Torture and Abuse on the USS Bataan and in Bagram and Kandahar: An Excerpt from “My Life with the Taliban” by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef


Cageprisoners has just posted an excerpt from My Life with the Taliban by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban government’s ambassador to Pakistan before the 9/11 attacks, who was seized by the Pakistani authorities a few months later. Handed over to the US authorities, he was one of a number of supposedly signficant prisoners held on the USS Bataan (including the Australian David Hicks), and was then moved to the US prisons at Bagram airbase and Kandahar airport. He was transferred to Guantánamo in July 2002, and was released in September 2005.

His autobiography has been well-received. Foreign Affairs described it as “A counternarrative to much of what has been written about Afghanistan since 1979 … Zaeef offers a particularly interesting discussion of the Taliban’s origins and the group’s effectiveness in working with locals,” and the Sunday Telegraph wrote, “Spies, generals and ambassadors will pounce on this book, poring over its pages for clues to a way out of the Afghan morass.”

This fascinating excerpt from the book, cross-posted below, deals with Zaeef’s detention in Pakistan, on the USS Bataan, and in Bagram and Kandahar.

An Excerpt from “My Life with the Taliban” by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef (Hurst & Co.)

When we arrived in Peshawar I was taken to a lavishly-fitted office. A Pakistani flag stood on the desk, and a picture of Mohammad Ali Jinnah hung at the back of the room. A Pashtun man was sitting behind the desk. He got up, introduced himself and welcomed me. His head was shaved — seemingly his only feature of note — and he was of an average size and weight. He walked over to me and said that he was the head of the bureau. I was in the devil’s workshop, the regional head office of the ISI.

He told me I was a close friend — a guest — and one that they cared about a great deal. I wasn’t really sure what he meant, since it was pretty clear that I was dear to them only because they could get a good sum of money for me when they sold me. Their trade was people; just as with goats, the higher the price for the goat, the happier the owner. In the twenty-first century there aren’t many places left where you can still buy and sell people, but Pakistan remains a hub for this trade. I prayed after dinner with the ISI officer, and then was brought to a holding-cell for detainees. The room was decent, with a gas heater, electricity and a toilet. I was given food and drink — even a copy of the Holy Qur’an for recitation — as well as a notebook and pen. The guard posted at the door was very helpful, and he gave me whatever I requested during the night.

I wasn’t questioned or interviewed while being held in Peshawar. Only one man, who didn’t speak Pashtu and whose Urdu I couldn’t understand came every day to ask the same question over and over again: what is going to happen? My answer was the same each time he asked me. “Almighty God knows, and he will decide my fate. Everything that happens is bound to his will”.

All of the officials who visited me while I was detained in Peshawar treated me with respect. But none of them really spoke to me. They would look at me in silence but their faces spoke clearer than words could, humbled by pity and with tears gathering in their eyes. Finally, after days in my cell, a man came, tears flowing down his cheeks. He fainted as his grief and shame overcame him. He was the last person I saw in that room. I never learnt his name, but soon after — perhaps four hours after he left — I was handed over to the Americans.

It was eleven o’clock at night and I was getting ready to go to bed when the door to my cell suddenly opened. A man (also with a shaved head) entered; he was polite and we exchanged greetings. He asked me whether I was aware of what was going to happen to me. When I said that I knew nothing, he said that I was being transferred, and that it would happen soon. So soon, in fact, that he recommended that I should prepare straight away by taking ablutions and by using the toilet. Without asking for any further details, I got up and took my ablutions.

The USS Bataan

Barely five minutes had passed when other men arrived with handcuffs and a piece of black cloth. They shackled my hands and the cloth was tied around my head covering my eyes. This was the first time in my life that I had been treated in this way. They searched my belongings and took the holy Qur’an, a digital recorder and some money I still had with me. As they led me out of the building, they kicked and pushed me into a car. None of them had said a word so far. We drove for almost an hour before they stopped the car. I could hear the sounds of the rotating blades of a helicopter nearby. I guessed that we were at an airport where I would be handed over to the Americans. Someone grabbed me and pulled an expensive watch that I was wearing from my wrist as the car drove closer to the helicopters. The car stopped again, but this time two people grabbed me on each side and took me out of the car. As they brought me towards the helicopter, one of the guards whispered into my ear. Khuda hafiz. Farewell. But the way he said it, it sounded like I was going on a fantastic journey.

