walk together in the same recreation yard?

Binyam Mohamed: Actually, I had my own cage and he had his own cage. There was not that much interaction. But, I mean, at least we could talk much more freely than inside the block.

Moazzam Begg: What were your impressions of Omar Khadr?

Binyam Mohamed: [It was] kind of ridiculous, having a youngster being charged by the Commission system, and portrayed as this evil person. The reality is, here’s where the Americans have got it wrong. Omar stands as this youngster Muslim who’s been oppressed by the Americans, for no apparent reason except just being Muslim.  So there it is, and, I mean, if you go to Guantánamo, you know … I mean, he’s just a normal person.

Moazzam Begg: One of the people that I came across in Bagram — an American interrogator [Damien Corsetti] — has now turned against the American military in terms of what they did in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. He knew Omar Khadr also, and I spoke to him … I phoned him a couple of weeks ago, and he now is being a witness for the defence of Omar Khadr, because he was an interrogator at the time and he said I’ve now recognised what took place was wrong and I’m going to try and do something about it.

Binyam Mohamed: I think it’s been a long time, where we were expecting people were going to start taking responsibility for the crimes they’ve done, and portraying [us through] the allegations against us — whether we’d been charged or not — as criminals, and yet the real criminals are there in the White House, or in the Pentagon, wherever they are. People have to start taking responsibility.

Moazzam Begg: What is it that gives you, as a prisoner who served all this time in US custody, the strength to even say that I could have survived that? Where did your strength come from?

Binyam Mohamed: Strength comes from Allah. There’s no other place it comes from except from Allah, and if it wasn’t for Allah we would have been completely lost.

Moazzam Begg: Some of the American soldiers used to say to me: if I was in a cell like this, if I was imprisoned, I would have broken. And I used to respond by saying: at least I have five things to look forward to every day. But it wasn’t completely normal, even those five things that you did — the five prayers. How did you manage to perform your prayers for Jumu’ah (Friday), for Eid, in congregation. How did you do all these things?

Binyam Mohamed: Sadly I didn’t have any congregational prayer in any of the prisons I’ve been in.

Moazzam Begg: Seven years — you’d never pray in congregation, in jama’ah?

Binyam Mohamed: I don’t … there was no congregational prayer in any of the places I’ve been.

Moazzam Begg: And Jumu’ah and Eid?

Binyam Mohamed: No Jumu’ah, no Eid. None of those prayers were in congregation and the only congregational prayer that was allowed — which could have happened — was in Camp Four, and I never stayed in Camp Four.

Moazzam Begg: In the blocks, it’s not a congregational prayer, but people still pray behind one another. And this is just to explain that inside each block there’s 24 cells in Camp Delta, and 24 cells on either side — 48 altogether. The person who’s in the front would lead the prayer, regardless of who he was. And this is what used to happen, but nobody could actually physically stand together.

Binyam Mohamed: No, there was no standing together. I mean, even my experience was mostly in Camp 5 and Camp 6, where you’re actually don’t even see the person in front of you. It’s just a wall.

Moazzam Begg: These are concrete cement walls, as opposed to the cages, where you can see other people.

Binyam Mohamed: And the sound was just faint. It would just come through the crack of the doors, and it’s not like the cages, where the sound just travelled. But people kept up the prayers — as they called them, congregational prayers — to be together, because the one thing that the brothers wanted to do was to be together, and it’s still being practised in Camp 5 and Camp 6.

Moazzam Begg: You say of course the brothers wanted to be together, and the concept of brotherhood there is extremely important, particularly because of the adverse circumstances. There’s one brother there, in particular, who’s regarded in some of the press as one of the most influential people in Guantánamo Bay.  But this brother was supposed to be on the plane with you — or so you thought — when you returned to the United Kingdom. Can you tell me something of this brother?

