The September 11 terrorist attacks’ anniversary has come with many developments including in Florida, USA, where a priest of a small protestant church, Terry Jones the Priest of Dove World Outreach Center, backed away from a threat to burn copies of the Muslim Holy book, the Quran to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. That was on Saturday, Sept. 2010.
It drew a crescendo of protests and calls in Muslim world to President Barak Obama who said if the said priest carried out his stunt then this would spur "a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda. You know, you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who'd be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities."
True, in Sudan for example, a group of Sudanese women leadership gathered in Khartoum, three days earlier to "warn against what such a step could lead to" including, the women argued, a complete destruction of the peaceful religious coexistence which the United Nations and all peace loving nations have been calling for.
It was with this in mind that we in Sudanow magazine have set for a look out for the nine Sudanese nationals who, out of the 12 held in Guantanamo, returned home to Sudan, trying to lead a normal life anew. We went to see what happened to the people who, because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, found themselves detained in what one Sudanese reporter described as "Hell Houses", nickname for Guantanamo.
In our quest for those nine Sudanese returnees we were expecting some red-line, as the Sudanese American relations are set to improve and as we have in mind that some other returnees in other countries not far from the Sudan, geographically, have ended up in detention, just swapping their Guantanamo detention cells with new ones back home. But what was stunning for us was that we found them living in impoverished quarters that is right, in the outskirts of Khartoum town and other towns across the country. But still maintained their pride and claim of innocence very high indeed. They have but to chew the painful memories of detention, and the lost years that could never be retrieved. It is true that our focus was on the family and impressions sides, not wishing to reopen the healing wounds and the pain of torture and agony- but also understandably avoiding undermining efforts underway that could be in their favor and which we will reveal on time.
In Khartoum suburban areas where poverty is rampant and where every possible extremism could breed, we managed to locate and talk to those who returned to the Sudan, and talked to their families and their efforts to merge into a sociality that, following the intensive media campaign, could not perceive how those were the same people the media talk about . We talked to them about their families and their children revealing simple but human stories of suffering and of a feeling of helplessness in face of a huge media and political might.
This is their chronology, these are their stories:
This is his story:
Am Adil Hassan Hamad (detainee No. 940 at Guantanamo). I hailed from northern Sudan's Dungola area. My home village is known as Asiti village. I was born in 1958 and was grown up in Port Sudan town eastern Sudan where I received my primary and secondary education. Then I went to Egypt to study cooling systems and air conditioning. That is simply my education. I currently live in Dar Essalam area (a third class mud-built suburb with little basic services- the editor) in Hajj Yusuf, just adjacent to the police station. I work with the A. B. G engineering company, at the Human Resources Section, in Khartoum, Sudan
As to my family am married and a father to five children, all of them girls. The eldest of my daughters is Zainab; she is now a graduate from Omdurman Islamic University, the second graduates this year (2010) from the Faculty of Education, same university. The third one is studying at the same university, (we will know why this university later on – the editor), the fourth is Mariam and she is still at the primary state, and then we have this sweet little baby Bara'a (in Arabic meaning the totally innocent) the youngest of them all. These are my life and my larger family is composed of three brothers, one of them passed away while I was in detention. Now I have two brothers, older than me.
Of course one would be wondering how I ended up in Guantanamo. And why I went to Pakistan in the first place?
I went to Pakistan in 1986. At that time the Pakistani people were suffering really and were subjugated and oppressed by the Soviet troops. I was reading in the media and I sympathized with these poor deprived people who were suffering from injustice. I travelled to that country to work in relief and I worked in a Kuwaiti organization known as the "the Islamic Call Committee- (Lajnat al daawa al islamyya)". I started working with the Orphans House. This was a house that I initiated and praise be to Allah, some of whose children there went to the secondary school and some are now graduates serving their country, some of the graduated are doctors and physicians, now working in high positions in Afghanistan. Then I left education and joined the administrative section in education. I worked there for four years, and then I worked in the accounts section for one year in this same Kuwaiti committee. I moved to work in the public relations sector for three years. At that time an event occurred, it was the Gulf war (the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi regime at the time.) This war was resulted in drying up of assistance being provided for those working with the poor and disposed in Afghanistan and many projects saw their resources dwindling and drying up altogether. The number of organizations operating in that country moved towards zero. I among like other people, found my job terminated within the Kuwaiti Committee. That was in 1999.
