Three years after his release from Guantánamo Bay, Islamic scholar Saad Iqbal Madni says he still feels like a prisoner – but now, it's by his own country.
The 33-year old, looks far older in person than the ID card photo he brought with him from his six and a half years in detention. He is closely monitored by Pakistani authorities, labeled a high risk to Pakistan, and unable to find steady work because of the stigma attached to his detention. Despite never formally being charged for any crime, “People still call me a terrorist, they are afraid to have contact with me,” he says.
Using a mix of Urdu and English with a slight-American accent – a product of his contact with the guards at Guantánamo Bay – Mr. Madni speaks passionately of the alleged torture he faced during his ordeal, which began in September 2002 with him being rendered from Jakarta to Egypt, Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and finally to the infamous Delta Block where he went on hunger strike for a year and half before his release.
Human rights activists say that 10 years after the 9/11 attacks experiences such as Madni's, cases they describe as “unlawful” detention, remain common partly because Guantánamo Bay has not been shut down.
“Our biggest problem with the whole phenomenon [of extraordinary rendition] is that it removes people from the protection from the law,” says Sarah Bilal, head of the Justice Project Pakistan, a legal aid cell which works in partnership with British charity, Reprieve, which represents abused prisoners around the world.
As for the 500 prisoners who have now been released from Guantánamo Bay because of lack of evidence against them, she adds: “They [the US authorities] get it wrong all the time – it’s just a very dangerous precedent for a powerful government like the US to be setting.”
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Today, Madni walks with difficulty and is addicted to a cocktail of painkillers he was put on during his detention. Still, he says he doesn’t hate Americans, but he doesn’t understand why the US government continues to keep Guantánamo Bay and Bagram prison open.
“After 10 years the American people aren’t ready to admit what was happening on Guantánamo bay was wrong and some still think torture works. That really hurts me,” he says.
Madni’s story began in Jakarta where he was detained by Indonesian authorities acting in coordination with the CIA, in 2002 while visiting his step brother and mother. Accused of plotting a "shoe-bomb style attack," that he denies, he says he was beaten by an Egyptian official at the Jakarta airport so badly that his eardrum was severely injured, and then he was flown, laying down, inside something the size of a plastic “coffin” to Diego Garcia, a British territory.
Then he says he was interrogated in Egypt for three months, at times by Jamal Mubakark, a senior National Democratic Party official at the time as well as son of former President Hosni Mubarak, as well as Omer Suleiman, the head of Egyptian intelligence at the time.
From there, he describes being taken to Bagram where an American intelligence official called “Ron” told him that authorities had made a mistake in detaining him, though he would have to go to Guantánamo Bay for a short time anyway – a stay that eventually lasted more than five years.
His depiction of conditions at the detention facility is at odds with Department of Defense officials and cannot be verified. But rights activists at the Justice Project Pakistan say his accounts should not be dismissed outright. Though the recollection of torture victims can become tarnished over time, activists say they highlight the ongoing violations of human rights by the US, Britain, and other nations.
Madni describes being subjected to sleep deprivation for six months in what he says the guards called “Frequent Flyer Status.” He says he developed a severe infection that began to threaten his life, and that Quran abuse was common: “One interrogator put his foot on the Quran and asked me to “Call your God,” he says. Madni says he was moved into a refrigerator unit where he was kept in his underwear, and that attempted to hang himself with his own bedsheet. Prison records show he developed severe infections, and went on hunger strike for year and a half. He also alleges he was sexually abused by guards.
The role of human rights activists
Rights activists’ attention is now focused on Bagram prison, which Katherine O’Shea, spokesperson for Reprieve, refers to as “Guantánamo’s Evil Twin.” Some 600 prisoners remain there outside legal protection due to a 2010 Department of Justice ruling that habeas corpus does not apply because Afghanistan is an active warzone.
“It is way bigger [than Guantánamo Bay] and prisoners have even fewer rights,” says Ms. O’Shea. The charity’s Pakistan arm is currently petitioning the government of Pakistan to disclose details of the charges on which prisoners it says were illegally rendered by the Pakistani government to the United States, with the eventual aim of filing legal representations on their behalf in the US.
The organization is currently attempting to collect enough information to file cases against the US and the British government on the behalf of former detainees. Madni, meanwhile, is now bringing a court case against the Pakistani government, which added him to an anti-terror watch list and limited his movements – acts which he says have left him suicidal.