Binyam Mohamed: This brother, who is Shaker Aamer, who was meant to have been on the plane with me, he was very influential in Guantánamo. I mean, he changed a lot of stuff, a lot of the abuses the brothers were going through, he changed a lot of that.

Moazzam Begg: And he changed it by …?

Binyam Mohamed: By gathering the brothers together and actually working a deal with the Americans, and going to Americans — going to the Americans with a proposal of what he wanted to change. And it was working well until some interrogators interfered with what was happening, and Shaker got the blame for it.

Moazzam Begg: You’re speaking of the hunger strikes, and the rights that he was trying to advocate for the prisoners — for better food, for non-abuse of the Qur’an, for the prisoners not to be strip-searched every time, and those sorts of things. That’s correct?

Binyam Mohamed: These were the things Shaker was working on, and I was literally next door, next to his cell He was in cell 17, I was in cell 19 (there was just one cell between us), and I knew exactly what he was trying to do, and we did try and work on all of this, and we accomplished a lot of things. That was back in 2005, but just one interrogator — he beat up one of the prisoners in interrogation, which just turned everything into a riot, and then Shaker was isolated from us from 2005.

Moazzam Begg: And he was taken away completely from everybody and held in one of the isolation camps in Camp Echo.

Binyam Mohamed: He was held in Camp Echo from 2005, to, I think, 2008, when they decided to take him out. Just a few months ago.

Moazzam Begg: Shaker Aamer was one of my closest friends, though I never saw him in Guantánamo or Bagram, and one of the worst things for me was the knowledge that both of us had sons born whilst we were in detention in Guantánamo. His family are all here in Great Britain — they’re all British. His youngest child is almost eight years old and he’s never seen him in his life. Do you remember Shaker talking anything about his family at all, or how he used to deal with being separated from them for such a long time?

Binyam Mohamed: When I was with Shaker, he was literally preoccupied with the hunger strikes, although, as always in Guantánamo, he did speak about his son, and how much he would like to come and stay with his son, and he was actually looking forward to coming to the UK to see his family here, and live with them. And, I think, back in 2005, there was an expectation that he would be here. I mean, he did expect there would come a day when he would come to the UK and meet his family.

Moazzam Begg: Shaker is still not being returned, but you were led to believe that he was going to be on the plane with you?

Binyam Mohamed: I spoke to the Foreign and Commonwealth officers on the plane about Shaker, and they did say that he was meant to be on the plane, and the UK had requested from the US for his release. But the only problem they’re having right now is that the US is refusing Shaker’s release to the UK.

Moazzam Begg: They’re refusing this, ironically, not because he was going to be charged under the Military Commissions or anything like that, but because he’s an influential person.

Binyam Mohamed: I would say the Americans are trying to keep him as silent as they could. It’s not that he has anything. What happened in 2005 and 2006 is something that the Americans don’t want the world to know — hunger strikes, and all the events that took place, until the three brothers who died … insider information of all the events, probably. Obviously, Shaker doesn’t have them, but the Americans think he may have some of them, and they don’t like this kind of information being released. And they try and delay a person’s release, because I was in the same position back in 2007. I was supposed to be released with the other three residents, but since I was right in the American authority, on this very issue — the hunger strikes in 2005, and the deaths — they decided to delay my release.

Moazzam Begg: You’ve spoken much of the hunger strikes. I know I’ve gone to Northern Ireland many times and spoken with a lot of former Irish prisoners and spoken to a lot of the hunger strikers, and have even met people who were with Bobby Sands before he died, and those people. Do you think that the hunger strike really made any difference?

Binyam Mohamed: Back in 2005 it actually did — it changed everything. The Americans did come and say that they were going to implement law, because in Guantánamo before 2005, there was no law, there was no rule. The colonel’s saying, “I do what I like,” but after the hunger strike — the big hunger strike of 2005 — they actually started implementing some kind of law that we knew about — not that we liked it, but we knew — that discard the rules that apply in Guantánamo.