I thus found myself joining a Saudi charity organizations working there. It was known as the Islamic People's International Forum. I worked as an administrative director for Surgery Hospital funded by the off springs of Saudi Prince Abdul Mohossin. I worked there for three years, up to 2002.
Of course during my work with the Muhajir (the displaced Muslims) in the Orphan's House I lived with and saw the suffering of the people. I shared their lives and their sufferings. My hope and aspiration was to gain reward from Allah the almighty. I had wanted to support our Muslim brothers in implementation for the saying of our Prophet Mohamed (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him who said "Stand by your brother either way: when he is subjugated to injustices or (advise him when) he is committing injustice." So we worked well and voluntarily up to 2002. We were working in the camps with the IDP and refugees, particularly after the 11 September date. At the time I focused in the camps because no one was willing to work in the camps within a country that was at war with the United State of America. We could not just abandon those people. We stayed with them inside the camps along the borderline with Pakistan, with the intention of helping the Afghanis, the displaced civilians, huge displacement it was, million of people were homeless and then they became displaced once again, one time because of the American forces, then a second time by the Afghani Allied forces in 2002. But in this year in June I took a leave and brought my family to the Sudan. My intention was to leave my children in the Sudan, for the sake of their education, especially the girls who grew up now and are at the age of the secondary school. I had bought a plot of land at the time in this area, Dar Essalam. So my wife settled there. We had a single room. But then some benevolent persons helped my wife build another rook, while I was in jail, away from them.
Now for my recite to be accurate I have to say that when I left in June 2002, I came with my children and spent one month and one week here and then returned to Pakistan alone, to complete one year so as to be able to build the plot of land that I had bought in Dar Essalam back in 1977.
Armed men stormed onto my house and into my room and at gun point I was arrested in my house in Peshawar town at about one thirty in the morning. I had related this story before this time. With the Pakistani forces that arrested me there were American troops. They broke into my room, handcuffed me and took me to jail, and then there, they handed me to the Americans. They then took me to Bagram Military Base from which they took me to Guantanamo. This Bagram Military Base was run by the Americans. And there was a military base there and a military airport near the town of Bagram. It was from here that they flew us to Guantanamo where I was held there until the 13th of December 2007.
Who provided moral support for the detainees??
Now one should not forget to mention the good deeds of our people. There was the media which played a great deal (in pressing for our release) and there were the civilian humanitarian organizations. There was Steven Wax, a US Federal Public Defender in Olympia and his assistant William, the lawyer who played a great role by taking action and gathering information about us and the testimonies he gathered under oath from our colleagues in the hospital in Afghanistan where I worked and back here in the Sudan, all led to prove my innocence. This was submitted to the Supreme Court in Washington. They presented all these evidence to the prison administration and they also briefed the Sudanese government about these moves. The actions taken by the government in the Sudan were also positive and there was the diplomatic role. Our Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time (Dr Mustafa Osman Ismail) presented a missive to the American Secretary of State stressing that those persons were innocent and that they were held illegally and should not have stayed in prison more than this. The Minister also underlined that the government of the Sudan was ready to receive back home all Sudanese nationals.
It was thus that the first group of detainees was released and this included Ghazali, and Bashir, followed by Hamad, my self and Salim. After a while they released Sami Al Hajj and Waleed, Amir Yagoub and then another group was released including Mustafa Ibrahim Mustafa, the last one to be released. But we still have others in detention including our Brother Ibrahim Osman Ibrahim; Mohamed Nour Osman and Ibrahim Al Goussi. Of course the story of Al Goussi is well known. He has been sentenced to fourteen years in jails including the concurrent eight and half years he has already spent in detention.
The rest you know Sami Al Hajj now works with the Al Jazeera TV satellite channel in Qatar, in full freedom without any harassment. Waleed now works in private business, same with Amir and Mustafa. My self, and slim and Hamad we are working in the same private company. Hamad at the finance section, myself with the Human resources.
Has my family suffered???
If you want to know about the suffering that we and our families underwent during the detention, that is another story, untold. We were detainees and our families possessed nothing. All the families of the detainees suffered a lot. As you know the economic situations in the Sudan was a little bit difficult. Then added to this the people were scared to have any contact with families of the Guantanamo detainees, people accused of crimes of violence, these people are cautious and keen to avoid dealing with them. Our families lived in harsh and difficult conditions. This impacted on their psychological status. There was no doubt that up to now our families suffer from that experience. In particular, children still suffer from the experience we underwent. Depriving kids from their father is hard for them. They were orphans whose father were still living .
