Last week, NBC News surprised everyone by featuring an interview conducted in Pakistan with Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, a former Guantánamo prisoner — and an innocent man seized in Indonesia in January 2002, at a time when the Bush administration was out of control, kidnapping men around the world and subjecting them to “extraordinary rendition” and torture in foreign prisons on the the merest suspicion that they were connected to terrorist activities.
Madni, an Islamic scholar, was rendered to Egypt and tortured because, on a trip to Indonesia to sort out his late father’s affairs, he was recorded by Indonesian intelligence with a group of young Indonesian Islamists who were under surveillance, and who, in teir conversation, discussed the shoe bomber Richard Reid, who had been captured the month before. When the information was passed to US intelligence and he was picked up, the prevailing opinion about him based on interviews after his capture — that he was nothing more than a “blowhard,” who “wanted us to believe he was more important than he was,” and that he would be held for a few days, “then booted out of jail,” as a US intelligence official told Ray Bonner of the New York Times in 2005 — was ignored, and someone higher up the chain of comand ordered his rendition to Egypt.
As I explained after Madni’s release, his case “deserves to be more than a mere footnote in the history of the Bush administration’s vile and unprincipled policies of ‘extraordinary rendition’ and torture,” as the suffering inflicted on the 24-year old Islamic scholar — which involved three months of torture in Egypt, followed by eleven months in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and over five years in Guantánamo — was based not on detailed evidence that he was a terrorist, but on a single ill-advised comment picked up by the Indonesian intelligence services (which, Madni has stated since his release, was not even made by him).
Explaining what led to his capture, Madni told a military review board in Guantánamo, “After I went to Indonesia, I got introduced to some people who were not good,” adding, “They were bad people. Maybe I can say they were terrorists. When someone gets introduced to someone, it is not written on their foreheads that they are bad or good.”
I have covered Madni’s story in depth in previous years — in my book The Guantánamo Files, in September 2008, after his release from Guantánamo, in an article entitled, Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo, and in June 2009, in an article entitled, Revealed: Identity Of Guantánamo Torture Victim Rendered Through Diego Garcia, after his lawyers at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve established that he had been rendered to Egypt via the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, a British territory leased to the US, where there have been regular reports that prisoners in the “War on Terror” were held between 2002 and 2006.
The NBC report adds little new to Madni’s story of his capture, rendition, torture in Egypt, and the torture he also suffered in Bagram and Guantánamo, which led to him attempting to commit suicide, but it is a powerful interview with a man still broken by what happened to him, and a salutary reminder for an American audience — whilst hysteria about Guantánamo is still the dominant Republican response to attempts to discuss the prison in a rational manner — that horrendous mistakes were made by the Bush administration, and that President Obama’s decision not to investigate his predecessor’s policies or to consider anyone accountable for their actions has contributed directly to this lamentable state of affairs, allowing those who conceived the kind of dreadful policies that led to the capture and torture of Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni — and those who supported them, or who want to shield them from accountability — to continue lying about the success of the program of rendition and torture, and to keep the torturers’ illegal and ill-conceived arrogance alive and well in American discourse, with baleful effects for the very soul of the United States.
The NBC interview is available on NBC News’ website, and below is a cross-post of an article also featured on the website.
LAHORE, Pakistan — Saad Iqbal Madni looks decades older than his 33 years when he shuffles into the room, head down and eyes averted.
“There are a lot of times I start to cry. I still feel like I am in Guantánamo,” he says, his voice cracking and hands trembling. “I have memorized the torture. I wake up in the middle of the night screaming.”
It has been two years since the Pakistani Islamic scholar left Guantánamo Bay. After six-and-a-half years of imprisonment as a suspected enemy combatant he was released without being convicted and without an explanation. According to accounts by Madni and others, his experience involved torture, extraordinary rendition across several continents and five years at the U.S. prison in Cuba.
Mohammed Burki, Madni’s physician in Pakistan, describes his patient as a deeply troubled man who is “still far far away from being normal again.”
Madni now suffers from a catalogue of ailments, including migraines, paranoia, depression, panic attacks and temper tantrums, Burki told NBC News.
“Before I could treat any of those, I had to try and get him off the morphine,” says Burki, who treated Madni for two years after his release. “The Americans had made an addict out of him.”
The CIA and the U.S. military did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Madni’s detention and subsequent release. The United States has explicitly denied torturing detainees.
While it is impossible to independently corroborate much of Madni’s story, experts say it stands up to scrutiny.
“His account is so precise and so detailed and there are enough documents to back up everything he says,” says Sultana Noon of Reprieve, a U.K.-based charity that represents prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world.
Madni was part of wave of men scooped up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. His story sheds further light on international counterterrorism efforts, when suspected terrorists were transported around the globe, held without trial and allegedly tortured at the hands of foreign intelligence agencies.
Some contend these practices continue.
“Anyone who is sporting a beard is a vulnerable target for the intelligence agencies to pick up,” says Pakistani human rights activist Amina Masood. “We are talking about gross violations of human rights in this U.S. war on terror, disappearances, arrests, no courts to hear one’s pleas.”
“We are dealing with human beings here,” she says.
Madni, who was employed to read the Koran during prayer times and religious holidays for the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, says he was picked up by Indonesian authorities during a visit to Jakarta in 2002.