Moazzam Begg: You weren’t — none of us were — treated as prisoners of war, but do you think that, had they done this, there would have been less problems between the prisoners and the administration?

Binyam Mohamed: Well, if you look at it, I mean, Camp 4, where there was a lot of people in Camp 4, there’s never been any kind of problems between the prisoners and the administration, or the guards. Even though Camp 4 is not like a POW camp, but there’s never been any kind of problem. But the isolations and the segregations that the Americans don’t want to admit as being segregation — like Camp 5, Camp 6 — that’s where all the problems are.

Moazzam Begg: When you say segregation, what do you mean?

Binyam Mohamed: Segregation, according to my reading of it, is being isolated in a cell, where you’re in your own cell — you’re being segregated from the next person. The American type of segregation is where you separate them from the public [general population] and you don’t get to see another person, so they don’t classify Camp 5 as a segregation camp, nor Camp 6.

Moazzam Begg: And these were then in fact isolated cells, where you don’t see or interact with any other people?

Binyam Mohamed: That’s exactly what Camp 5 and Camp 6 is.

Moazzam Begg: And do you think that much has changed since Barack Obama came into power, and what was the feeling in Guantánamo Bay when this happened?

Binyam Mohamed: When the administration changed over, Guantánamo Bay didn’t change anyhow. I mean, the prisoners didn’t even care. Neither were they upset, nor were they happy. They didn’t really care, because we don’t look upon an administration and build our hopes on some administration to come and change oppression. Our belief is in Allah, and Allah’s the One who’s going to change this oppression, not some new administration. So the people in Guantánamo really didn’t care. There was no emotion to it.

The side of the administration in Guantánamo, they started being more oppressive, and it’s, like, started implementing rules, degrading rules, where they pushed most of us to actually go on hunger strikes, and if you look at the records before the new administration took over, there was only about ten to twenty people who were on hunger strike, and right after the new administration took over, it went all the way to forty-something on tube-feeding, and another hundred just on hunger strike.

Moazzam Begg: Do you mean this is when they force-feed, they tie somebody down and they force a tube into their nose and force liquid food into them?

Binyam Mohamed: Yeah, that’s exactly what we call tube-feeding in Guantánamo.

Moazzam Begg: And so you say the hunger strikes — even now as we speak, or when you left — were still taking place?

Binyam Mohamed: I was registered the 41st tube-feeder, and after me there was another three who were being registered for tube-feeding — this is just in Camp 5. So, I mean, right now, I would say, unless the administration has worked out a deal with the hunger strikers, I would say the numbers are way above fifty right now.

Moazzam Begg: Even now, after Obama has said that he will close Guantánamo — he’s even said that he will no longer call these people “enemy combatants,” just last week — even despite all of this, people are hunger-striking?

Binyam Mohamed: The administration says a lot of things here, but they don’t control Guantánamo. Guantánamo is controlled by JTF (which is Joint Task Force), and JDG (which is Joint Defence Group), and they make the rules in Guantánamo, and the way they’re going on is … when I was there, there was no change. It’s just going to get worse, that’s the way it is.

Moazzam Begg: What do you think will happen, should happen, with the prisoners who are still over there?

Binyam Mohamed: I mean, I had heard that this new administration said they’re going to close the place down in a year. It don’t take a year to release people, it don’t take a year to shut down a place. If this administration was trying to do right to a wrong, all they have to do is open a gate and let people out.

Moazzam Begg: The largest number of people still held there are the Yemenis.  Is there anything particular about the Yemenis that you think has prevented the Americans from releasing them so far?

Binyam Mohamed: I think the Americans are expecting … they’re pushing for a lot in Yemen, and the politics over there is keeping the Yemenis from release, and here’s where we have politics interfering with justice, and it should be justice above politics, but the world we’re in right now, that’s not the way it is.

