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A former Guantanamo detainee describes his ordeal

Text by Laurent ROUY , Special correspondent in Sarajevo

Latest update : 2008-12-29

Mustapha Aït Idir feels lost in his small Sarajevo house surrounded by construction sites, proper houses and ruins. Back from Guantanamo where he spent seven years, he told FRANCE 24 about his detention.

France 24: You were locked away for seven years. How is it to be back? Can you describe the conditions of your detention in Guantanamo?

Mustapha Aït Idir: Coming back from Guantanamo is like landing back on earth from Jupiter. I don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t know where I am. I don’t even remember who I am.

X-Ray camp in Guantanamo is the worst place on earth. I kept a count of the number of times I was beaten up and tortured: about 500 times in seven years. They even broke my finger. Sometimes they would use tear gas before beating us up. Other times, they would come with a doctor who would show them where to hit us.

I am convinced that my two wardens never felt anything for me. They simply obeyed orders. One of them would be told to treat us nicely while the other would be ordered to abuse us. After a while, these two soldiers would be asked to do the opposite. The one who was nice would start abusing us and the ‘mean’ one who become ‘friendly.’

France 24: During your detention, what kind of relationship did you have with the other Gunatamo inmates? And with the outside world?

M. A. I.:
For me the worst was the isolation, not the torture. They placed me several times in complete isolation. It would last months. To have no one to talk to and see nobody for months, it drives you crazy. Once I remained a whole year in isolation.

They only let me talk to my family twice in seven years. While my wife is Bosnian and my children go to school in Sarajevo, I was forced to talk to them in Arabic because they didn’t have a Bosnian translator to hand.

Our most frequent contact took place by post because letters were authorised on condition that they would go through a censorship process that was so drastic that letters became unreadable. I once got a two-page letter that contained so many censored words that all I could read was two sentences.

France 24: Were you badly treated or humiliated?

M. A. I.: Given that Guantanamo detainees are supposed to be all fundamentalist Islamists, the most common insults were against religion and the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran became an issue of both reward and punishment. People who behaved well by their standards would receive a Qu’ran. Those who didn’t want to cooperate anymore would have their Qu’ran taken away. But first, they would insult the Qu’ran, rub the book against dirty underwear, tear up pages or throw the book across the room.

I myself only got a copy of the Qu’ran after several years. I would have preferred not to get a prayer book after I saw what they would do with it. They took my Qu’ran before they sent me back to Bosnia but they did put it on the plane. I got it back when I landed in Sarajevo. It’s the only thing I brought back from Guantanamo.

France 24: How did your release happen ? Did you get any explanation from the US authorities?

M. A. I.: I was never told what exactly they held against me since the US army extradited me illegally from Bosnia or during my time in Guantanamo. Even today I don’t know.
I didn’t know for sure that I would be freed. Two weeks before we came back, they stopped abusing us. I wasn’t alone in my cell anymore. They locked me with two other Bosnian Algerians who were released at the same time I was. I didn’t know them in Sarajevo and we got acquainted during those last two weeks. That’s when we started to realise that we were going to be released.
They summoned us just before we left. They took our uniforms and gave us civilian clothes and put us on a military plane. We flew 18 hours without knowing where we were going and they handed us over to the police. I still don’t understand anything. I feel lost and I've only just met my youngest son. He was born two months after I was arrested and he’s now seven. I don’t know what’s going to happen now but I’m going to need several months to get back to something that looks like normal life.

Date created : 2008-12-22