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France

Former Gitmo detainee Boumediene describes prison ordeal

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-06-10

Former Guantanamo inmate Lakdhar Boumediene told FRANCE 24 in an exclusive interview about his seven-year ordeal in the US prison camp, where his protestations of innocence were met with escalating brutality from interrogators.

Former Guantanamo inmate Lakdhar Boumediene told FRANCE 24 in an exclusive interview that “interrogators told me they knew I was innocent,” but wanted him to testify against other detainees.

“I told them I can tell you about my life, but not that of others,” he said. “They were asking me to testify against my best friends.”

Boumediene’s ordeal ended last month when he was released in France after more than seven years in the US anti-terror prison camp, including more than two years spent on hunger strike.

Asked how he managed to stay sane despite the extremely harsh prison conditions, he cited two reasons: his faith as a practising Muslim and his family.


My family was my strength

“I thought of my family every day for seven years. That was my strength,” he said. The 42-year-old is the father of two little girls.

Boumediene, an Algerian-born naturalized Bosnian citizen, worked in Bosnia for the Red Crescent Society.

He was picked up shortly after the September 11 attacks on suspicion of plotting to blow up the US and British embassies in Sarajevo.

The Bosnian charges against him were quickly dropped and he and five others were ordered released, but under pressure from the administration of former US President George W. Bush, he was turned over to the US military and flown to Guantanamo Bay prison. He says he thought that it would not be long before US authorities realized they had made an error and released him.


“Sometimes we couldn’t sleep because of the smell”

“In the first six months I was very cooperative,” he told FRANCE 24. “I spoke for five or six hours with them every day to show my innocence. But they never asked me about the Sarajevo embassy bombing, not once in seven years.”

Instead, he said, interrogators seemed determined to link him with Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, al Qaeda.

The former inmate described the terrible living conditions within the prison camp, especially in the beginning before newer facilities were built.

“At first there was no prison,” he said, “just barbed-wire fences and single cells. We had a bucket of water to drink and a bucket to go to the bathroom that stayed full for 24 hours. Sometimes we couldn’t sleep because of the smell.”

Boumediene also described being locked in a one-metre-square cell under intense lights for several days straight and spending weeks, even months, in isolation without seeing a single person.

“Sometimes I was forced to run with one guard on either side of me holding my arms,” he said, “and when I was too tired or stumbled, they dragged me along. They saw my legs bleeding and didn’t care. They said I had to answer their questions.”

In 2004, Boumediene and his lawyer filed a lawsuit challenging his detention in court against Bush and members of his administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.

On June 12, 2008, a 5-4 US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Boumediene v Bush stated that Guantanamo detainees had the right to contest their imprisonment. In November 2008, US District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the evidence against Boumediene was a "thin reed" and ordered his release.

Date created : 2009-06-10