US Captors' 'Systematic Torture'

By Vikram Dodd
The Guardian - UK
While anti-terrorism police were yesterday interviewing the four Britons released from Guant·namo Bay further details emerged of the alleged treatment of the men by their US captors.
The US lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, who saw his client, Moazzam Begg, in Guant·namo Bay this month, said the captive had alleged persistent beatings, death threats and psychological torture first at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, then at the Cuba base.
The Pentagon is investigating the abuse and torture allegations after concerns about treatment of prisoners were raised by the FBI.
Mr Begg, 37, used to run an Islamic bookshop in Birmingham before he went to Afghanistan in 2001 to do charity work, his family said. Mr Stafford Smith said Mr Begg was told by his US captors that his wife, Sally, was in Bagram. and that they were torturing her. He could hear a woman screaming, it is alleged.
In 2002, Mr Begg was allegedly subjected to a month of daily beatings and threatened with death. He is also alleged to have been told by US interrogators that he would be sent to Egypt where the "real" torture would begin. "He was humiliated in every way possible," said Mr Stafford Smith.
In Guant·namo Bay Mr Begg was kept in solitary confinement for 19 months.
Gareth Peirce, the British lawyer for Mr Begg, who sat in on his interviews with anti-terrorism officers, said her client had changed for the worse since she last saw him four years ago. "I see starkly the physical difference in him ... his face is the face of someone who has been through a severe ordeal. He looks like he has been to hell and back."
Mr Begg was asked by police whom he knew in the UK, what mosques he had attended and where he had been abroad.
Another of the released men, Feroz Abbasi, 24, was questioned about how he came to be in Afghanistan where it is alleged he was captured by Northern Alliance forces in December 2001 while fighting for al-Qaida.
Mr Abbasi's lawyer, Louise Christian, said that her client had been interviewed by British anti-terrorism police twice. She added: "During the interview he looked distressed and he's finding it difficult."
She added that Mr Abbasi was struggling to adjust now. "He told me that when they asked him if he wanted a hot drink he said no, he just wanted a glass of water," she said. "He was used to the situation where in Guant·namo when [if] he asked for something he would be abused."
The US-based Centre for Constitutional Rights welcomed the news of the men's release last night but said there were hundreds more being held without charge. The centre's spokeswoman, Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer, said: "It's very important that people understand the implications of this release. The fact that they have been released indicates there was no justification for holding them in the first place. These men lived for three years in torturous conditions, and there are still some 500 being held."
Ms Meeropol said she hoped the release would not stop the Britain focusing on the plight of those still held in Cuba.
Lieutenant Commander Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US still believed the four men posed a security threat and that the Britons' release without charge should not bring into question their three-year detainment at Guant·namo. He said the US believed they posed a continued threat but had been able to work out a way of transferring them back to the UK.
He said: "They were labelled enemy combatants at Guant·namo but in Britain they are being assessed on a legal standing as opposed to a combative standing. I believe the UK did not have the information needed to charge [them]."
Road to freedom
October 7 2001 - Britain and US invade Afghanistan
January 12 2002 - Prisoners moved to Guant·namo Bay in Cuba. Family of Shafiq Rasul plead for his return to Britain. Also held are Asif Iqbal and Feroz Abbasi.
February 26 2003 - It emerges that Moazzam Begg, 36, is also a detainee.
February 19 2004 - Foreign Office says five of nine British prisoners to be released. They are Ruhal Ahmed, Tarek Dergoul, Jamal al Harith, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul.
March 9 - Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul and Tarek Dergoul arrive back in Britain. They are arrested but released the following day.
January 11 2005 - Jack Straw says Mr Begg, Mr Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar will be released.
January 25 - Detainees land at RAF Northolt and are moved to Paddington Green police station.
January 26 - Four released without charge.
- Sam Jones
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005



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