Moazzam Begg: A lot of people who were affected by the “War on Terror” — and, of course, the people detained in Guantánamo — are exclusively Muslims. What do you think is the duty upon people from the Muslim world in particular towards those held in Guantánamo and the secret detention sites?

Binyam Mohamed: Don’t forget them from your prayers, and support them anyhow you can.

Moazzam Begg: There are many people who would think that what this whole episode would mean — for you, for me, for anyone else who’s been held in Guantánamo and so forth — is too much for a person to bear, and that after this sort of an experience, one should just come back home, keep your head down, and not get involved in anything, in terms of fighting for the rights of other prisoners. What response would you give to that?

Binyam Mohamed: These seven years has taught me a lot. I’ve learnt things which I didn’t even know, things that I couldn’t have learnt except through this experience. Putting your head down because of fear, that shouldn’t be an excuse not to do your duty. There’s oppression here. We have to stand up to it.

Moazzam Begg: Despite many people thinking about the terrible things that have happened in Guantánamo, some things out of it, many things, I see have come out of it that we couldn’t have expected. Many of the prisoners — myself included — memorised a lot of the Qur’an in Guantánamo and Bagram and so forth. What do you think would be the percentage of the people that have almost completed the whole memorisation of the Qur’an in Guantánamo now?

Binyam Mohamed: I would say it’s about ninety percent who memorised the Qur’an, and even the other ten percent, they have memorised it, it’s just they may have forgotten because the situation that they’re in at Guantánamo, it’s not very easy to keep yourself to yourself.

Moazzam Begg: There was a time when the Qur’an was being taken from the cells and being abused and thrown away, and some prisoners decided that they didn’t want the Qur’an in their cell anymore. How did these prisoners then continue their … the knowledge of the Qur’an?

Binyam Mohamed: It was amazing. Even I didn’t have a Qur’an most of the time, and what I would do was, I would get a person who’s memorised the Qur’an to read me a verse and memorise that verse from him, and just repeat it the whole day. And it’s just amazing. You may think it’s time-consuming, but at the end of the year, you’d find you’d memorised nearly half of the Qur’an that way.

Moazzam Begg: In fact, this is how the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (Salla Allahu alayhi wasallam — peace be upon him), and how it was distributed to the Sahaabah (his companions, may Allah be pleased with them). The Prophet (Salla Allahu alayhi wasallam) was an-Nabee al-Ummee — he couldn’t read or write — and it was done by word of mouth, and in fact had it not been for all the huffaadh (memorisers) of the Qur’an who were getting killed in the early battles, the Qur’an wouldn’t have been put in book form, so it seems so amazing that people have returned to this form of learning the Qur’an. Was it also like this in terms of other Islamic sciences, and other general sciences that people would discuss with one another, or was it just the Qur’an people taught one another?

Binyam Mohamed: People used to do this very thing with the Hadith (reports about the Prophet, Salla Allahu alayhi wasallam), and other kind of knowledge was there. And mainly in Guantánamo was just knowledge through word of mouth — there was no writing.

Moazzam Begg: One of the things that happens for convicted prisoners — in fact, some of the worst convicted prisoners in the world, I have to say — is that they can study PhDs, doctorates, their bachelor’s degrees and so forth. Were you given any access to this, despite not having been charged with a crime?

Binyam Mohamed: I had access on doing a PhD on torture and abuse, and I graduated from Guantánamo with a PhD in that … that’s all we got.

Moazzam Begg: You’re now a free man, or relatively free man — relatively free, because there are conditions still in your case. What are your hopes for the future — what do you want to see happen — in your own situation, and in the situation of the prisoners still there?

Binyam Mohamed: I would hope that my case is resolved, whichever it be — if it be with the Home Office, or the Foreign Office — and for the prisoners, I would like to see justice, and not propaganda: the release of all the prisoners in Guantánamo and the other prisons.

Moazzam Begg: We — all the former Guantánamo Bay detainees, or lots of us — have a case against the British government for complicity in our torture. Do you think that the British government or the intelligence services should be held to account, or should they be able to say sorry and walk away?