Madni says he was told by the officials who detained him that they were acting on CIA instructions after he told an Islamic group that he knew how to make a shoe bomb. Madni denies the charge, saying that nobody ever even questioned him about the alleged comment during his detention.
Even American officials in Jakarta questioned the case against Madni, saying he was a braggart, a “wannabe” and should be let go, according to a New York Times article from Jan. 6, 2009.
Quoting two senior American officials, the newspaper reported there was no evidence that Madni ever met Osama bin Laden or had been to Afghanistan.
“But in the atmosphere of fear and confusion in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, Mr Iqbal (Madni) was secretly moved to Egypt for further interrogation,” the newspaper reported.
Madni says he felt his life was over as soon as Indonesian intelligence officials took him from his prison cage to the airport.
“A person from Egyptian intelligence come, kicked and grabbed me and threw me against the wall,” he says. “That’s when I got a perforated ear drum and started bleeding from my ear, nose and throat.”
Madni identified his captors as Egyptian immediately from their accents. He is fluent in nine languages, including Arabic, which he believes made him suspect.
“They stripped me naked, beat me and kicked me,” Madni told NBC News. “I was shackled from my neck to my feet and taken to a plane. They put me inside a wooden box, on top of the box is a plastic sheet. My legs were up on my chest and I had to stay like that for an 18-hour flight to Diego Garcia. They didn’t allow me to go to the bathroom. They put me in diapers and said, ‘your bathroom is with you’.”
Diego Garcia is a British territory used by the U.S. military.
Madni says he kept track of the passage of time because he recited the Koran by heart. Anyone who reads the Muslim holy book professionally knows exactly how long it takes to recite each verse.
In Egypt, Madni says his captors put him in a room that he describes as “smaller than a grave, so small I could not even lie down.”
Madni says he was kept there for 92 days.
“They gave me electric shocks on my body and my head and kept asking me if I know Osama bin Laden, and have I been to Afghanistan,” he says.
After three months in Egypt, he was handed over to the Americans and flown to Bagram, the U.S. military prison in Afghanistan.
Madni says he passed a polygraph test three times.
“A man from military intelligence introduced himself as Ron,” he told NBC News. “He said, ‘We did a mistake about you but we can’t release you, we have to take you to Guantánamo and from there you will be released.'”
Madni says he was kept in Bagram for one year where he was repeatedly tortured and denied any visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which works to protect victims of armed conflict around the world.
On March 23, 2003, [14 months] after he was picked up in Jakarta, Madni arrived at Guantánamo Bay.
“They put me in frequent flyer status for six months. That means no sleep. The guards came to wake me up every ten minutes. Every two hours they make me walk from camp to camp in shackles from my neck to my feet,” he says. “I was in terrible pain from my ear, which was infected and bleeding. They wrote ‘f*** you’ inside the Koran and flushed pages from it down the toilet.”
Madni breaks down as he recalls what was perhaps his most difficult time.
“They put me in Delta Block in a six-by-four refrigerator with just my underwear for six months. I lost my hearing and when they finally started to give me IV medication, I noticed that the labels had expired dates,” he alleges. “They would keep me for 15 hours in the interrogation room with no bathroom, I had to pee and number two on myself.”
After 192 days in Guantánamo, Madni tried to hang himself with a bed sheet. He later went on a hunger strike for a year and a half.
Madni also claims he was denied medical treatment for his infected eardrum. The guards told him he would be treated only after he confessed to knowing Osama bin Laden, Madni says.
Prison records later revealed that the ear infection had spread dangerously close to his brain, Burki, his doctor says.
The International Committee of the Red Cross paid for Madni’s treatment for six months after he was released.
Back home in Pakistan Madni’s ordeal is still not over. He remains under house arrest and needs permission from security officials to leave home and meet with people, even with his own sister.
Madni’s treatment at the hands of Pakistani authorities is not unusual, Reprieve’s Noon says.
“Most Gitmo detainees are kept in jail or under house arrest when they are repatriated because the government doesn’t want to be embarrassed in the media,” she says.
Madni had to get official permission to meet with NBC News.
Reprieve is suing the Pakistani government on behalf of seven Pakistani prisoners who are in detention in Afghanistan’s Bagram. The charity sued the government for illegal rendition and for violating the men’s human and constitutional rights.
The case has been postponed until later this month.
And in November, the British government agreed to pay seven former Guantánamo detainees millions of dollars as part of an out-of-court settlement .
The ex-detainees, Britons or British residents, were claiming damages from the government over allegations that they were mistreated during their detention abroad with the knowledge and in some cases the complicity of British security services.
Madni was released without a conviction after his lawyer Richard Cys of Davis Wright Tremaine took up the case pro bono in the U.S. courts.
“We are pleased that he was released from his imprisonment,” Cys said in a written response to an interview request from NBC News.
Guantánamo Bay prison is still holding 173 detainees, according to Reprieve.
“My family won’t forget”
President Barack Obama, desperate to keep his campaign promise to reduce the prison population and eventually close the facility, has strong-armed allies to take former prisoners in, according to secret diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
In Pakistan, Asma Jehanghir, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and a human rights lawyer, promised to fight Madni’s case in the Pakistani courts in order to lift his house arrest.
But Obama closing Guantánamo and the government clearing his name won’t erase the last eight years of Madni’s life.
“What they did to me, me and my family won’t forget for 100 years,” Madni says. “There are a lot of people like me that never did anything and were in Guantánamo Bay.”
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, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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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.
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