Even before I reached the helicopter, I was suddenly attacked from all sides. People kicked me, shouted at me, and my clothes were cut with knives. They ripped the black cloth from my face and for the first time I could see where I was. Pakistani and American soldiers stood around me. Behind these soldiers, I could see military vehicles in the distance, one of which had a general’s number plate.

The Pakistani soldiers were all staring as the Americans hit me and tore the remaining clothes off from my body. Eventually I was completely naked, and the Pakistani soldiers — the defenders of the Holy Qur’an — shamelessly watched me with smiles on their faces, saluting this disgraceful action of the Americans. They held a handover ceremony with the Americans right in front of my eyes. That moment is written in my memory like a stain on my soul. Even if Pakistan was unable to stand up to the godless Americans I would at least have expected them to insist that treatment like this would never take place under their eyes or on their own sovereign territory. I was still naked when a callous American soldier gripped my arm and dragged me onto the helicopter. They tied my hands and feet, sealed my mouth with duct tape and put a black cloth over my head. That was in turn taped to my neck, and then I was shackled to the floor of the helicopter. All this time I could neither shout nor breathe. When I tried to catch my breath or move a little to one side, I was kicked hard by a soldier. On board the helicopter, I stopped fearing the kicking and beating; I was sure that my soul would soon leave my body behind. I assured myself that I would soon die from the beatings. My wish, however, wasn’t granted.

The soldiers continued to shout at me, hit and kick me throughout the journey, until the helicopter finally landed. By then I had lost track of time. Only Allah knows the time I had spent between cars, helicopters and the place where I now found myself. I was glad when the helicopter landed, and allowed me to hope that the torment had come to an end, but a rough soldier took me and dragged me out of the helicopter. Outside, a number of soldiers beat and kicked me. They behaved like animals for what seemed like hours. Afterwards, the soldiers sat on top of me and proceeded to have a conversation, as if they were merely sitting on a park bench. I abandoned all hope; the ordeal had been long and I was convinced I would die soon. Still I saw the faces of the Pakistani soldiers in my mind. What had we done to deserve such a punishment? How could our Muslim brothers betray us like this?

I lay curled up for two hours on the ground and then they dragged me to another helicopter. It appeared to be more modern than the last one. The guards tied me to a metal chair, and throughout the flight I was not touched. No one told me where I was being taken, and the helicopter landed some twenty minutes later. Again, the soldiers grabbed me and led me away. It seemed like a long way; I was still blind-folded, but I could hear that there were many people in the vicinity. They pulled me up to my feet and an interpreter told me to walk down the staircase in front of me. The stairs led inside and the noise of the people above slowly faded. There must have been six flights of stairs before we stopped and the black bag was pulled from my head. The duct tape was ripped off my face, and my hands were untied.

Four American soldiers stood around me and to my left I could see cells — they looked more like cages — with people inside. The soldiers brought me to a small bathroom, but I couldn’t shower. My limbs and body throbbed with the pain of the beating I had received earlier in the day during the torment of the helicopter flight. I felt paralysed and had little sensation in my arms or legs. I was given a uniform and led into one of the cages. It was small, perhaps two metres long and a metre wide, with a tap and a toilet. The walls were made out of metal bars with no seals. Before they left, the guards told me to go to sleep and locked the door behind me. Alone in the cage, I reflected on the last few days. How did I end up in this cage? Everything was like a dark dream, and when I lay down and tried to get some sleep amid the aching of my bruised body, I realised that I no longer knew whether I was awake or asleep.

The next morning I looked out from my cage and saw a soldier guarding the door. There were three other cages around mine, all covered in rubber. It dawned on me that I was in a big ship, one of the ships used in the war against Afghanistan off the Pakistani coast. I could hear the loud rumble of the ship’s engines throughout the night and morning, and I was sure that this was one of the ships that had launched missiles at Afghanistan.