It was during my detention that my youngest daughter (Fida), a girl, died of a child disease. It was the story of a family that lost a sustainer, the head of the locomotive, the head of the family: they suffered greatly. They know their father was alive but there was nothing he could offer for them and this was one of the most difficult situations in my family. They were afraid and scared. Afraid any time their father could be mourned, he could have been killed during torture and interrogation sessions. They knew not how their father lived and what type of life he was leading. Were the letters and messages they received from him real? Genuine?? Or were they fake? Further more the letters which they received were in most erased and deleted in most parts. They were not in place to have the full facts. The image and the overall scenery was wishy-washy, years were going on and on and as human one loses hope that a family in such a situation could once again see its sustainer and breadwinner. Now the families who lost their sons are living in painful situations. They would phone me now and then, in the Eid and the like, say happy New Year but they themselves they never feel the taste of the Eid. And when at times I visited them I came out in most cases crying because their conditions were so painful. A mother wishing to see her son for the last time a father expressing his last with that before dyeing he would just do anything to simply hug his son and child and then come what may !!!
In my case in Shamalia area, I lost an aunt who had been crying all the time and telling every body that her wish before dying was to have a look at me. She did not see me. She died before my release. Her name was Sit-al Banat (the lady of the ladies). My other aunt who also wished to see me and hug me once before passing away, when I came she has already lost her mind, out of grief. When they told her this was your son Adil coming to see you, she did not recognize me.. This was one of the most painful moments. My other uncle Mohamed Mahmoud Sharif died and his last wish was to see me once before he passed away… The suffering was felt and lived by the whole family of mine, the family was unstable, and the family lived in horror and fear.
My children education!!
But me personally I never cared about my fate, it was not a burden. I was rather concerned with the fate of my family, how they lived? How they suffered? Who was still alive? Who passed away? You know, this was because when somebody died they never told us in the detention, and if one of the family writes about the issue they would delete that part from the message, so you knew not the name of the deceased and you would remain in panic: was it my son, was it my wife, was it my father, was it my mother… they tried every bit of torture on us, the psychological torture and the physical torture as well. For us what hurt most was the psychological torture, this is because for us man is but flesh and soul, if you erase and send into oblivion the brain, there would be no humane being, there would remain only bones and flesh….this was what we suffered from most… the psychological aspects…the legacy remained in our psychology and that of our families and that of our extended families as well..
As to the education of my children; you know during this period their academic standard dropt and deteriorated. It was very low indeed. They were studying in public schools and they have no chance of going to private or special schools. They never dreamt of that at all. But let me take this opportunity to thank the Omdurman Islamic university which has allowed my daughters to study free of any fees. This university has done everything to help my daughter when they knew that their father was being detained. My daughter Zainab and my daughter Tasneem studied free. Some individuals whom we don’t know have provided assistance to my kids. There were other voluntary nongovernmental organizations that also provided assistance to my children such as the Civil Aid International Organization that has really taken a courageous remarkable stands on our side.
We are in paradise compared to other Guantanamo detainees!!!
The media also played its part and there other organizations in and outside the Sudan that have supported us morally, but I should first thank our government that has supported us and now our status as ex-detainees is far much better that all other former detainees around the world is we are to compare ourselves with others in other countries. As you see we are now leading an almost normal live. There is no follow up or surveillance or restrictions over our movement, no control and we do not suffer, as other do, from any threat of return to prison or detention at home or questioning on accusations leveled against us outside our country in the past. In fact and to speak frankly we did not expect this at all. We were expecting some harassment back home; we were expecting detention and interrogation from government anew!! This is because we saw what happened to other guys by other governments in the region. They were subjected to detention and interrogation and to extension of their imprisonment. They had hoped for something better. But we had faith in our people and it turned out it was good faith. When we were asked (by the Americans in Guantanamo) if we expected to be tortured back home or detained, we told them that we did not expect this to happen to us in the Sudan, and we told them to let us go first and let us worry about the rest!!
Today our children are finding their way back to normal life little by little though!! There is stability, they have started to mix and blend with the local community here. But it is understandable because this is a process, it cannot happen at the blink of an eye; man needs time and patience to merge in the community. Those are young persons who had been isolated for years because of what had been happening to their fathers…you see in the Korean we have the Surat-ahlul Kahaf of the people of the Cave…ahlul Kahaf… they were very wise, when they wanted to come back to their community after years of isolation, they told each other to be patient and avoid spurring the suspicion of others… you have to allow other people know you and this is what we are doing now, the youth are doing now, and with more time they will get merged into their our local communities…
Family , children and wife suffering!!
