Ex-Detainee of U.S. Describes a 6-Year Ordeal in Guantanamo Bay

detainee

via NY Times

LAHORE, Pakistan — When Muhammad Saad Iqbal arrived home here in August after more than six years in American custody, including five at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he had difficulty walking, his left ear was severely infected, and he was dependent on a cocktail of antibiotics and antidepressants.

In November, a Pakistani surgeon operated on his ear, physical therapists were working on lower back problems and a psychiatrist was trying to wean him off the drugs he carried around in a white, plastic shopping bag.

The maladies, said Mr. Iqbal, 31, a professional reader of the Koran, are the result of a gantlet of torture, imprisonment and interrogation for which his Washington lawyer plans to sue the United States government.

The coming administration of President-elect Barack Obama is weighing whether to close the Guantánamo prison, which many critics have called an extralegal system of detention and abuse.

But the full stories of individual detainees like Mr. Iqbal are only now emerging after years in which they were shuttled around the globe under the Bush administration’s system of extraordinary rendition, which used foreign countries to interrogate and detain terrorism suspects in sites beyond the reach of American courts.

Mr. Iqbal was never convicted of any crime, or even charged with one. He was quietly released from Guantánamo with a routine explanation that he was no longer considered an enemy combatant, part of an effort by the Bush administration to reduce the prison’s population.

“I feel ashamed what the Americans did to me in this period,” Mr. Iqbal said, speaking for the first time at length about his ordeal during several hours of interviews with The New York Times, including one from his hospital bed in Lahore.

Mr. Iqbal was arrested early in 2002 in Jakarta, Indonesia, after boasting to members of an Islamic group that he knew how to make a shoe bomb, according to two senior American officials who were in Jakarta at the time.

Mr. Iqbal now denies ever having made the statement, but two days after his arrest, he said, the Central Intelligence Agency transferred him to Egypt. He was later shifted to the American prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and ultimately to Guantánamo Bay.

Much of Mr. Iqbal’s account could not be independently corroborated. Two senior American officials confirmed that Mr. Iqbal had been “rendered” from Indonesia, but could not comment on, or confirm details of, how he was treated in custody. The Pentagon and C.I.A. deny using torture, and American diplomatic, military and intelligence officials agreed to talk about the case only on the condition of anonymity because the files are classified.

After Mr. Iqbal was picked up in Jakarta and interrogated for two days, American officials generally concluded that he was a braggart, a “wannabe,” and should be released, one of the senior American officials in Jakarta said. “He was a talker,” the senior American official said. “He wanted to believe he was more important than he was.”

There was no evidence that he had ever met Osama bin Laden, or had been to Afghanistan, the two senior American officials said. But in the atmosphere of fear and confusion in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Iqbal was secretly moved to Egypt for further interrogation, said one of the senior American officials.

Mr. Iqbal said he had been beaten, tightly shackled, covered with a hood and given drugs, subjected to electric shocks and, because he denied knowing Mr. bin Laden, deprived of sleep for six months. “They make me blind and stand up for whole days,” he said in halting English, meaning that he had been covered with a hood or blindfolded.

The Pentagon and the C.I.A. have a policy of not talking about the detainees, but a C.I.A. spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, said, “The agency’s terrorist detention program has used lawful means of interrogation, reviewed and approved by the Department of Justice and briefed to the Congress.

“This individual, from what I have heard of his account, appears to be describing something utterly different,” Mr. Gimigliano added. “I have no idea what he’s talking about. The United States does not conduct or condone torture.”

Mr. Iqbal said he traveled to Jakarta in November 2001 on a personal odyssey to inform his stepmother that her husband — Mr. Iqbal’s father — had died of a stroke in Pakistan.

He fell in with members of the Islamic Defenders Front, according to his statement to the combatant status review tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004. The group is an Indonesian urban-based organization. It is not banned in Indonesia and has not been connected to any terrorist attacks.

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