I barely moved my eyes — not daring to look around — out of fear. My tongue was dry and stuck to the top of my mouth. On the left side I could see a few other prisoners who were together in one cell. A soldier came with some food and another prisoner was brought onto the ship. The men ate their breakfast and stood together. We were not permitted to talk to each other, but could see one another while the food was handed to us. I eventually saw that Mullahs Fazal, Noori, Burhan, Wasseeq Sahib and Rohani were all among the other prisoners, but still we could not talk to each other.

A soldier entered my room and handcuffed me to the bars of the cage. They searched my room and afterwards I was interrogated for the first time; fingerprints were taken and I was photographed from all sides. They wrote up a brief biography before bringing me back to my cage. I found that I had received some basic items in my absence: a blanket, a plastic sheet and a plate of food — rice and a boiled egg. I had not eaten for a long time, and returned the empty plate to the guard who stood in front of my cage. I had just lain down to rest when I heard another soldier coming with handcuffs. Shackled once more, I was brought to the interrogation room. This time I was asked about Sheikh Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar. They asked me where they were, what their current condition was, and then about some key commanders of the Taliban forces — where they were hiding, what had happened to them and what they were planning. 11 September came up only once, and then only in a very brief question. They wanted to know if I had known anything about the attack before it happened. These were the main things I was asked in the dark and small interrogation room on the ship.

The Americans knew — I was sure — that I had little to do with the things that they asked me about. I had not been informed, nor did I have any previous knowledge, of the attacks on the United States or who was responsible for them. But just as these things happened to me, thousands of others were defamed, arrested and killed without a trial or proof that they had been complicit or responsible. On the ship I thought that I would never see my friends and family again. I thought they would never know what had happened to me.

No one should be in such despair, especially a Muslim, but I had to remember the Soviet invasion, and the behaviour of the Russians in Afghanistan. I thought of the destiny of those sixty thousand Afghans who were just devoured by the Soviet monster. They were gone forever; no one returned alive, and no one knew anything about them. For the first time, I could feel what those people must have felt, deep in my bones. I wanted my spirit to join them and to be finished with this anguish. I wanted to escape the cruelties of those vicious animals, those barbarous American invaders.

After five or six days on the ship I was given a grey overall, my hands and feet were tied with plastic restraints and a white bag was put over my head. I was brought onto the deck of the ship along with the other prisoners. We were made to kneel and wait. The restraints cut off blood to our hands and feet. Some of the other prisoners were moaning because of the pain but the soldiers only shouted and told them to shut up. After several hours we were put into a helicopter and we landed three times before we reached our final destination. Each time we landed the soldiers would throw us out of the helicopter. We were forced to lie or kneel on the ground and they kicked and hit us when we complained or even moved.

In the helicopter we were tied to the walls or the floor, most of the time in a position that was neither kneeling nor standing. It was torment, and with each passing minute the agony grew. On our penultimate stop when I was thrown to the ground, one of the soldiers said, “this one, this is the big one”. And while I could not see them, they attacked me from all sides, hitting and kicking me on the ground. Some used their rifles and others just stomped on me with their army boots. My clothes were torn to pieces and soon I was lying naked in the fresh snow. I lost all feeling in my hands and feet from the restraints and the cold. The soldiers were singing and mocking me. The USA is the home of Justice and Peace and she wants Peace and Justice for everyone else on the globe, they said over and over again. It was too cold to breathe and my body was shaking violently, but the soldiers just shouted at me telling me to stop moving. I lay in the snow for a long time before I finally lost consciousness.