Binyam Mohamed: I would say a lot more than sorry. Sorry is not enough. Maybe sorry and change their policies.

Moazzam Begg: Coming out now a lot, just over the past couple of weeks, is that there are allegations against the British intelligence, for torture of British citizens in countries as wide and diverse as Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco in your case, in my case Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think the problem is much bigger than they’re admitting. Do you think they’re going to admit it at some point?

Binyam Mohamed: I think the British government would admit a lot of this sometime in the future, unlike the Americans, who have … I would think the British are more intelligent than the Americans when it comes to this kind of stuff.

Moazzam Begg: Jazak Allah khair (may Allah reward you with good), Binyam Mohamed. May Allah accept all your struggles over the years, and replace them with a heavy balance for you on the Day of Judgement. Baarak Allah feek (may Allah bless you).

Binyam Mohamed: Wa iyyakum (and to you).

Andy Worthington is the author of 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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

For a sequence of articles relating to Binyam Mohamed, see the following: Urgent appeal for British resident Binyam Mohamed, “close to suicide” in Guantánamo (December 2007), Guantánamo: Torture victim Binyam Mohamed sues British government for evidence (May 2008), Binyam Mohamed’s letter from Guantánamo to Gordon Brown (May 2008), Guantánamo trials: critical judge sacked, British torture victim charged (June 2008), Binyam Mohamed: UK court grants judicial review over torture allegations, as US files official charges (June 2008), Binyam Mohamed’s judicial review: judges grill British agent and question fairness of Guantánamo trials (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Guantánamo torture victim Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), In a plea from Guantánamo, Binyam Mohamed talks of “betrayal” by the UK (September 2008), US Justice Department drops “dirty bomb plot” allegation against Binyam Mohamed (October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), The Betrayal of British Torture Victim Binyam Mohamed (February 2009), Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s statement on his release from Guantánamo (February 2009), Who Is Binyam Mohamed? (February 2009), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: Mixed Messages On Torture (includes the Jeppesen lawsuit, May 2009), UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco (May 2009), Daily Mail Pulls Story About Binyam Mohamed And British Spy (May 2009), Government Bans Testimony On Binyam Mohamed And The British Spy (May 2009), More twists in the tale of Binyam Mohamed (in the Guardian, May 2009), Did Hillary Clinton Threaten UK Over Binyam Mohamed Torture Disclosure? (May 2009), Outsourcing torture to foreign climes (in the Guardian, May 2009), Binyam Mohamed: Was Muhammad Salih’s Death In Guantánamo Suicide? (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009).

24 Responses

  1. Frances Madeson says...

    I will write to Aafia Siddiqui today. She wants books about nature. It is just what I would want too; to behold something verdant, lush and blossoming on every page.

    Her story is something of a complication, isn’t it?; that the “brothers” would so readily believe their own oppressors’ assertions and ostracize her as a spy, adding to her affliction. We just keep peeling the layers of the onion on this experience, don’t we? And we are getting down to it. We can learn from this, heal it perhaps, or try to, and love each other more than we ever thought possible.

    It would be the “beautiful thing” behind which there has been so much pain.

  2. connie says...

    IF anyone here has any more information or leads not readily available by a quick search or available after January 2009 on Dr. Aafia Siddiqui please contact Connie L. Nash newlease7@yahoo.com

    Also of note to many here:

    US House Judiciary gets files on attorneys at last…

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/joshgerstein/0309/House_Judiciary_gets_files_on_US_Attorneys.html

  3. connie says...

    http://freedetainees.org/4796Prosecutors: Terror suspect faking mental illness

    As the editor here says, this is the craziest thing she’s ever heard!!!

    Dear Frances,

    I am so glad you are sending Aafia nature items. I would love also to do the same. YES, if I were in her “shoes” I too would want reminders of verdant nature.

