I’m delighted to cross-post below an interview with Khaled Ben Mustapha, one of seven French citizens held at Guantánamo, who was released in March 2005, and who recently spoke to Arnaud Mafille, an intern for Cageprisoners. This is a fascinating interview for a number of reasons; primarily, because of Ben Mustapha’s reflections on his time in Afghanistan, on how he and others were sold to US forces, and on Guantánamo as part of a war on Islam, and also for his explanations of how he and the other French ex-prisoners have been treated in France.
I also found it particularly noteworthy that he described the “enhanced interrogation techniques” to which he was subjected at Guantánamo, including the use of extremely loud music, and his imprisonment in freezing cold cells. This was reported many years ago, but it is useful to have it revived, so that readers may appreciate that this kind of treatment — as well as the use of isolation, sleep deprivation and shackling in painful positions — was part of a regime to which over a hundred of the prisoners at Guantánamo were subjected, as part of a “softening up” process for interrogation. This was identical in intent to what took place at Abu Ghraib, although the techniques used were much more focused at Guantánamo.
Cageprisoners: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: My name is Khaled Ben Mustapha. I am a 40-year old French national.
Cageprisoners: You were arrested at the Afghani border. During your trial, you declared that you were “neither a tourist nor a terrorist”. What led you to Afghanistan?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: I decided to go to Afghanistan in order to live under shari’ah. At that time, I judged that the Taliban represented an Islamic state. My approach was to see with my own eyes what an Islamic state was, bearing in mind that I am convinced that Muslims should live under the Muslim command, the Law of God.
Cageprisoners: Was what you found there in accordance with your expectations?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: I arrived in Afghanistan in August 2001, just a month before 9/11. Praise be to God, it was completely different from what could be watched on television, listened to on the radio or read in the newspapers. Indeed, it was a poor country. However, people were not the unfortunate creatures described. I discovered a pleasant Muslim atmosphere. The local inhabitants honoured us. They used to honour Arabs because they knew that we emigrated towards them. The welcoming was nice, so was their behaviour. There was no problem. I was in Jalalabad. I travelled around. I went to Kabul and Kandahar. Then, the 9/11 attacks occurred.
Cageprisoners: You were arrested soon after. Could you describe for us the circumstances of your arrest?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: I was arrested in December 2001, not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. We left Afghanistan to enter into Pakistan and eventually to go back home because we could not stay in the country anymore. We were arrested by the Pakistani army. They first told us: “We are just going to check your identity”. But they threw us in prison, handcuffed and shackled. They called the Americans over to interrogate us. We were tortured in Pakistan.
Cageprisoners: Were you tortured by the Americans or by the Pakistani army?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: In Pakistan, it was by the Pakistanis under the American authority. It was under their presence. I stayed there for a week. Then, I was taken to an airport and transferred to the Americans. We were put in a plane and taken to the American base of Kandahar.
Cageprisoners: Is it at that time that you were sold to the Americans by the Pakistanis?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: Yes. The Pakistanis sold us. When I say “sold”, it literally means “sold”. There was a financial transaction. Many among us saw cash flowing from the Americans to the Pakistanis. Each time they would hand over a person, the counter part was money.
Cageprisoners: Then, were you transferred to Guantánamo?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: I stayed a month and a half in Kandahar camp. We were tortured during a month and a half. I was personally transferred to Guantánamo in mid-February 2002.
Cageprisoners: What were the conditions of this transfer?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: Very harsh. We were in planes, chained, blindfolded with masks on our mouths and anti-noise headphones. Our flight must have lasted 20 hours from Afghanistan to Cuba. We stopped somewhere but we do not know where it was. During the whole trip, we were beaten up. We were kicked, beaten with a stick…
Cageprisoners: Did you know the Guantánamo camp and what were you expecting at that moment?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: We knew that we were taken to the island of Cuba. We were told by the Red Cross just before. We knew that we would not be there just for a week or two. We knew that it would be long and difficult. In Cuba, the welcoming was … Torture carried on, probably until today for those who are still over there.
Cageprisoners: Did you have any contact with your family?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: No contact. The only contact we had was through the letters that we were given by the Red Cross. However, these letters were redacted. Many paragraphs were blacked out. We had almost no information. We did not know what was going on.