I woke up in a big room. I could see two guards wearing balaclavas and holding large sticks in their hands in front of me. My body ached all over. When I turned my head I saw two more guards behind me in each corner of the room, both pointing pistols at my head. They were all shouting at me. “Where is Osama? Where is Mullah Omar? What role did you play in the attacks on New York and Washington?” I could not even move my tongue. It had swollen and seemed to be glued to my upper palate. Lying in that room, in pain and being screamed at, I wanted to die. May Allah forgive me for my impatience! They left when they noticed that I could not answer; then other soldiers came and dragged me into a run-down room without a door or a window. They had given me some sort of clothes but still it was too cold and once again I lost consciousness. I woke up in the same room. A female soldier was guarding the entrance and came over to me. She was the first soldier that was nice and behaved decently, asking me how I was and if I needed anything. Still I could not talk. I thought I was in Cuba at first, having lost all sense of time, but when I saw that the walls were covered in names and dates of Taliban I realized that I was still in Afghanistan.

I could hardly move. My shoulder and head seemed broken and the pain rushed through me with each heartbeat. Silently I prayed that Allah would be pleased with me and that he protect other brothers from the ordeal I was going through. When it became dark I called for the female soldier to help me. I asked her if I was allowed to pray. She said that I was. My hands were still tied so that I could hardly perform tayammum. I was still praying when two soldiers entered the room. They let me finish my prayer before they asked me if I felt better, if I was cold or needed anything. All I said was alhamdulillah. I dared not complain, and I knew they could see the bloody bruises on my face, my swollen hands and my shaking body. They asked me about Sheikh Osama and Mullah Mohammad Omar but I had nothing to tell them. My answer did not please them, and I could see the anger in their faces. But even though they threatened me and tried to intimidate me, my answer stayed the same and they left.

I had not eaten for six days because I was not sure if the military food rations they gave me were halal. For nearly one month they kept me in that small run-down room, and all I had for food was a cup of tea and a piece of bread. The soldiers would not let me sleep. For twenty days I lay in the room with my hands and feet tied. I was interrogated every day.

On 24 January 2002, six other prisoners were brought into my room, most of whom were Arabs. They stayed for a few hours before they were taken away again. They returned the next day and I asked them what had happened. They told me that Red Cross representatives had come to to inspect the camp, register prisoners and collect letters for their families. They said that they did not know why they were being hidden away. We talked some more, and food was brought, the first time I had had enough to eat.


In the following days we were moved several times. Each time we would be blindfolded, made to kneel and sit in uncomfortable positions for hours. On 9 February we were transferred out of Bagram and flown down to Kandahar. Once again we were tied up, kicked and beaten, dragged through the mud and made to wait outside in the cold. Many of the prisoners screamed and cried while they were abused. The same happened when we arrived after the brief flight. I was hit with sticks, trampled on and beaten. Five soldiers sat down on me while I lay in the cold mud. They ripped my clothes to shreds with their knives. I thought I would be slaughtered soon. Afterwards they made me stand outside; even though it was extremely cold I felt nothing but pain. They dragged me into a big tent for interrogation. There were male and female soldiers who mocked me, while another took a picture of me naked.

After a medical check up I was blindfolded again and dragged out of the tent. The soldiers rested on the way, sitting on me before bringing me to another big prisoner tent that was fenced off with barbed wire. Every prisoner was given a vest, a pair of socks, a hat and a blanket. I put the clothes on and covered myself with the blanket. It was cold in the tent and other prisoners were brought in one after another. Interrogations went on all day and night. The soldiers would come into the tent and call up a prisoner. The rest of us would be ordered to move to the back of the tent while they handcuffed the prisoner and led him out. The soldiers would abuse prisoners on the way, run their heads into walls — they could not see — and drag them over rough ground.

A delegation of the Red Cross came to the camp to register us and gave each prisoner an ID card. We were all suspicious of the delegates and believed that they were CIA agents. The Red Cross was trying to connect the prisoners with their families, arranging for letters to be exchanged and providing some books. They also arranged showers for us. Each prisoner got a bucket of water and was forced to take his shower naked in front of the other prisoners. We were allowed to shower once a month. No water was provided for ablutions. We received bottled drinking water from Kuwait and sometimes prisoners would use it to wash their hands and face, but as soon as the guards noticed the prisoner would get punished. I was held in Kandahar from 10 February till 1 July 2002. We were repeatedly called for interrogation. The tactics of the Americans changed from time to time; they would alternate between threats and decent treatment or they would try to cut deals with us. I was asked about my life, my biography, my involvement in the Taliban movement and so on. But the discussion always returned to Sheikh Osama and Mullah Mohammad Omar. Often an interrogation that began in a humane and decent way would end up with me being grabbed and roughly dragged out of the room because I did not have any information about the life of Sheikh Osama or the whereabouts of Mullah Mohammad Omar.