    Do U mind getting in touch with me by email?

    Thanx for your beautifully-written posts

  4. Frances Madeson says...

    Yes, Connie. By her shoes we mean brain damaged and locked in a cage. I am trying to find the perfect lines from Leaves of Grass to send her. As I read Whitman’s words through what I imagine might be her vantage point, or at least as I write my understanding of her experience over the text, Whitman’s arms are strong enough to carry her.

    I will e-mail you presently.

  5. Frances Madeson says...

    Maybe this Walt Whitman poem for Aafia–

    To a Certain Cantatrice

    Here, take this gift,
    I was reserving it for some hero, speaker, or general,
    One who should serve the good old cause, the great idea, the progress and freedom of the race,
    Some brave confronter of despots, some daring rebel;
    But I see that what I was reserving belongs to you just as much as to any.

  6. Connie L. Nash says...

    What a poem, -To a Certain Cantatrice- – surely this belongs to Aafia, to her brave confronting of her pre-imprisoned years – even of the Imans who were not active with the poor & imprisoned as was she, a more recent Sojourner Truth – truly a woman of intelligence, devotion, excellence – misrepresented, misused, misunderstood by so many.

    I love your great gift of appropos literature, Frances!

    And there is some sense of slim comfort in the midst of this magnitude of misery in what you send. And to think it is our countries who are the oppressors & torturers!

    I look for your email…

    Probe of Legal Experts on Torture Issue
    http://www.consortiumnews.com/2009/032909a.html

    Democrats Duck Bush Torture Probe
    http://www.consortiumnews.com/2009/033009b.html

  7. Connie L. Nash says...

    RE: What I sent above…And there is some sense of slim comfort – in the midst of this magnitude of misery – in what you send. .. (oops I wrote this with radio news, a mistake, in a rush) – of course I meant that the comfort you send (in the midst of the tragic torture news) is a warm wind that helps us all to go on seeking to confront and help change this terrific state of affairs!

    Thanx so much, Frances!

  8. Joe says...

    “if they had known properly, they would have had some respect for the religion of Islam”

    Typical crap from a Muslim.

    If YOU “know properly” how the historic and ideological heart of Islam is vile and incompatible with the modern world (a paedophile mass murdering leader – Aisha, the Banu Qurayza tribe, poets who mocked him, women who committed “adultery” etc), YOU would be crushed by an enormous weight of shame and logic – and the same applies to all Muslims who talk this “you don’t understand” crap.

  9. Humanitarian says...

    This is what your ignorance about Islam has led you to become. YOU have become an extremist. You’ve zero tolerance, no observance for humanity. Why? Because your people do not have to go through this trauma.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comment, Humanitarian. I tend to allow all comments through (free speech and all that), and am glad that you saw fit to reply.

  11. Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] my book “The Guantánamo Files,” al-Libi wrote that al-Bakri was held in the notorious “Dark Prison” near Kabul, another prison in the Panjshir valley and another prison identified as [...]

  12. Two Algerian Torture Victims Freed from Guantanamo « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] court submission, was held in Kabul — possibly, for a brief spell, in the CIA’s notorious “Dark Prison” — and Kandahar before being flown to Guantánamo in April or May 2002. In statements to his [...]

  13. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui | Islam Blog says...

    [...] Moazzem har i senere tid involvert seg for Aafia Siddiquis sak. En annen tidligere fange som led samme skjebne med Moazzem var britisk-etioperen Binyam Muhammad. Binyam Muhammad ble plassert i Bagram i juni 2004 og var der i tre til fire måneder før han ble flyttet til Guantanamo. I et intervju med Moazzem Begg forteller Binyam Muhammad om hvordan han så Aafia Siddiqui i Bagram i 2004. Hele intervjuet i sin helhet kan leses her: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/03/28/guantanamo-bagram-and-the-dark-prison-binyam-mohamed-tal… [...]

