You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Freed Gitmo detainee claims torture

- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

LAHORE, Pakistan | Every morning at dawn when he wakes up, Muhammad Saad Iqbal said, he is startled to see the stark white walls of his room, where sunlight streams in from a small window.

It takes him a couple of minutes to remind himself that he is home - in Shadbagh, a congested area near the older part of Lahore.

After finishing his morning prayers, Mr. Iqbal raises both his hands and thanks God for bringing him back safely. "I thought my life was finished," he said. "I thought I was never going to return."

Almost five months after returning from six years in U.S. custody - five of them at Guantanamo Bay - Mr. Iqbal said he still has nightmares about the ordeal he suffered.

Sometimes he wakes up drenched in cold sweat, his fingers tightly clenched into fists, remembering the time he says he was locked in an isolation cell where huge floodlights remained switched on for 24 hours.

"It was like a cage - smaller than a grave." He said the space measured just 6 feet by 4 feet.

On other occasions, he said, he recalls seeing the Koran being desecrated by U.S. officials.

See related story: Rehabilitation never tried at Gitmo

A similar charge was made in a 2005 Newsweek magazine article by an anonymous senior U.S. government official. The source later wavered, forcing Newsweek to retract the article. That story, however, sparked riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan against U.S. disrespect of the Koran.

Mr. Iqbal also asserted that female guards touched his genitals, a charge that seems to go beyond what other former prisoners have reported happening at Guantanamo. "They did horrible things to me... sexually, I mean," he said.

Other former detainees and FBI officials have claimed that some prisoners were doused with a red paint and told it was a woman's menstrual blood.

Mr. Iqbal's claims could not be independently verified.

The Defense Department did not respond to a request for comment.

An October 2005 unclassified Defense Department memo summarizes why U.S. officials took Mr. Iqbal into custody. The memo says Mr. Iqbal was an acquaintance of Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber" who attempted to blow up an airliner with explosives in his shoes. The memo says Reid had associated with al Qaeda members in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The memo is part of a package of unclassified material posted on the Internet by the New York Times last month.

The memo also says that Mr. Iqbal asked a confidant where and with whom a U.S. government official would be on New Year's Eve and if protective officers would be with the official. It says Mr. Iqbal stated that "it was better to kill one U.S. government official than 100 Americans."

Mr. Iqbal, who denied the charges before a Combatant Status Review Board at Guantanamo, has consistently denied the charges since then.

News reports have said he is considering filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government for unlawful detention.

Mr. Iqbal spoke of being held at various times in Jakarta, Cairo and Bagram in Afghanistan before Cuba. One date is imprinted in his memory: Aug. 31, 2008.

That was when he was flown in a U.S. aircraft from Guantanamo to Islamabad airport. As soon as he arrived, he said, he kissed the ground.

"I was so glad that I was back," he said, his voice breaking slightly. "Just arriving on Pakistani soil was so unbelievable."

After a brief stay in an Islamabad hospital, he was kept in a safe house and interviewed by Pakistani Intelligence officials for three weeks. Later, he was driven home.

"When my brothers first set eyes on me, they wept hysterically," he said. "My sisters kept touching me to convince themselves that it was actually me. Afterward, everyone prayed to thank God for bringing me back."

He said that when he returned, he couldn´t walk without assistance, he had an infection in his left ear and was dependent on high doses of antibiotics and antidepressants.

His physical condition had worsened because, according to a medical report filed by his physician at Guantanamo, Mr. Iqbal repeatedly refused medical attention.

"The American doctors repeatedly told me they did not treat me as a patient, rather they looked upon me as an enemy," he said. "Why should I let anyone who thinks so operate on me?"

In November, a surgeon at a private hospital in Pakistan operated on his perforated eardrum, therapists exercised the muscles of his lower back and legs and a psychiatrist helped him learn how to live without drugs.

Mr. Iqbal said his ailments were a result of torture and coercion. "They gave me electric shocks on my knees, which led to my disability in walking," he said. "My eardrum burst when an Egyptian interrogator threw me against the wall while he was questioning me."

Asked to comment on the charge, the Egyptian Embassy did not provide a response Wednesday.

Mr. Iqbal's story began in Jakarta, where he arrived in November 2001.

"I was going to meet my stepmother," he said. "My father had recently passed away, and I wanted to inform her about his death and spend some time with my stepfamily."

All went well until Jan. 9, 2002. The call for morning prayers was echoing through his rented apartment, he said, when 20 young men in civilian clothes intercepted him and flashed their immigration and police badges.

"You have to come with us," they demanded. Realizing he was outnumbered he went along, he said.

Though some news accounts claim Mr. Iqbal was arrested after he boasted to members of an Islamic group that he knew how to make a shoe bomb, he denies this.

He said he was held by Indonesian authorities for about 48 hours, without any food or drink. On Jan. 11, he said, he was bundled aboard a Gulfstream executive jet and flown to Cairo. During the flight, he said, he was chained to the floor in a cramped position.

In Egypt, he was imprisoned for three months, he said. "I spent more than 90 days chained to the floor," he said. "They gave me electric shocks and drugs which caused me to hallucinate."

During interrogations in Egypt and Indonesia, Mr. Iqbal said, he was asked repeatedly if he knew Osama bin Laden but replied no.

He said he gave the same answer to questions regarding whether he knew Reid or A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist who ran a nuclear black market.

On April 12, he said, he was taken to the Bagram air base, where he became prisoner No. 182. This was a "year of horrific surprises."

"The questions were the same, did I know OBL or had I ever been to Afghanistan," he said. "Each time I answered no."

After almost a year, he was told that U.S. officials were satisfied that he was innocent but could not send him home. "I was told that I would be taken to Guantanamo, where I would receive an apology and then I would go home," he said.

His stay in Cuba lasted five years.

"The Americans say they made a mistake," he said. "It's easy for them to say so, but who will bring back the almost seven years of my life that I have lost? Who can I hold responsible for them?"