There were twenty people in each prison tent. The camp in Kandahar was better than Bagram. We were allowed to sit in groups of three and talk to each other; there were more facilities in general. All in all I believe there were about six hundred prisoners in the Kandahar camp. They conducted night-time searches, rushing into each prison tent and ordering all prisoners to lie face-down on the floor while they searched us and every inch of the tent. They brought in dogs to go through the few belongings we had, and to sniff up and down our bodies. There was no real food; all we were given was army rations, some of which dated back to the Second World War. Many were expired and no one could tell if we were allowed to eat the meat that was in the rations, but we had no choice: we had to eat the food or we would starve. The situation improved in June when we were given rations that were labelled halal. The new rations tasted better, and they weren’t out of date any more. We were also given some Afghan bread and sweets, a real luxury. Helicopters and airplanes landed day and night close by and the constant noise kept us awake. Many of the soldiers would also patrol during the nights, shouting and waking us. Three times each day all the prisoners would be counted. We were all given a number; I was 306. Until the time I was released I was called 306.

When I was taken to Bagram, every day I hoped that it would be my last. I only had to look at my shackled hands and feet, my broken head and shoulders, and then I would look at the inhuman, insulting behaviour of these American soldiers; I had no hope of ever being free again. When I met the six prisoners who were being hidden from the Red Cross in Bagram, I understood that there was something going on … I did not see any representatives of the Red Cross at Bagram because the Americans had also hidden me from them, but when I was transferred from Bagram to Kandahar, I saw the Red Cross on the second day after I arrived. They did not have a Pashtu translator with them, just an Urdu speaker whom they had taken from their Islamabad office. He was not Pakistani himself, but he could speak fluent Urdu. They had Arabic speaking staff as well. For Pashtu they had three people who hardly could speak the language at all: Julian, Patrick, and a German who had spent a lot of time in the Peshawar area. It was the first time that I had been able to tell my family that I was alive. I was given a pencil and paper, and a soldier sat in front of me while I wrote. When I was finished I gave the pencil and the paper back to the soldier. I did not receive any letters from home when I was in Kandahar, and nobody gave me any information about my family, about what had happened to them after I was arrested.

There were lots of Red Cross representatives going back and forth, talking to us through barbed wire. They were asking questions about our health and other problems. They told us that whatever we said would stay safe with them, and that they would not tell the Americans. But we were suspicious. We thought they might be lying; we could not trust them and we were not open with them. We did not tell them what was in our hearts. We could not complain about the situation, because right in front of their eyes the Americans were taking us to interrogation, they were dragging us along the ground, sometimes with two or three soldiers sitting on top of us. The Red Cross delegates saw this, but they did not help.

The detainees told all of the brothers to be careful in what they said. According to them, there were many American spies masquerading as Red Cross delegates, tricking us while pretending to help. But in any case we had nothing useful for the Americans. We had nothing to do with any spying. The only sensitive issue was complaints, and the fact that many of the brothers had given false names and addresses when they were captured. So now they could not give new names and addresses to the Red Cross, so their letters were being sent to the wrong places. It was hard for them to tell the truth to the Red Cross, because they were afraid the information would get back to the Americans. I had the same suspicions when I was in Guantánamo.

We did not understand the level of assistance we were getting from the Red Cross while we were in Kandahar. But I did know three things they were doing: first, they were connecting us to our families with those letters, which was very important. Second, they gave us four Qur’ans per each set of twenty people. Third, they arranged for us to take our first shower in four months, even if it was a communal, naked, and very embarrassing shower. They also gave us clean overalls. According to the Red Cross, all of these things were done at their suggestion.