  14. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui – offer av USAs herskermentalitet « Prosjekt; Islam says...

    [...] Moazzem har i senere tid involvert seg for Aafia Siddiquis sak. En annen tidligere fange som led samme skjebne med Moazzem var britisk-etioperen Binyam Muhammad. Binyam Muhammad ble plassert i Bagram i juni 2004 og var der i tre til fire måneder før han ble flyttet til Guantanamo. I et intervju med Moazzem Begg forteller Binyam Muhammad om hvordan han så Aafia Siddiqui i Bagram i 2004. Hele intervjuet i sin helhet kan leses her: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/03/28/guantanamo-bagram-and-the-dark-prison-binyam-mohamed-tal… [...]

  15. The People’s Blog for the Constitution » Emotional cost for detainees’ families says...

    [...] US custody are thought to be dead by their families, most famously in the cases of Moazzam Begg and Binyam Mohamed. There are many more people that we don’t know about being held across the world without [...]

  16. Barbaric: 86-Year Sentence for Aafia Siddiqui | The Muslim Justice Initiative says...

    [...] other prisoners, including the British resident and former Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed, who has stated that he saw Aafia Siddiqui in Bagram, serve only to demonstrate that, not only is an 86-year sentence the most abominable miscarriage of [...]

  17. WikiLeaks: Numerous Reasons to Dismiss US Claims that “Ghost Prisoner” Aafia Siddiqui Was Not Held in Bagram + Bring Aafia Home « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] still held — have stated that they saw her in Bagram. The following exchange is an excerpt from an interview conducted by former prisoner Moazzam Begg with Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who was subjected to torture in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan, after his [...]

  18. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui – The Punishment Does Not Fit the Crime | MuslimMatters.org says...

    [...] from other prisoners, including the British resident and former Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed, who has stated that he saw Aafia Siddiqui in Bagram, serve only to demonstrate that, not only is the 86-year sentence the most abominable miscarriage [...]

  19. Sania rehan says...

    Moazam begg was held in bagram from feb2002 to feb 2003. Then he transferred to Guantanamo bay .afia Siddiqui was captured in march 2003 .moazam begg said that he heard the voices of afia Siddiqui .she was really afia Siddiqui or any other woman .try to search if she was not afia then who is she whose screams were heard by moazam begg

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    We don’t know, Sania. There may have been other women prisoners – or at least one other woman prisoner. I wonder whether the US will ever be compelled to account for its actions?

  21. DIARY OF THE WORLD 3 Commentary: The Mere Existence of This Kabul Prison Spits on Justice says...

    [...] so clearly consider beneath them (say nothing of the NSA’s unquestionable overreach). Read firsthand accounts of the conditions at ‘black sites’ like the Kabul prison, at which torture and even murder are nothing [...]

  22. EGO2ECO The sustianable intellectual & material luxury life style Commentary: The Mere Existence of This Kabul Prison Spits on Justice says...

    [...] so clearly consider beneath them (say nothing of the NSA’s unquestionable overreach). Read firsthand accounts of the conditions at ‘black sites’ like the Kabul prison, at which torture and even murder are nothing [...]

  23. Light says...

    What can the general public do to speed up the process of “Guantanamo bay shutting down?” And how can we aid in the prisoners and of course their family to heal from the psychological trauma of the tortures encountered and also how are they able to cope with the outside world in terms of: for example -job prospects once released?

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi there, Light. You can join the “Close Guantanamo” campaign I established two years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner, who argued the Guantanamo prisoners’ cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/
    Join us to receive around 3 email messages a month: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Join-Us
    For life after Guantanamo, the legal action charity Reprieve has a dedicated project: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/publiceducation/2010_04_20life_after_guantanamo/
    For many of the men, their families are the key to them readjusting to civilian life, and, crucially, finding employment, which is not always easy for men tainted by Guantanamo, even though they were, almost without exception, never charged or tried, and abused by their US captors.

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