Accusations of Abuse: Guantanamo Prisoner Calls Al-Jazeera

By Yassin Musharbash

Once a week Mohammed el Gharani, Guantanamo inmate number 269, is allowed to call a relative. But the 'uncle' he claimed to be speaking to was a journalist at Al-Jazeera. He spoke of being beaten with a baton, having his head beaten against the ground and being doused in tear gas.

Prisoners in Guantanamo. Mohammed El Gharani says the running of the camp hasn't changed since Barack Obama took office.
DDP

Prisoners in Guantanamo. Mohammed El Gharani says the running of the camp hasn't changed since Barack Obama took office.

Arab news channel Al-Jazeera on Tuesday published the first interview ever conducted with a current inmate of Guantanamo, the US prison camp. "They had a thick rubber or plastic baton they beat me with," said Mohammed el Gharani, a 21-year-old Chadian national who has been held in the camp for seven years.

El Gharani makes further accusations. He says guards broke one of his front teeth, that they beat his head against the ground and emptied about two canisters of tear gas on him. All this happened after he refused to leave his cell. He said six men wearing helmets and protective clothing came into his cell and were accompanied by a soldier with a camera and canisters of tear gas.

His mistreatment in Guantanamo took place just 20 days before the inauguration of US President Barack Obama, el Gharani said. Obama declared on his second day in office that the camp would be closed within a year. But el Gharani says regardless of the new president, "there has been no change in the administration of Guantanamo."

Prisoner Knows Al-Jazeera Journalist

It seems that el Gharani, who was 14 when the Pakistani police handed him over to the US military, gave the interview by tricking prison authorities. He enjoys certain privileges because he is no longer classified as an "enemy combatant" thanks to a court ruling in January 2009. That means he is allowed to call relatives once a week -- or, to be precise, he can have them called. The number of the "uncle" he asked to be called was in fact the number of Sami al-Hajj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman who had spent six years in Guantanamo before being released last year.

Al-Hajj transcribed part of the interview and Al-Jazeera put it on its Web site on Tuesday.

The broadcaster also confronted the Pentagon and the US Justice Ministry with el Gharani's statements, but received an evasive response from the spokesman of the camp. Commander Brook DeWalt said he had no evidence that the phone transcript was authentic or that the claims were true.

Sami al-Hajj, the Al-Jazeera cameraman who spoke to el Gharani, told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Wednesday that the published phone conversation wasn't the first he had with the man from Chad. The first contact was about 10 days ago. He said he had given el Gharani his number when he had still been a detainee in Guantanamo. "So I know him well," Hajj said. "I'm convinced that he's telling the truth. Just as I'm convinced that he never had any links with the Taliban or al-Qaida."

Insufficient Evidence

El Gharani is being held in Camp Iguana, al-Hajj said. That part of Guantanamo is where inmates are held who are to be released. El Gharani has been part of that group ever since a judge ruled on January 19 that the US government doesn't have reliable evidence of his involvement in international terrorism.

According to documents in his case published by the New York Times, the US government accused el Gharani of having received military training in an al-Qaida-affiliated military training camp, been a courier for high-ranking members of the network and having been a member of an al-Qaida cell based in Lolndon.

Judge Richard J. Leon concluded that too many of the accusations were based on possibly unreliable statements by fellow detainees, or on secret documents that were inconsistent. He said that while doubts remained, none of the evidence justified classifying him as an "enemy combatant." As a result, all possible diplomatic steps should be taken to release him.

Al-Hajj said el Gharani was now aware of this decision and was preparing to be deported to Chad, although he had never been there before. According to US government documents, el Gharani is a citizen of Chad but was born in Saudi Arabia, from where he is alleged to have entered Pakistan with a forged passport.

It is difficult to verify el Gharani's accusations. Ever since Guantanamo was set up in 2002, the US government has prohibited any contact between inmates and journalists. El Gharani was one of the first, and one of the youngest, inmates to arrive in the prison camp in Cuba.

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