My wife suffered a lot, to tell the truth. Since our marriage back in 1987 and she was living the life of the camps and it was a life that few could imagine. She is the daughter of my maternal uncle. She hails from northern Sudan. Now these villages’ poor as they are in northern Sudan, are a luxury compared to the camps in Afghanistan where the muhajirs come and live. When the mukhajir arrived we set them small tents, with small latrine and water tanks in the camp. There was also a small dispensary at the camp. Life there was tough and difficult. But I was keen to live with and among those poor people so that they would see and feel that we were with them and supported them as fellow Muslim and fellow human being. I used to transport water on my shoulder, using buckets. I filled the local storage tank for my wife for her house use. She suffered a lot with me . . . we did this because in reality if you want to help people and you want them to feel you are there to assist them then you have to live amongst them and be part of their daily lives, that if any emergency occurred they would find you right there with them.
There were so many disease and endemic diseases for that matter in those camps. As result of that life my wife and myself now have a child with a disability. Our daughter Mariam suffers a lot now. She was infected with a stomach disease, a bacterial disease that causes acute vomiting all the time (esophagus bacteria). We discovered that and diagnosed it late. It was a rare disease but in the camp such things do occur. This of course has affected her growth glands which mean that her physical development would precede her mental development. It is a serious disability. Now she is a person with special needs and we cannot find a school her, school for persons with special needs. The schools that we have here are very expensive for us to afford beside those people do not have enough specialists to cater for each individual case alone. They bring all the persons with special needs together. This is wrong. It will only aggravate the disability of the child.
My wife also lost two babies, two cases of child abortion, as a result of transporting water and from fatigue working there carrying water, and doing the entire house chorus by herself alone. But during my last ten years back there the organization thought I had suffered and played and did my job and duty so they said I should be transferred to the main office in the town and they transferred me to the account section and then to the public relations and at the time we lived in a villa. But as I have said we lived in the camps and I remember one time a benevolent came to visit us in the camps and he could not hold back his tears because of what he witnessed there. He wept openly. We were surprised and asked what was wrong with him?? And he said we were real benevolent and charitable and mujahedeen because we lived in that abject poverty. But we told him, as we in the Sudan live in village we are used to such poor life. But to tell the truth I had seen Europeans living the same life we lived in the camps. They learned the language of the locals. They lived with them and they loved us for what we have been doing and suffering. But of course some Westerners do such things on purpose, to serve vested interest. They have their objectives as we too have our own objectives and interests.
How do I live today???
Today my life follows a simple pattern. I wake well before dawn, do my morning prayer and if there is time I will read some verses from the holy Koran, as many verses as I could, and then go to my place of work at the Human Resources section, looking into files and reports of late comers and leave requests and the like. The rules are the same we applied while working in the organization and the committee in the camps…but of course there are differences, a difference between the office work and the charitable work. Here you apply rules and regulations which people might not love. But in the camps, the hospital back in Afghanistan we work day and night and the work depended on the will and some of energy and effort you seek to deploy not the rules, it depended on the motivations… we might not go back to our homes for day and may be for week during which we distribute food and assistance and we do not ask for bonus or for pay over the extra time spent. We in the Islamic organizations work differently. The western organization set aside about 85% of their capitals to the administrative and incentive aspects while in the Islamic organizations we set about 5% of the capital for the salaries and for the running costs. We were keen that the support and assistance should go to the people to the poor in the first place. We have gained lot of experience in the charity work during 11 consecutive years, uninterrupted.
How my family fares now??
I visited my family in Shamalia area, northern Sudan and, I have to confess, things have changed a lot since the time we were detained. For one thing, we used to travel for one week to reach our home area, taking train to Karima town, and from there we would use river boats to cross and reach our village which was one of the large stops for the river boat and steamers. During such visit people used to take food and dry rations but now people travel inside air-conditioned buses and cars and reach their destinations the same day. The village itself has changed a lot. The people who live there do not feel the change but we, returning after a long absence, could clearly see it particularly in the area of communications and transportation. There is a huge leap particularly in the domain of the mobile phones and services. In 2002 there were only a few mobile phones with countable number of persons!!! This is one change I have seen and noted since my release
In my village all and everybody backed me during this plight. It was all but natural for the Sudanese people who are used to charity work and to benevolent action. My neighbors in Hajj Yusuf stood beside me and assisted my family and I would just hope that everybody would stand beside those who have been subjected to injustice anywhere. You know the problem is that some people think that any person detained by the Americans then that person is a criminal and deserves to receive the unfair treatment they unleashed… they think that America could not apprehend any person without a proof. For those persons America is equated to justice, freedom and democracy. Now we in Guantanamo know that only 2.5%; of those arrested are seen as guilty of something but still nothing was filed against them, no accusation even. They think that those persons are dangerous. Now apart from those persons you would conclude that 97.5% are innocent and are held in detention without any guilt committed. This is not a story that I made up out of the blow. No., this was what the news agencies including the American Associated Press (AP) reported. The same agencies pointed out that those released from detention have returned to their home countries and have resumed their normal business. They said they were about a thousand of them, but 700 retuned and joined their normal usual business, while 25 persons, the American consider dangerous, remain in detention without receiving any official accusations.
