Former Gitmo detainees blast U.S. military
Three Brits address conference highlighting Muslim prisoners
Stars and Stripes
LONDON — Three British men held in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for more than two years before their release in 2004 railed against their alleged torture by the American military during a daylong conference on Muslim detainees.
Safiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhel Ahmed spoke for a little less than an hour Saturday at the London Islamic Centre, answering questions about their treatment, their faith, life as a prisoner and their return to England.
“First, you get peppered sprayed, and then you just basically get beaten for five to 10 minutes,” Ahmed said. “Just imagine getting beat up by five guys, that’s how it feels.”
The event, dubbed “The Faces of the Detainees,” focused not only on the well-publicized Guantanamo facility, but also on the so-called “ghost prisons” allegedly run by the United States in conjunction with other countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, according to organizer Asim Qureshi.
“Guantanamo is not the worst face in the war on terror, it’s the most humane place in the war on terror,” Qureshi said. "You have at least 14,000 people missing. We know they are missing, we know their names, but we don’t know where they are.”
Qureshi, who manages a Web-based campaign for Guantanamo inmates at www.cageprisoners.com, blamed not only America, but criticized Muslim countries, too.
“The Arabs are the ones who are experts in torture. They are the ones who teach the world how to extricate information with torture,” he said.
The Bush administration has repeatedly denied condoning torture at Guantanamo or elsewhere. But Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison scandal of 2004 provided fodder for President Bush’s critics.
The conference occurred against a backdrop of hope for many in attendance after the recent joint announcement by the British and American governments that five other former British residents detained at Gitmo may be returned to the United Kingdom.
Speaking Saturday, the former Gitmo detainees, known widely as the Tipton Three — they all hailed from the same small town in central England — were candid but reserved.
The three longtime friends, all in their mid- to late-20s, say they were in Pakistan for Iqbal’s arranged marriage to a local woman when they crossed into Afghanistan in October 2001 to provide humanitarian aid in the wake of the American invasion to oust the Taliban.
Instead, they were snared in a military attack, rounded up with thousands of suspected terrorists and marched into an American detention facility in Kandahar before being transferred to the Cuban detention facility for a 26-month incarceration.
In the notorious prison they said they forged a closer relationship with Allah, traded Arabic lessons for English tutorials, lost their faith in justice and ultimately became resigned to powerlessness.
“No matter what we said to them, we were guilty and we were responsible for 9/11,” Rasul said. “They would say to us that you are still here because the British don’t want you, and when MI5 (British intelligence agency) came to visit us they said, ‘We can’t do anything because the Americans are holding you.’”
They were freed in early 2004 without explanation for their detention or release, and returned to what they described as a suspicious homeland.
“We had problems from the racist whites and the Muslims were against us, too,” Ahmed said. “We had more support from the non-Muslims than anyone else.”
The quietest of the three, Iqbal, said Gantanamo destroyed his faith in Americans.
“Before this, I would have never have believed that Americans would do that,” he said. “What you see in the movies, that the military is doing good, it is not true.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.