Our guards changed shifts twice a day and many of the low-ranking soldiers misbehaved, bearing ill-will towards Muslims. Every time they would appear, we had to stand in a row looking at the ground, and if the number of a prisoner was called he had to say ‘welcome’. Any prisoner who disobeyed these orders was punished. Every day all prisoners were lined up outside and made to stand in the sun. There were about twenty tents that held eight hundred prisoners. Not all soldiers were the same, but some would command us to stand there for half-an-hour before they took the attendance register and almost two hours afterwards. No one was allowed to sit down or stand in the shade, no matter what his condition. May Allah punish those soldiers!

The guards inspected the tents inside and outside along the barbed wire every day. One time a soldier found a piece of broken glass outside on the ground. He was one of the meanest soldiers, and upon discovering the piece of glass he gave it to me and asked where it had come from. I tossed it back to him and said that I did not know; we had brought nothing with us. The glass must have been here before, I told him. The soldier kept repeating his question. “Don’t talk. I will fuck you up”, he screamed at me. I was forced to kneel with my hands behind my head for several hours; from time to time he would kick or push me to the ground. There was no point in complaining about the behaviour of the soldiers; it would only make the punishment even worse. I will never forget the treatment I suffered at the hands of these slave rulers.

Kandahar prison camp had several sections. Next to the ordinary prison tents, one of the old hangars — previously a workshop for air planes — was now being used for the prisoners. Most prisoners feared it as a place of extreme punishment. Several times I saw prisoners being transported to the hangar bound with metal chains. In another separate location they deprived prisoners of sleep, holding them for months on end. The camp was guarded by six watchtowers and patrols, on foot and with vehicles, which took place all day and night. There are too many stories from the time when I was a prisoner in Kandahar. One day a new prisoner was brought to the prison tent where I was detained. He was a very old man. Two soldiers harshly dragged him into the tent and dropped him on the floor. He was ordered to stand but neither could he stand nor was he able to understand the men. He seemed to be confused; other prisoners told him to stand up but it was as if he could not distinguish the soldiers from the prisoners.

On the second day when he was called for interrogation and had to lie down to be tied up, he did not understand again. None of the other prisoners were allowed to help him; we were told to move towards the far end of the tent. Soon the soldiers let their passions loose and kicked him to the ground. One of them sat on his back while the others tied his hands together. All the while the old man was shouting. He thought he was going to be slaughtered and screamed, “Infidels! Let me pray before you slaughter me!” We were shouting from the back of the tent that he was just going to be interrogated and that he soon would be back at the tent, but it was as if he was in a trance. I cried and I laughed at the same time. There was so much anger in me as I watched the old man being dragged outside. When he came back I sat down to talk to him.

He said he was from Uruzgan province and that he lived in Char Chino district. He told me he was 105 years old, and eventually he was the first man to be released from the Hell of Guantánamo. In the camp we would pray together in congregation. One morning while I was leading the morning prayer, we had just started performing the first raqqat when a group of soldiers entered our tent and called the number of an Arab brother to take him for interrogation. The brother did not move, but continued with his prayer as is commanded by Allah. He was called a second time. By the third time, the soldiers rushed in, threw me to the ground, pressing my head into the floor, sitting on me while two others grabbed Mr Adil, the Arab brother from Tunis, and dragged him out. There was no respect for Islam.

Every day prisoners were mistreated in the camp. A Pakistani brother who had a bad toothache had only been given Tylenol by the medic in the camp. Eating was painful and difficult for him, and he could not manage to finish his food in the thirty minutes allocated for each meal. When the soldier came to collect his plate, he asked to be given more time because of his teeth. The soldier took him to the entrance and hit him in the mouth while the rest of us watched helplessly. After we saw how they treated the Pakistani brother, we decided to go on hunger strike. Word spread quickly and soon the entire camp had stopped eating. When the camp authorities came to find out what the reason for the strike was, we informed them about the abuses of the soldier and that we would no longer tolerate them. We were promised that incidents like this would be prevented in the future and we stopped the hunger strike. Even though we were subject to harsh conditions, this was the first hunger strike to have taken place under the American invaders’ custody.