Cageprisoners: What did the Americans question you about?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: The Americans dearly wanted us to say that we were terrorists, that we were Al Qaeda members and that we knew Osama Bin Laden. “Where is Bin Laden?” Questions were always the same … Each time our answers were not good to them, they would torture us …
Cageprisoners: Were you accused of anything specifically?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: No. No precise charges. Questions were very broad. “What did we do there?” I answered them that I was willing to live under shari’ah, that living with the Taliban did not bother me and that they did not harm me in any way whatsoever. It needs to be known that the Americans called over the secret services from all over the world in order to interrogate the GITMO detainees. During the four years I spent over there, several secret services from different countries came to question pretty much everybody. We could be interrogated by anybody. For sure, I was interrogated by the Americans. I was also interrogated by the French. The French came several times in order to interrogate us under the American torture. They wanted us to denounce people in France. The British used to interrogate the British but they used to interrogate everybody. I was also questioned by people with an accent. They were neither English nor American. All the services could interrogate whomever they wanted. For sure, the Mossad was part of the delegation.
Cageprisoners: Were you interrogated by the Tunisian services?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: They came and interrogated all the Tunisian nationals, threatening them with torture when they would be back in Tunisia. That was at the time of the tyrant Ben Ali.
Cageprisoners: To summarise, you were interrogated by the Americans, the French …
Khaled Ben Mustapha: And many other interrogators with different accents in English. But I do not have any means to know what nationality they were exactly. It is simple. I spent four years of interrogations. That is what needs to be understood. Four years of non-stop interrogations. Four years …
Cageprisoners: What were the conditions of these interrogations?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: It depended on people … If they were not satisfied, they would torture us in different ways. There was physical torture. There was psychological torture; they would not allow us to sleep, rooms would be highly refrigerated. It was very cold. They would fill the room with noise using very big speakers. The volume of the music was extremely high. We were deprived of many things. We had almost nothing. The only thing I had was a “short”. I was put in a room for months and all I had was a “short”. I had nothing. No blanket, no towel. There was no hygiene. Torture was very harsh.
Cageprisoners: You have pretty much answered my next question which was the following one: You are the first French GITMO ex-detainee to lodge a complaint for “torture and act of barbaric acts”. What kind of abuse led you to take this action? What is the result of this action?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: We lodged a complaint in France for “kidnapping, torture and barbaric acts”. At the beginning they rejected our action. We insisted and the complaint was accepted. A judiciary procedure has been opened. The inquiry is taking place. We understand that it will be a very long process …
Cageprisoners: Do you think that the investigation will be conducted objectively?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: It would be very difficult for the judge to do otherwise … All the elements he has are pointing towards the same direction. There are Amnesty International reports, other Human Rights defence organisations’ reports from all around the world, UN reports and our declarations. It is difficult to deny.
Cageprisoners: Despite the attempt to dehumanise you, do you think that your experience has helped you to become a better human being?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: Praise be to God in all circumstances. I always knew that I was on the straight path. I have not harmed anybody. I have never been reproached with that, neither in France nor in the US. Praise be to God, we have not threatened anybody, we have not endangered anybody’s life. What we are reproached with is our ideology. What we are reproached with is to love Islam to the extent of being willing to live under Islamic laws. Praise be to God, it strengthened me. I am convinced that we need to live under shari’ah, in the country into which we want to live, freely. I came out extremely weakened, which is normal, but much more convinced that I was on the straight path and that those facing me did not inspire me trust.
Cageprisoners: What relation do you have with the “human being”? Have you been disgusted?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: Not at all, a Muslim is objective and clear. We have never had any hatred towards anybody whatsoever, Muslim or non Muslim. It has not affected my daily life. I have a job; I still have the same neighbours. However, it has strengthened me in my thought and in my religion. I know that war is declared against Islam and not against us specifically.
Cageprisoners: What was the attitude of the French government towards you while you were incarcerated in Guantánamo?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: The French were accomplices of the Americans, like other states. They took advantage of their system to interrogate us. They took advantage of the lawlessness in that part of the world. They are still taking advantage of it. Ten years later, they are still accusing and judging us. They have prosecuted us several times but they have lost very often. Until today, there is still no clear accusations. But they keep on calling us “terrorists”. The evidence that they are not truthful is that we are free. We work, we have a family … We live like anybody. If we were terrorists, they would not let us free.
Cageprisoners: Did the French witness the torture of which you were victims?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: The French investigators came to interrogate us under the American torture. They were witnesses and accomplices.
Cageprisoners: Afterwards, you were cleared and released by the American authorities. What happened to you then?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: They made an arrangement with the French authorities so that they can come and repatriate us. Hence, a French military plane came. As soon as we arrived in France, we were jailed, straight away.
Cageprisoners: Were you placed under a special regime in prison?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: Not at all. We were with the ordinary prisoners. We were respected. There was no problem. We had a lot of respect from the other detainees.