They charged that Al -Qosi had tried to provide assistance to Usama Bin Laden and that he helped him sneak into Tora Bora areas. But Al-Qosi, to my understanding, did not know what Tora Bora was and how could he know such an area which was so mountainous and filled with tunnels and snow almost all the year. But what do you want this is an accusation they want to cloak him with, because they first arrest you and then search for an accusation to fix for those arrested.
What about my release?
Before they released me they asked if I were in the belief that there was a mistake and how they could fix it. I told them that such mistakes should be corrected in two years not one day. You have to release the person you detained, serve him with a public apology and them provide him with the appropriate compensation for the suffering and injustice incurred. What happened to us was unfair!!
They also asked me what I would be doing upon my release. They were expecting me to say that I would be leading a war against them. But what I told them was that I was going to sue you. And their answer was that no one would stand against them in a court of law and that this was an impossible option. No body sues them they insisted. However Allah the almighty plans something else. He has unveiled all their misdeeds around the world and Allah sent us a lawyer, an American for that matter, to stand for us. Their own law is used against them and they Okayed a lawyer to defend us after a long battle between the American lawyers and the American administration. The American Supreme court said the detainees have a right to have civilian attorneys to defend them and thus they allowed lawyers to come and meet us while in detention. In fact we were thinking this was only a ploy a bluffing but it turned out to be genuine. I was one of the first to raise an objection to the Supreme Court challenging my detention and considered it illegal and challenging my being classified as an enemy fighter. This was submitted to the Supreme Court and there we were assigned a lawyer who showed that this person was innocent and it turned out to be a big embarrassment for them. Thus they released us well before we went to court which was set for the 15th of January 2008. So I was set free well before that date in anticipation of any problem rising including problems of compensations and fiasco. At the time of former US President George Bush, the American Intelligence tried to cover up blunders committed. They themselves confessed to this. The Second man at the Pentagon said they had detained some people erroneously and that Mr. Hamad (the interviewed) was among those erroneously detained. You know that one judge resigned saying there was pre-judgment contrary to the oath he had taken. His argument was that how could you arrest people providing humanitarian assistance, if they were to be arrested then why couldn’t we not arrest those working with the United Nations and with the UNICEF who were dealing with Taliban. The relief workers have nothing to do with the Taliban government; they were working in a charitable hospital!!
What after the release??
After our release we wanted to establish a body that brings us together as ex-detainees in Guantanamo. Sami Al Hajj was able to create a centre which he registered in Geneva Guantanamo Justice Center, with offshoots in Britain and the Sudan. But the centre has not been invigorated because it needs some administrative work and material assistance here in the Sudan. We have not found a party that could assist us with the process of creating our own centre. But the idea is clear in our mind and we work to achieve it. The objective is to help rehabilitate mentally, psychologically, morally and health wise those ex-detainees and to help their families and to assign lawyers to follow up the cases of those who are still in detention. We had wanted to expand our objectives but for the time being we will confine them to what we have said.
What is the wisdom of keeping an insane person in detention???
We are now being hosted by our brothers in the Civil Aid International Organization as an Executive Director for the Guantanamo Justice Centre in the Sudan. But we have still to launch our activities in the Sudan and the media could play a major role here. We still have three Sudanese in detention and their families suffer a lot particularly the detainee Ibrahim Osman whose family live in a dilapidated house, which if you stand inside you would see people outside. His mother almost lost her sight and the live in a poor neighborhood in Port Sudan, in Dar Essalam. Those families need assistance. Their son has gone insane now in prison and his health condition is deteriorating but still they keep him in detention and I don’t understand the wisdom. I really don’t.
Photos by: Mahjoub Mohamed Al Hassan
Translated and edited: by Mohamed Osman