The next day Mohammad Nawab, who was very ill and could not stand up, was beaten and kicked. The soldiers had come to inspect the tent and ordered the prisoners to move to the back. Mohammad Nawab had not moved; he had remained in bed. When the soldiers saw him, a group of them started to beat and kick him before they dragged him to the end of the tent and dropped him at our feet. I should mention that not all American soldiers behaved in this way; some were decent and respectful and did not join their comrades in the abuses. Some abuses were worse than others and affected everyone in the camp. One afternoon I woke up to the sound of the men crying. All over the camp you could hear the men weep. I asked Mohammad Nawab what had happened. He said that a soldier had taken the holy Qur’an and had urinated on it and then dumped it into the trash.

We had been given a few copies of the Qur’an by the Red Cross, but now we asked them to take them back. We could not protect them from the soldiers who often used them to punish us. The Red Cross promised that incidents like this would not be repeated, but the abuses carried on. The search dogs would come and sniff the Qur’an and the soldier would toss copies to the ground. This continued throughout my time in Kandahar. It was always the same soldier who acted without any respect towards the Qur’an and Islam. There were many other incidences of abuse and humiliation. Soldiers were conducting training with the prisoners as guinea-pigs: they would practise arrest techniques — all of which were filmed — and prisoners were beaten, told to sit for hours in painful positions. The number of such stories is endless.

All the while the interrogations continued. One night, when I had already been in Kandahar for several months, I was called for interrogation. I was asked if I wanted to go home, told that they had not benefited from my detention and had found no proof that I was involved beyond my dealings as Ambassador. They were planning to release me, they said. They would arrange for money, a phone and anything else I needed. After all this they told me the condition for my release: all I had to do was help them find Sheikh Osama and Mullah Mohammad Omar. Any time I would choose detention over this kind of release. I would not dare to put a price on the life of a fellow Muslim and brother ever!

I interrupted them and asked them what the reason for my detention was. They said that they believed I know about Al Qaeda, the Taliban, their financial branches, and about the attacks on New York and Washington. I had been arrested to investigate all these allegations. Given that they had not found any proof of what they had accused me of, they must see that I was innocent, I said. I had been arrested by the Pakistani government, and should be released without any conditions. For three days they talked about financial aid and a possible deal if I would agree to their terms, but I turned all their offers down. Once again their behaviour changed. They threatened me and my life, again.

The next day a group of soldiers came to our tent throwing a bunch of handcuffs towards a group of prisoners. After they put on the handcuffs, they were tied together and led away. We all wondered what was happening. Some believed that we were being released; others speculated that they might get transferred. But they all were brought back a few hours later. Each and every one was shaved — their beards, hair and eyebrows. Every single hair was gone. This was the worst form of punishment. In Islam it is forbidden to shave one’s beard. It is considered a sin in the Hanafi faith. It is better to be killed than to have one’s beard shaved. I was in the next group that was led away to the barber. I asked the barber not to shave my beard; he replied with a hard slap to my head. I did not open my eyes for several minutes while the pain rushed through me. Later, when a doctor asked me what had happened to my face and I complained about the barber, I received another slap from the doctor, telling me I should not complain about the American invaders.

During one interrogation session, I was asked if I knew Mr Mutawakil [the Taliban foreign minister] and there were several other questions relating to him. Finally I was asked if I wanted to meet him. I doubted that he had been arrested and asked where he was and how I could meet him. A few moments later he entered the room. He had brought me a packet of Pakistani biscuits, but my hands were tied and I was unable to eat them. Nor was I allowed to take them with me. We talked for ten or fifteen minutes and then he left again. In the short meeting I learnt that I would soon be transferred to Cuba. Mr Mutawakil did not say much more about that. He knew that Allah knew best what would happen to me. The next day I was interrogated again. I was told that I would be transferred to Cuba on 1 July.