Cageprisoners: In 2007, you were convicted of “criminal association in relation to a terrorist enterprise”. You were sentenced to a year of imprisonment. However, this period was covered by the time you had already spent in jail waiting for your trial and you, therefore, left the court free. Why did you appeal this decision?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: We appealed the decision simply because we disagree with the fact of being judged as terrorists while we are not. It was unacceptable to be labelled as terrorists while we were not reproached with any terrorist acts. We were sentenced formally only. Even a five-year old child could understand that. We were sentenced to a year in prison. A terrorist is not sentenced to a year in prison. He is sentenced to 20 years. There is no “half-way measure”. Either you are a terrorist and you stay in jail, or you are not and you come out. Therefore, we appealed and we won. They realised that there were a lot of mistakes which were harmful to us, so we were proven to be right.
Cageprisoners: That was in 2009.The Court of Appeal confirmed your allegations and affirmed that your right to defence were violated. Could you explain it to us in more detail?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: There was a violation of our right to defence in the sense that the French investigators took advantage of the lawlessness in Guantánamo to interrogate us, which is forbidden in French law. They did not have the right to interrogate us outside a legal procedure. There was not any legal procedure whatsoever against us when we were interrogated. They took advantage of the situation that was prevailing in Guantánamo to collect as many pieces of information as possible under that American torture. They secretly introduced these pieces of information in the case file to utilise them afterwards when the investigation was opened. Here was the violation of our rights. But the French government is overproud. They decided to take the case to a higher court (the Court of Cassation).
Cageprisoners: Very recently, WikiLeaks has released several diplomatic cables in relation with French Gitmo ex-detainees. In one of them, one of the advisors of the Minister of State confessed that the French anti-terrorism legislation required mainly allegations rather than evidence. What is your reaction?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: We knew it because we were at the very heart of the procedure. We know what happened. We were facing the investigating judge. There was no evidence whatsoever. In the media, we were labelled as terrorists but the most shocking is that the anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguière and his accomplice Jean-François Ricard cheated. They used to go secretly to the American embassy to give and take pieces of information about us. They stated clearly in the WikiLeaks cables that there was no evidence against us. They had nothing against us. That is the reason why we were sentenced to one year and not ten years.
Cageprisoners: Do you feel that there is a will to condemn you at any cost?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: Yes! It is clear since the beginning. There is an obvious fierceness to condemn us. But we will not stay passive. We will defend ourselves as much as we can.
Cageprisoners: Why is that?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: It is very simple. In France, everything is condemned. Hijab is condemned, niqab is condemned, people who pray outside due to the lack of space are condemned, halal food is condemned. In France, everything that is Muslim-related is condemned. It is not simply terrorism. You just have to watch television to see that in France everything that is linked with Islam is condemned.
Cageprisoners: Recently, the Court of Cassation overturned this decision and you are to be judged again. Why is that and what sentence do you face?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: We were judged a third time before a Court of Appeal. We are expecting the verdict in March, God willing. We do not risk a lot. They can confirm the one-year sentence that we have already served. In reality, the French realised that they have made a grave mistake. They want to find an arrangement to save face. They say: “We do not send you back to prison but we say that the year you spent there is fine”. But it does not work with us. We will not disgrace ourselves to please them.
Cageprisoners: Was it said to you explicitly?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: It was implied but since we do not agree, they persist. But we will not give up, God willing. If they condemn us, we will go before the Court of Cassation. If we lose there, we will go before the European Court of Human Rights, God willing. The story is not over yet, God willing, even if it has to take ten years.
Cageprisoners: Do you think that the concept of justice is being abandoned in France?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: French justice is known. When the “judicial machinery” makes a mistake, it hardly reverses. It is a recorded fact. It is arrogance. Whoever says that there is justice in France says so because he has not tasted injustice yet. Our case is a pure injustice.
Cageprisoners: What kind of life do you live now?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: Praise be to God, I live with my family, I have got children, I work just like anybody. I take part in the economic, professional and social daily life. Praise be to God, my life has not changed. Life goes on.
Cageprisoners: How are you treated by people in general?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: Reactions are mixed. Some people understand that we have been the victims of an injustice. Some others are shocked and believe what is said on television. It is mixed. Many among the Muslims have also stopped believing American lies. We have seen it with Iraq and Afghanistan. They cannot lie to people anymore, we perfectly know the truth.
Cageprisoners: Do you think that an awakening is taking place?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: Of course. As a specific category of people is constantly targeted, i.e the Muslim community, at a certain point, even people who do not pay attention will realise that they are told lies.
Cageprisoners: What message would you like to address to our readers?
