A DETAINEE SPEAKS

I'm Home, but Still Haunted by Guantanamo

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By Jumah al Dossari
Sunday, August 17, 2008

I've covered the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2004 as military correspondent for The Post. Jumah al Dossari first caught my attention in October 2005, when I heard the story of his gruesome suicide attempt during a visit from his lawyer. Then known as Detainee #261, Dossari clearly was making a public plea for help. Though the U.S. military has said many times that all detainees at Guantanamo are treated humanely and that Dossari had been getting the help he needed, detention in Guantanamo apparently became more than he could bear. His wish to die humanized the desperation of many detainees held indefinitely at the facility.

U.S. officials maintained for years that Dossari was a dangerous terrorist who had been arrested after going to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against U.S. forces. Dossari also spent some time in the United States and allegedly tried to recruit terrorists with fiery sermons, something that obviously raised concerns among his interrogators and jailers. Nevertheless, he was never charged with a crime, never admitted any connection to terrorism and was ultimately released to Saudi Arabia in July 2007.

His return to freedom has been smooth. He is employed, married and doing well. When I talked to him by cellphone from Dammam late last year, he spoke of a hope and a peace and a forgiveness that arose from his "black days" behind bars at Guantanamo.

-- Josh White

DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia

It has been a little over a year since I left the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but I still have trouble sleeping sometimes. On a recent restless night, I found a DVD entitled "United 93" beside the family television set. I had no idea what it was about, but I started watching. When I realized that it was about the hijacked American plane that had crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, I began to cry. It reminded me of a very simple question I had asked myself countless times during my 5 1/2 years in Guantanamo: When will humans start treating each other with respect, whatever our religion or color?

I arrived in Guantanamo in January 2002 after Pakistani forces handed me over to the United States, probably, I suspect, for a bounty. I had been in Afghanistan to assess the progress of a mosque-building project there, funded by people in my native Saudi Arabia. I knew that Afghanistan was a dangerous place, but I was paid for the trip and I needed the money, so I went. It is a decision I will always regret. When the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan in November 2001, I fled to Pakistan. At a border checkpoint, I asked Pakistani guards for help getting to the Saudi embassy. Instead, they put me in a prison, where I was kept for days with shackles on my legs.

After several weeks, I was blindfolded and flown with other detainees to a U.S. military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Upon our arrival there, we were thrown to the ground. Someone hit my head and forced his boot into my mouth. Despite the freezing Afghan winter, I spent several weeks in an open tent circled with barbed wire. I still have scars from my time in Kandahar. One is from a cigarette that was extinguished on my wrist and the other from the time I was pushed to a floor covered with broken glass.

One night about two weeks after our arrival, some soldiers came and cut off my clothes and put me in an orange suit. They fitted me with very tight goggles so that I could not see and put something over my ears so that I could not hear. I was chained to the floor of a plane for several hours, then again to the floor of another for what seemed like an eternity. When they pulled us off the second plane, we had no idea where we were.

It was Guantanamo.

We were taken to Camp X-Ray, which consists of cages of the sort that would normally hold animals. Imprisoned in these cages, we were forbidden to move and sometimes forbidden to pray. Later, the guards allowed us to pray and even to turn around, but whenever new detainees arrived, we were again prohibited from doing anything but sitting still.

Physical brutality was not uncommon during those first years at Guantanamo. In Camp X-Ray, several soldiers once beat me so badly that I spent three days in intensive care. My face and body were still swollen and covered in bruises when I left the hospital. During one interrogation, my questioner, apparently dissatisfied with my answers, slammed my head against the table. During others, I was shackled to the floor for hours.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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