The interrogator added that those going to Cuba would spend the rest of their lives there and that even their bodies might never find their way back to Afghanistan. This was my last chance, he said; I had to make a decision to go home or to be transferred to Cuba. Once again he stated the conditions for my release. If I were to go home, I would have to work with and help the American intelligence agencies in their search for Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, remaining their slave for the rest of my days. May Allah save us from committing such a sin! Even though I was given a day to think about it, I replied immediately: “I am not more talented or important than any of the brothers detained here. I accept the decision made for me by Almighty Allah. I have not committed any crime, and so will not admit to any crime. It is now up to you to decide what to do with me and where I shall be transferred”. After this interrogation I hoped that the transfer would come soon.

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.

16 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention Torture and Abuse on the USS Bataan and in Bagram and Kandahar: An Excerpt from “My Life with the Taliban” by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef | Andy Worthington -- says...

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, Mark Welkie. Mark Welkie said: RT @GuantanamoAndy: Torture, Abuse on the USS Bataan and in Bagram, Kandahar: Excerpt from “My Life with the Taliban” […]

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Zara Rehman wrote:

    fantastic piece…highlights the hypocrisy of the Pakistani authorities.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    FogBelter Sfo wrote:

    Isn’t there some pathetic irony to be gleaned from a prisoner being tortured on the USS Bataan?

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    Okay Cageprisoners is having tech issues I think. Every link, 4 so far, including one in the article, says” database error.” And site won’t come up either. I hope one of our governements isn’t participating in a denial of service attack.
    Also it would be nice if someone would correct this really offensive article on Wikipedia on Cageprisoners.
    It has everything from far out claims to Awlaki
    Plus Nick Cohen and Salmon Rushdie comments, which we could do without. I mean which everyone can do without.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Zara, Fogbelter and Mui.
    Yes, intense irony duly noted, Fogbelter, and Mui, I too hope that it’s nothing more than a server problem. I’ll find out tomorrow. Also agree re: Wikipedia. Worth looking into …

  6. Carlyle Moulton says...


    In the first sentence you refer to Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef as the the “Taliban government’s ambassador to Afghanistan”. surely this does not make sense, do you mean “Pakistan” where you have said “Afghanistan”?

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I do. Duly corrected. Thanks.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Abu Shu’aib wrote:

    I’ve been told the original (written by Mullah Zaeef) goes into more detail on the role the Pakistani authorities played (in handing him over to the US).

    About the book in general, it’s definitely worth a read.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    And by the way, the Cageprisoners site is back up — just a temporary glitch, obviously.

  10. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks again for all your interesting work Andy. I haven’t finished this interesting excerpt yet.
    But I thought I would stop and ask about “Mullahs Fazal, Noori, Burhan, Wasseeq Sahib and Rohani”. They also ended up at Guantanamo, didn’t they?


  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi arcticredriver,
    I kind of wondered if you’d pick up on that. I had filed it away for future reference, but yes, I hadn’t heard before that these other significant — or supposedly significant — Taliban figures had also been held on the USS Bataan, which suggests that in December 2001 there was a particular decision made to mine them (torture them) for actionable intelligence.
    I’m not sure who Burhan is, but the other four are: ISN 003 Gholam Ruhani (released), ISN 004 Abdul-Haq Wasiq, ISN 006 Mullah Norullah Noori and ISN 007 Mullah Mohammed Fazil.

  12. What’s next for Afghanistan? « The Political Jar says...

    […] reconciliation.  The initiative was widely seen as a response to calls issued by former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. In December, Karzai visited Turkey to discuss the issue with Turkish President […]

  13. Congress and the Dangerous Drive Towards Creating a Military State by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] then the correct focus in the Warsame story might become clear. That is to ask, ten years after ships were used to hold prisoners seized after the invasion of Afghanistan, at the start of the so-called “War on Terror,” why a […]

  14. Khayyam says...

    I’m pakistani but..shame on you Pakistan Army

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Khayyam, for the comment.

  16. Frank Poon says...

    Interesting reading, and I take note of his being mistreated and not once making any reference to the thousands of men and women mistreated by the Taliban. isn’t he the the very one who stated on international news that donors should give Afghanistan money for a new stadium since the one paid for by Japan was used to shoot women? Should we feel any pity for this type of individual?

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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