Khaled Ben Mustapha: I request them not to forget those who are still over there. We went through it but we have started a normal life again. We should really worry for those who are still there. We must not forget them in our invocations. We must absolutely not stop the positive actions that will be successful, God willing, and will close Guantánamo camp. We must remember that Guantánamo is not only in Cuba. There are Guantánamo camps all around the world. In Iraq, there is Guantánamo. In Afghanistan, there are Guantánamo camps. In Pakistan, there are Guantánamo camps. Guantánamo is everywhere. There are American secret prisons. We all know that Muslims are in there. We must not forget them in our invocations nor in the actions we take to denounce this injustice. We have to do everything possible to free our brothers in Guantánamo. We do not want for them a “prison of substitution” as they try to suggest. They need to go back home. There are people who were freed three years ago but they still have not seen their families. They were sent thousands of kilometres away from their place and they still have not seen their children, mothers and fathers. Is that freedom? Everybody is innocent in Guantánamo, that is known. Guantánamo was created to make people believe that we were guilty. Eventually, praise be to God, we are all innocents.
Cageprisoners: That was my last question. BarakAllahou fik.
Khaled Ben Mustapha: May Allah reward you for your work.
Note: The French Court of Appeal recently reconfirmed the sentence of the French Guantánamo detainees.
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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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.
On Facebook, Willy Bach wrote:
This story of the case of Khaled Ben Mustapha raises yet more difficult questions for the torture inquiry. It is so difficult to run a nice orderly inquiry these days with predictable outcomes. There are so many inconvenient stories that keep popping up. When you read this sort of material it gets even harder to believe they are only in Libya because brave Libyan democrats are facing a hail of bullets. Humanitarian intervention? Never!
Ghaliyaa Haq wrote:
Willy: what torture inquiry? 😉 Of course that’s not why they are in Libya… this is the hypocrisy of the ages. I can not even listen to Obama pontificating about “saving” innocent (fill in the blanks) anymore without just.. getting sick. I’ve given up on this piece of… country ever being even what it used to be. And to think… people used to call me a “Pollyanna” because I was always so hopeful. Bah! No more, now I’m realistic – and how they manage to keep up this facade with anyone at all – is beyond my comprehension, seriously.
Andy: I will post, digg, share, etc. 🙂 I hope your fundraising is going better than mine is! I have a record of $0.00 per month. Oops! But that happens when Paypal makes you remove your donation buttons. Argh….
William James Hudson wrote:
Insightful Andy – thanks
Gene Hernandez wrote:
reminds me of how the French tortured the Algerians during their war.
Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:
Really Sad! It is completely shameful that such places exist. That governments can act without need of any proof – all they need to do is throw a label on someone – chuck them into a prison, torture them, then forget them there forever. Where is the humanity?
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m sharing this now, Andy. Will Digg it tomorrow.
Dhyanne Green wrote:
Thanks Andy – ‘no honour among thieves’!
The United States assumed territorial control over the southern portion of Guantánamo Bay under the 1903 Cuban-American Treaty, which granted it a perpetual lease of the area. The United States, by virtue of its complete jurisdiction and control, maintains “de facto” sovereignty over this territory, while Cuba retains ultimate sovereignty over the territory. The current government of Cuba regards the U.S. presence in Guantánamo Bay as illegal and insists the Cuban-American Treaty was obtained by threat of force in violation of international law. [Wikipedia].
Given the US treatment of Cuba, over the decades, Cuba should take ‘legal’ action in the inter-national courts to take back the land on which the US is ‘squatting – ‘legally or otherwise’. The US wouldn’t allow this on their land.
Leonardo L Larl wrote:
to Dhyanne: ugly reality is how this “doctrine” has been applied in countless cases around the world, the :strong” against the “weak” and this applies in international court as well.
Damian Fortieth wrote:
Tashi, humanity aside, where’s the accountability of heads of state?
Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:
Good question Damian… I tend to think of heads of state as part of humanity, but perhaps they are not.
William James Hudson wrote:
If the human race accepts torture as a right of state ~
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m digging this now.
Thanks for the comments, my friends, and thanks also to those who shared this article.
I’m back from a wonderful break in Wales, and just getting used to being back at home. Normal service will resume imminently …
this is not human crime.. its the devil crime..
I have come to the decision that war is not the answer to any problem….this piece shows that torture is also not the answer. I am confused upset and very worried by both war and the torture which accompanies it, being a post WW2 baby in the UK. I have relatives who can talk intimately about wartime. I hope I never can.
Thank you, Carole. Very good to hear from you.
Why is US in Cuba at all ?? Has always baffled me,,,Why are US troops in Any country ?? Where have the voices against these “Illegal” actions by US,,been for the last 60 years,,,,Noam Chomsky , Howard Zinn, Bill Hicks, George Carlin are only a few who have kept me sane knowing, hearing, watching the “Horrors” being perpetrated by governments on their citizens,,As ‘Russell Means’ states “Welcome to the Reservation” ,,,,And now their are many that have Awoken The Truth of Justice,,,,I am hopeful and thankful to all these ‘heroic individuals,,,,Please please never stop for all our Children and for the sake of Humanity,,,,
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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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