On September 18, I was delighted to be asked to attend “Eid Without Aafia,” and to conduct a live interview with former Guantánamo prisoners Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed. The event, in east London, was organized by the Justice for Aafia Coalition to raise awareness about the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who, just five days later, was given an 86-year sentence in a court in New York for allegedly trying — and failing — to shoot two US soldiers in Ghazni, Afghanistan in the summer of 2008, after which she was rendered to New York to be put on trial.
In an article following the ruling, “Barbaric: 86-Year Sentence for Aafia Siddiqui,” I presented the outline of Dr. Siddiqui’s story, and how the sentence hinted at a cynical cover-up by the US authorities, as follows:
Such a disproportionate sentence would be barbaric, even if Aafia Siddiqui had killed the soldiers she shot at, but as she missed entirely, and was herself shot twice in the abdomen, it simply doesn’t make sense. Moreover, the sentencing overlooks claims by her lawyers that her fingerprints were not even on the gun that she allegedly fired, and, even more significantly, hints at a chilling cover-up, mentioned everywhere except at Aafia’s trial earlier this year. Seen this way, her sudden reappearance in Ghazni in July 2008, the shooting incident, the trial and the conviction were designed to hide the fact that, for five years and four months, from March 2003, when she and her three children were reportedly kidnapped in Karachi, she was held in secret US detention — possibly in the US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan — where she was subjected to horrendous abuse.
More of Aafia Siddiqui’s story can be found in my earlier articles here and here, and also, of course, on the website of the Justice for Aafia Coalition. Post-sentencing, she is now held in the Federal Medical Facility in Carswell, Texas, a notorious establishment described in an article by Yvonne Ridley for Cageprisoners as the “Hospital of horror.” Please visit this JFAC page for details about how to send letters of support.
I’m pleased to report that videos of my interview with Shafiq and Ruhal are now available, via YouTube, and are posted below. I thank Maryam Hassan for encouraging me to do my first ever live interview in the host’s chair, rather than as an interviewee, and also for preparing an excellent list of questions, which I modified and expanded on, to encourage Shafiq and Ruhal not only to talk about their experiences in US custody in Afghanistan and Guantánamo, which are harrowing enough on their own terms, but also to help the audience to imagine the brutality to which Aafia Siddiqui would have been subjected, the effects of isolation and torture, the establishment of a climate of cruelty and despair in which false confessions can be extracted, and the effects of isolation from one’s family — in Aafia Siddiqui’s case, her three young children.
In the first of the three videos, I asked Shafiq and Ruhal about the brutal conditions in the US prison at Kandahar airport, where they were taken following their capture in Afghanistan in November 2001, after they had survived a notorious massacre of prisoners in container trucks and a stay in the Northern Alliance’s brutal and overcrowded Sheberghan prison. I also asked them what they knew about the US prison at Bagram airbase, where Aafia Siddiqui was held, and asked them about the isolating effect of not only being prohibited from receiving any visitors, but of not even receiving letters from their family — or only receiving letters that were heavily censored.
In the second video, Shafiq and Ruhal talked about the despair they felt in Guantánamo when it became clear that the British government had no intention of helping them. I also spoke about how torture is both illegal and counter-productive, and asked Shafiq and Ruhal to explain how the use of torture can lead to false confessions, which allowed them to explain how, in Guantánamo, they eventually made false confessions after being subjected to the “frequent flier program,” a program of prolonged sleep deprivation that involved being moved from cell to cell every few hours, being held in isolation for five months, where they were given very little food, being short-shackled in painful stress position for two to three days at a time, when they were obliged to urinate and defecate on themselves, and being subjected to extremely loud music.
In the third video, Shafiq and Rasul explained how their treatment in Guantánamo led them to think of committing suicide, and, following up on how they were forced into making false confessions, I noted how false confessions don’t necessarily lead to prisoners being released from Guantánamo. I also asked Shafiq and Ruhal to explain more about the circumstances that led to their release, and Shafiq explained how, on the date that they were supposedly filmed at a training camp with Osama bin Laden, he was attending university in the UK (although he also explained that British agents suggested that he might have traveled on a false passport).
I also asked Shafiq and Ruhal to discuss how receiving medical treatment at Guantánamo was entirely dependent on cooperation with the interrogators (in other words, making false confessions). This allowed them to explain how Omar Khadr, the Canadian who was just 15 years old when he was seized (and who was recently convicted in a trial by Military Commission), was one of the many prisoners deprived of medical treatment because he would not make false confessions, even though his wounds were “horrific,” and they couldn’t understand how he was still alive. They explained that they regularly heard him crying in an isolation cell, and also explained that he had been subjected to the “frequent flier program,” adding that, although he is now 24 years old, he “still has that child mentality,” In a moving finale, Ruhal reflected on the barbarity of separating Aafia Siddiqui from her children, and on how they may have been used in an attempt to secure her compliance, as the authorities at Guantánamo had no qualms about abusing child prisoners.
I do hope that you have the time to watch the videos below, and to circulate them if you find Shafiq and Ruhal’s testimony to be as powerful as I did. I’m honored that they agreed to take part in the event, and grateful that we also had some time to hang out and have a meal together, away from the ghosts of Guantánamo and Kandahar that are still with them, five and a half years after they were released.
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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, Travelyoda. Travelyoda said: Video: Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed Discuss US Detention at …: They explained that they regularly heard him cr… http://bit.ly/90fHNb […]
[…] especially poignant and compelling by the presence of Ahmed’s young daughter), which was conducted in East London by British writer Andy Worthington last September 18th – nine years to the day after President Bush signed the never-rescinded Congressional […]
[…] Siddiqui’s case on many occasions, and have also spoken about her at several demonstrations and other meetings, but her story never becomes any easier in the telling, as it is so full of holes, involves rumours […]
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: