- A British businessman arrested as a suspected terrorist
has told the Guardian that US agents threatened him with beatings and rape
in an attempt to break him.
- Wahab al-Rawi, 38, was denied a lawyer, held incommunicado
for four weeks in Gambia, and repeatedly questioned by CIA agents before
being released without charge. His account is the first from any Briton
about their treatment by the US while held as a suspect in the two year
"war on terror".
- The account also challenges US denials of the use of
torture or the threat of torture on terrorist suspects, thousands of whom
have been detained and interrogated across the world.
- The Guardian revealed in July that Mr Rawi's business
partners, including his brother, Bisher, and Jamil al-Banna, who were arrested
with him, have been incarcerated in the US camp at Guantanamo Bay without
- Speaking publicly for the first time, Mr Rawi, 38, said:
- * CIA agents twice threatened him with torture if he
did not cooperate;
- * He was subjected to sleep deprivation, with lights
permanently kept on in his cell;
- * During his interrogation, material from British intelligence
interviews with an alleged extremist detained in London were put to him.
- Mr Rawi, born in Iraq but now a British citizen, had
set up a business in Gambia and travelled there in October 2002. He was
joined by his brother and the others on November 8. At the airport all
four men were arrested by the Gambian national intelligence agency.
- Mr Rawi says he demanded to see the British high commissioner.
A CIA agent he knew as Lee responded: "Why do you keep asking for
the high commissioner? The British asked us to arrest you."
- Once in detention and left alone with two CIA agents,
Mr Rawi says Mr Lee made a threat: "He said, 'you're under US protection
or you'd be beaten up by the Gambians. You know how Africans are, you know
what happens in these countries. We can let the Gambians at you'."
- During interrogation, another US agent insinuated that
he and his brother were gay because they were not married.
- In the third week of detention, Mr Rawi says, the agents
increased the pressure. They were transferred to a stricter regime in a
house in Banjul, the capital, after being handcuffed and having hoods placed
over their heads. The men's belts and shoes were taken, and each was kept
in solitary confinement.
- The first time the door to Mr Rawi's room opened, he
saw a tall US agent wearing a balaclava.
- "Believe me, it's intimidating, no matter how hard
you are," said Mr Rawi.
- In the new house, the toilet was a bucket kept in the
room, there was no exercise, and a shower was allowed just once a week.
- "For the shower, we were given long handcuffs and
had to strip in front of a Gambian guard and the American with the balaclava,"
Mr Rawi said.
- As well as the constant light in Mr Rawi's room, a noisy
fan continuously whirred outside the door to stop the detainees talking
to each other.
- "One week after, I could still hear the whirring
of the fan. They were trying sleep deprivation. I did not sleep for the
first three days," he said.
- Mr Rawi alleges that once the US agents again threatened
him with a beating and also rape, after first playing a psychological game
with him: "They knocked hard on my door, and shouted, 'We are coming
in. Stand facing the wall with your hands above your head. Don't look back.'
- "They came in and started laughing. Lee said: 'Did
we scare you?' in a sarcastic voice, and then they started interrogating
- "I said to them, they can't intimidate me, I lived
through my father's experience when he was held and tortured by Saddam
Hussein. I told them, in Iraq they don't threaten, they do things, they
rape people, they torture.
- "The little American said: 'We can be just as ruthless
as Saddam Hussein' - he was trying very hard to scare me.
- "They were threatening me with rape and assault."
- Mr Rawi says that to him, the nature of the threat from
the Americans was clear: "They were trying to threaten me into whatever
state of mind they wanted me to be."
- During interrogation, the agents tried to get Mr Rawi
to admit his business trip was a cover for terrorism.
- "They asked: 'What are you really here to do, attack
US interests or put together a terrorism camp?'"
- He was not impressed with the quality of the agents interviewing
him. "I have seen with my own eyes snails that have more brains,"
said Mr Rawi.
- One of the CIA agents even admitted a fondness for Bisher,
according to Mr Rawi: "Lee said, 'I can't help liking him.'"
- Since his release, Mr Rawi says he has had to battle
- "My mother and sister have been hit very hard,"
he adds. "They are crying all the time and praying."
- Mr Rawi's family fled to London from the Saddam regime
in Iraq. "I have been loyal to Britain," he says; but of the
CIA agents, he adds: "To me, they're no different to Saddam Hussein."
- Mr Rawim, whose home is in London, is now in hiding in
the north of England.
- It is almost certain that the reason that he and the
other men came under suspicion was the links that three of them have with
the British-based Muslim cleric Abu Qatada.
- He was arrested under anti-terrorism laws in London in
October 2002, weeks before Mr Rawi and the others were held in Gambia.
- Mr Rawi had previously been stopped at London City airport
when leaving for Gambia on October 26 2002, and questioned about his relationship
with Mr Qatada.
- "They said: 'Would you like to work for us?' I said
no. They said: 'There is good money in in for you'."
- During his interrogation in Gambia, Mr Rawi says material
from the now detained Mr Qatada's interviews in Britain was put to him
- further evidence, he says, of collusion between Britain and the US.
- "I saw no danger in knowing Abu Qatada. I know this
person is incapable of organising anything.
- "I thought, if I know that, the security services
will know that."
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